Friday, November 23, 2007

Hawking with Marian Anderson-Four Red-tails and a Kestrel


Wind Chill in the Teens

Wind-gusts to 30MPH

All Times Central

Marian Anderson, who daily drives the country roads in the area, had been telling me about her Red-tail Hawk sightings. So today, she put her money where her mouth was and drove me to look for the raptors that frequented her roads.

1:45PM Traveling E. from County KK on Townline Rd., Rock County. THERE! A shining white Red-tail belly reflects the sun from a tree in a fence row. (See photo above. She was sitting in the right fence row, the tall tree grouping before the trees diminish into the distance.) And she is HUGE!!! Bigger than Charlotte of the Southern Central Park Red-tails, Pale Male Jr.'s mate.

Marian stopped the car and even before I could put my hand on the door, the female Red-tail is up and flapping away in the opposite direction.

1:45:07PM The hawk flies towards the back fence row, about a mile away, and circles four or so times above the densest grouping of trees. (See top photo again. Look at the heaviest tree group in the back fence row.) By now, I'm pulling equipment out of the car and Marian is keeping an eye on her. Female Red-tail then disappears beyond the trees and over the slight hill they grow on.


1:48:05PM I set up and start scanning the trees just in case she's come back at tree level from the other side and perched. Bingo. There's a Red-tail obscured by twigs. How did she do that?

1:48:23PM It's impossible to get a sharp view, not only is the hawk at least a mile away but the wind is blowing so hard across the fields that it's causing the camera to wobble on the tripod. What is the hawk looking at? I don't see anything but that's probably not unusual when one compares each of our species visual acuity.

1:49:46PM A second hawk perches above the first and looks down at him. He ducks slightly as is typical of hawk decorum when another enters into their proximity. Ah, ha! It wasn't the same hawk. The hawk I found in the trees is undoubtedly the mate of the first hawk we saw. They seem to be sitting near each other quite happily, making eye contact, and there is an obvious disparity in size. A bonded pair. Perhaps that's why the female was circling above those particular trees. She was signaling to her mate, who was already sitting in them.

1:50:09PM Both hawks look right with focus.

1:50:46PM The male continues to look fixedly right while the female looks down at him.

1:57:13PM The male is off the branch and to the right, NE. The female remains on her perch, including us in her scans of the area.

1:58:06PM She focuses left. Has her mate circled round? We've lost track of him.

2:04:56PM She sits staring at us. I decide that perhaps we might be interrupting her hunting and we should go. Besides it's extremely cold with the wind whipping past us. We scuttle back into the car and get back on the road.

We haven't gone far when we see another light spot far off in the trees of another fence row. What is that? A hawk, a plastic bag? We'll never know unless we check. I pull the equipment out of the car again and Marian burrows around in the car looking for more clothes to put on.
No, it isn't a hawk belly, and it isn't a white plastic bag. In fact it isn't even white, the color it looked at our distance. It is a deflated multi-colored mylar balloon. Back in the car we go.
2:52:32PM A Red-tail glides just above the cut stalks of a corn field, curves up in the direction in which we've just come, crosses the road and lands on a power pole. Then suddenly a second Red-tail flies in and lands on the power pole nearest us on the other side of the road. We stare at her and loose track of the second hawk. Her plan? As soon as we stop the car and start to get out she's up and flies back in the direction of the first hawk. She isn't easy to track as she's backed by evergreens. Marian catches her as she perches on the 6th power pole down from her previous position.
2:52:50PM She turns her head, gives us a look and then turns her back.
2:58:48PM The female hawk looks over her shoulder again and stares at us, and stares and stares. She's making me feel guilty. Hands and ears chilled we get back in the car and drive on.

We pass a llama farm. There are both adults, fluffy white, and chocolate brown and their young frolicking around in the pasture playing a game of what looks like llama chase. We wonder if they're bred for their wool or if the owners breed them as guardians of sheep herds. Pro-predator groups have spread the word that llamas are dandy guardians of sheep in a fenced pasture when it comes to coyotes. The llamas keep an eye peeled for the coyotes and then take them on at a gallop and chase them clean out of the pasture before they can get the sheep and the llamas keep them out.

In the next fenced area there is what looks like a Great Pyrenees female and galumphing pups.
We're on County road P, in Walworth county.
I glance up again at the wires. "Marian! Look, a Kestrel."

Marian squeals, she's never seen a Kestrel before, or at least known it was a Kestrel she was seeing, and had very much liked the blog a while back that featured the Kestrel and the vole. She's very excited.

And the little Kestrel puts on a show. He takes to the air above a field, hovers for several minutes, does a swoop of a few feet and then hovers again for several more minutes.

He goes back to his perch and triangulates.

He's up again and across the road above the field on the other side. He hovers over a group of trees, flies over the field, hovers again, flitting and soaring, changing position.

I hear Marian talking to someone and I turn. It's two men in deer hunting orange, likely father and grown son, who've gotten out of their vehicle and are standing in the middle of the road looking at us. It's the last weekend of rifle deer hunting season hence all the orange clothing.
Deer season being one of the reasons we haven't been tempted in the least to hike out after the hawks. No tromping off the road, when every year people are accidentally shot during deer season. Just yesterday, a grandfather accidentally shot and killed his 18 year-old grandson. The hunters ask, "What are you looking at?" Marian explains that we're watching a little Kestrel hover currently but before that we'd spotted two pairs of Red-tails who obviously hang out with each other. The hunters continue to scrutinize us. They say yes, they see Red-tails all the time. Do I detect some kind of suspicion? This is weird.

Marian explains about the blog and that I'm from NYC and I'm comparing country hawks with city hawks and that it isn't just Pale Male and Lola and urban hawks who keep their close bond and spend time in close proximity outside of breeding season. Wisconsin country hawks do it too. We just saw two pair together. She takes a breath.

Marian turns and asks me if I've got one of my cards. I start digging around vigorously to find one. She keeps talking and somehow things seem okay now. That's a relief. I finally find a card. The men explain that last week someone had cut the head off a 7 day old llama and they are keeping an eye on the area.
Hideous. Not that they're keeping an eye peeled but rather about the baby llama.

Though I feel it won't be happening again soon if these men with deer rifles, and others who no doubt are doing the same, continue their watch.

No Dorothy, we aren't in New York City anymore.

Donegal Browne

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