Monday, February 23, 2009

WATCHING THE WATCHER

Winter continues to linger along the river. We received another dusting of snow during the night. Just after dawn, the temperature registered a chilly 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead of taking breakfast at the dining table, I carried my bowl of steel-cut oats and mug of black tea to the great-room’s opposite corner. There I could cozy comfortably by the fire in my favorite rocker, which faces the sliding glass deck doors and allows me to watch any goings-on at the island across from the cottage. Sometimes I see deer over there, or one of the fat resident fox squirrels. Yesterday it was a mink. In the past I’ve watched muskrats, beaver, and raccoons, among others. The island is also the home for a pair of pileated woodpeckers—huge and astonishing with their flaming red crests and pterodactyl-like semblance. I’d just finished my meal when the red-tailed hawk landed in the top of one of the island’s huge hackberries. The bird was perhaps 80 feet up and 175 feet away from where I sat, so seeing as how I don’t own a 600mm telephoto, this admittedly inferior photo was the best I could manage. Sorry… The hawk was not actively hunting, but was instead doing exactly what I was doing huddling beside the fire—getting warm. Only in the red-tail’s case, this was accomplished via solar energy—which entailed pointing its chest at the morning sun and poofing out its feathers. As I watched through binoculars, the big hawk began preening, using its sharp beak and equally sharp talons to “comb” its feathers, pulling, poking, plucking, working from head-to-tail. A raptor version of a morning bath. This preening business went on for at least a half hour, with an occasional pause to look around—right, left, forward, behind, down, head swiveling as if on a turret—until the job was apparently accomplished to perfection. Then the hawk simply readjusted its position slightly, better to catch the now-higher sun, and settled back for an additional half-hour of sauna therapy; a thorough warm-up before hitting the skies for a breakfast hunt. The many birds working the various feeders, all of which were in plain sight of the tree-top hawk, seemed to know they weren’t in any present danger. The sunning red-tail would give them a cursory glance from time to time, but the looked lacked any real malice aforethought that’s so noticeable in a look harboring real predatory intensity. The feeder birds kept their eye on the hawk, in case the situational mood changed. But everyone seemed to understand the other’s intentions and be willing to accept a momentary truce. An hour after it landed in the hackberry, the red-tailed hawk shook itself a few times as if awakening from a doze. Then it looked around, scrutinizing every quadrant of earth and sky, hopped lightly off the limb—and caught its fall on broad, outspread wings. The hawk’s movement and sudden flight drew the eyes of the feeder crowd, some of whom made a hasty departure. But the hawk still wasn’t interested—at least not at the moment. A couple of minutes after it deserted the island hackberry, I saw it began a slow spiral into the morning’s blue sky above a field well beyond the far side of the river. No longer the one being watched, the red-tail had again become the watcher.

16 comments:

bobbie said...

You write beautifully, and I enjoyed your story of watching the watcher.

I posted a brief, and far less poetic piece today about another watcher - An otter, floating on its back, which had found a video camera lost under water, seeming to film a boat load of photographers.

Gail said...

Hi-
another beautiful photo and inspiring words that bring such imaged clarity to your world.
I must ask though what are "steel-cut oats" - sounds like something that might go in the horses feed bag!! :-)

Love Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

Thank you for your kinds words. I do appreciate them.

Hey, I thought your otter with a video camera piece was really neat. Great story and even better since that guy managed the one shot.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Okay, here's your morning oats lesson:

Oats are the unprocessed grain or seed. This is what you feed horses.

Groats are the whole oats except with the seed's outer husk removed. Needs the longest cooking time; when done you have a chewy, whole-berry cereal. Quite tasty.

Steel-cut oats, or Irish Oats (or steel-cut oatmeal or Irish oatmeal, or Scotch oats/oatmeal, all the same thing) are groats that have been chopped into small bits. Takes about 45 minutes to cook; more chewy than regular oatmeal and a bit more flavorful. Possibly more fiber and/or nutrition.

Oatmeal is groats that are steamed and rolled flat (thus, rolled oats) and flaked. Faster cooking than steel-cut oats, and less chewy/flavorful.

Instant oats/oatmeal is oatmeal that's pre-cooked, perhaps salted and flavored, then dried and flaked. Fast to fix, but less tasty and chewy.

Since they take a while to fix, I cook up enough for 3-4 breakfasts, which are stored in the fridge in food-service boxes. Then, when I stagger from bed, I can put on a kettle of water to boil, grind coffee for the French press (or measure out tea, depending on mood, caffeine jones, etc.), zap a bowl of oats in the microwave for a couple of minutes; the kettle whistles, the microwave beeps; I pour water on coffee/tea and oats (to thin), add a scoop of rummy raisins to oats and some sweetener; pour coffee/tea into mug, and attempt to carry meal and drink to table/fireside/deck/or picnic table on riverbank (seasonally dependent) without spilling anything hot on my klutzy self. This takes under 10 minutes, bed to breakfast. A routine I can, and often do, in my sleep.

Gail said...

Hi
A thorough lesson indeed. Wow. Who knew? :-)

I love oatmeal, with raisins - your routine/ritual is impressive and quite healthy too. And your knowledge of oats? Way beyond anyone I know!! :-)

Love Gail
peace and fibre!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Information overkill, more likely—my usual tendency. Like opening a closet door and having half the load on the shelves fall out in your face.

Gail said...

I laughed right out loud at your self reflection!! :-)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

This is often my own response when I consider myself. I'm beyond improvement, so all I can do is laugh at my foolish self.

The Solitary Walker said...

A wonderful snapshot of your early morning, Grizzled!

I certainly learnt a thing or two here about oats I didn't know before.

I'm waiting on beans and barley some time in the future please ("Oats and beans and barley-o...")

KGMom said...

Your river descriptions are most intriguing. I gather you live along the banks, and observe fellow creatures that also have chosen to live there.
Hawks, of course, have wide-ranging habitat.
I am fascinated with the degree to which raptors have adapted to human's suburban, and even urban, living. They use our telephone poles and light poles as readily as they use your nearby island's trees.
I assume you saw the story several years ago about the nesting pair of redtails in Manhattan, along Central Park East?

giggles said...

Never seen a hawk preen.... I love that image!!

I had my own batch of steel cut oats, yesterday, too! (Really!) They are hard to find! Dee-lish, though, when dressed up right nice!!

News of your friend? You and he've been in my thoughts.....

Peace.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

What I didn't include in that early-morning timeline was my usual bird-feeder fill-up trip; fitted in while coffee/tea is steeping; made in pre-dawn darkness, sometimes below zero temperatures, amid rain, sleet, snow, or mud; while attired in house slippers and pajamas, and without benefit of cap or jacket—a decision prompted by delusions of my ability to briefly defy and disregard the elements no matter what's going on outside. A personal misconception, I might add, that regularly leads to condensed-but-intense suffering and the need to change into dry clothing once I've clawed my way back inside.

Moving to other matters…I'm thinking we're both too old for such schoolyard entertainments, though they might make the base for a good soup.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I do indeed live beside a river—beside meaning my front deck is 8-9 feet above and 4 feet away when the stream's at normal pool; in highwater times, the height above the water can be 18 inches, and the river is actually under the deck. I have about 300 feet of frontage. Lots of trees (I'm having to learn to be a shade gardener) and neighbors at a distance. Opposite my stone cottage are three long, narrow islands, wooded, and beyond that open fields and parklands. Lots of birds and wildlife.

The Cooper's hawk visits daily—sometimes several times. I have a buzzard (turkey vulture) roost across from the cottage (returning buzzards should be here within the next week or two) and great-horned, barred, screech, and the occasional saw-whet owls (no barn owls that I know about) which is the usual raptor census. I see red-tailed hawks cruising and circling, riding thermals, but only once or two per winter do I see one light in a treetop nearby. A year ago an osprey spent a day fishing the pools near the cottage; I consider that a pretty big deal.

Wasn't there a book about those NYC hawks, "Red-Tails in Love," or something?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

You can often find steel-cut oats at the health food stores. Some large grocery chains carry them; McCann's is the most commonly found brand. I buy mine (another brand) at Trader Joe's for about 1/3 rd the price of the McCann's brand. Being Irish, I'm always on the lookout for a bargain. They can be inexpensive at the health-food stores, too.

Thank you for asking about my friend, Frank. That's where I've been much of the day, visiting him at the nursing home. I can't get out there every day—it's a fairly long drive, 35 miles each way—but I try and see him several times per week. I'd awakened at 4 a.m. this morning worrying about him. Yesterday, the feeling was that he wouldn't last through the night—certainly not more than another day. He is very, very weak, and life's tiny flame is definitely sputtering. Yet he rallied a bit today—enough that they actually sat him up awhile. I fed him, we talked about old times and adventures, I read some to him, we shared a prayer. The inevitable is coming, just maybe not for a little while longer.

Anyway, I so appreciate you remembering and asking. Thank you.

giggles said...

Tears come as I read of your visit... a special soul you are, without a doubt... Peace.

This am, bluebirds have come (I've just noticed...don't know how long they've been around?!) to our bluebird box. A non-bluebird had stolen the box and was already chasing the pair away... "No, this is MY box..." (Well, NO IT IS NOT!) so I cleaned the box of a stick nest that was inside... Now, I'll watch and see what happens. We've had this bluebird box in the back yard for years now, and until last year, had not had a successful habitation by the blue birds. Other species, yes...but the blues always seemed to be thwarted. Last year? We had a nest, 5 eggs, that hatched! And then, one day shortly after hatching (maybe a week?) I came to the box to find all 5 babies...dead. My heart broke. I searched online, looking for possible culprits.... Most suggested blowfly, so I, as boldly as I could, looked for blowfly ...not knowing what I was looking for, but still pretty sure that wasn't it. I talked with someone later who mentioned that predators will get in a poke holes in the skulls of the babies... I suspect that is it. But in my rudimentary research, I did find some info that recommends that I monitor boxes very frequenly to nurture the nesting along.... Hence, this year, my early visit to the box.... I so hope for success this year.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Thank you again. I'm not special, though. I just care very much for my old friend. If friends don't stick by one another through the worst of times, they aren't much as friends in my book. Isn't the midst of life's hardest trials that point where we need a friend the most? I believe so. All I can do for Frank now is be there…

Re. your bluebirds, I'd lean towards disease as the culprit rather than a predator, unless it was something such as excessive heat. If there's anyone in your area who runs a "bluebird trail" you might ask what they think. Just don't be too discouraged. This year may be a 100 percent success.