Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Uncaptured Capture

On Sunday morning, we were sipping coffee while watching as various birds discovered and pecked at the suet, peanuts and seed from the freshly-filled feeder. We'd had a 30 cm (one foot) snowfall over the previous few days and the temperatures were now plummeting to uncomfortable levels. I felt grateful to be sheltered from the biting wind, and marveled at how these tiny creatures just continue their routine regardless of the cold.

Sparrows are always out in full force, but we noticed that this group seemed hesitant to settle into their usual pushy roles at and beneath the feeder, opting to remain cloistered within the bushes at the back of the yard instead. We surmised that they might be trying to keep warm by basking in the only streak of sunlight to make its way into the yard at this hour.

A few moments later, we realized that the birds had probably sensed impending danger. Something large landed right in the open, toward the back of the yard. Its alert, vigilant profile told us it was a hawk (seemingly a Northern Harrier), and its stance indicated that it might have caught its prey. Frank could see that it did indeed have something in its grasp - probably a sparrow. I did not have my camera handy, but a small pair of binoculars revealed a sight I won't soon forget.

Just before it caught our attention, the hawk must have swooped down and snatched the hapless sparrow. I could see the little critter lying on its back, the raptor's talons dug deeply into its breast. Its little mouth was opening and closing rapidly. I was torn between continuing to view this moment in nature, and hoping to capture the image on camera. I opted for the latter. Passing the binoculars over to Frank, I slowly eased myself out of the chair to grab my camera from the other room. Frank stood to get a better view, and I suppose that our activity level was too much for the hawk. It flew off with its prey before I could make my way back to the window. A missed photo, but the mental image remains.

Part of me felt guilty for having provided the lure that brought these small birds into the yard. Without the bounty of seeds, they would not be here, allowing themselves to be easy prey for predatory creatures. I reminded myself that this natural ritual happens constantly, but we're rarely privy to witnessing it firsthand, especially in our own suburban back yards. Guilt began to ease its way into honour for having the privilege to observe.

I hope the sparrow had a quick end.

Below are some photos that were taken during and after our recent snowfall. Please click on them to see them enlarged.

Last week, we had hoped to explore a new (to us) conservation area called Stephen's Gulch, north of where Frank lives. It was the day after the main snowfall and we headed up there only to discover that there weren't any clear paths for us to follow. Since we had no idea where we could wander, and the snow was too deep for an easy amble, we thought it would be wise to return another time, once the paths were made visible by those more familiar with the area. Before we left, we snapped a few photos of the creek that runs under the bridge.

Some of the trees' branches hang low to gracefully touch the water.

Closer to Frank's place, we took Benny for his usual tour of the nearby wooded area. The snow continued to fall lightly and cling to the branches as we entered this enchanting grove.

The walking area also takes us along this creek. The cold water sounds lovely as it rushes along the shore.

The creek gurgles as it trips over snow-covered rocks along its path. Here, listen...

Night time brought more snow. This backyard shot was taken without flash. The snow appears more like rain.

Seconds later, with flash, individual snowflakes are more apparent.

Back at my place, Benny is busy making his own snow. The stuffing of his brand new squeaky football was strewn all over the living room floor. Now he's ready for a real game of tug-o-war. You can read more about Benny's antics over at Frank's blog.


Jo said...

Remarkable photos, Hil. You do such a fine job of drawing in the viewer, I'm covered with goosebumps...next time I'll wear a jacket before I romp in your winter wonderland :) Poor sparrow, but hawks leave me breathless, they're one of my favorites. Out here we mostly see the red-tails.

The icy creek is so lovely, and I love the photo of the snow falling...looks like cottonballs!

Anonymous said...

We have red-tail hawks here also. I love to watch them, and listen always for their sounds as a signal to look up. I was witness to one with a small rabbit a few years ago. You are right - it is a sight I will always remember.

The photos are beautiful as always. I sure hope our Cali doesn't figure out how to devour her new stuffed football. Willi is having way too much fun with it.

the Bag Lady said...

Hawks are magnificent creatures, and we must remember that, unlike humans, they never hunt for sport. It is sad for the sparrow, but it's the way of the world. (Doesn't stop the Bag Lady from crying over things like that, though...)

The Merry said...

Ah, an expert. Excellent. Just what I was looking for.

I just acquired a backyard which is apparently the hangout spot for the local dark-eyed juncos. So I dutifully went out and bought something labeled 'bird feeder'. Turne out to be three bird feeders: a hummingbird feeder, a hanging seed feeder, and a suet feeder.

I've googled a few sites. They say juncos like both seeds and suet. I was hoping for some examples of why one type of feeder would be preferable to the other.

We had a snowfall last week, and it was nice to feed the birds afterwards. (I just threw the seeds on the snow-free areas.) Even if a hawk eats one of the swallows, isn't it possible that he might have died of starvation if you hadn't put food out?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

All wonderful photos, but I really love the one of your dog--one of our beagles does the exact same thing in the frenzied search for the squeaker.

Frank Baron said...

Boy, somebody oughtta train that dog better.



Stace said...

I guess that's nature... everything exists to provide food for something else. In a way, by being caught, that sparrow was fulfilling it's natural function! I know that sounds kind of harsh... but I guess nothing could survive otherwise.

Tink said...

You just wait until they build cameras in our eyes. Then all we have to do is blink to take a picture. ;)

See, I just took a snapshot of you.

Reb said...

Lovely photos as always Hilary. The snow without the flash and then with, very interesting how it makes such a difference.

Hilary said...

• Thanks so much for your always kind words, Jo. I love hawks too.. all of those critters, in fact - hence feeling torn between the loss of the sparrow and the coup for the hawk. And you're exactly right about the cottonballs! :)

• Thank you, Gawilli. It's a treat to be able to see those majestic birds. I'm glad you're able to enjoy them as well. This football lasted about 24 hours. If Cali's has lasted longer than that, she's already ahead of the game. ;)

* I agree with all that you said, Baggie. It's life.. just not one that I'm used to seeing. :)

• Expert? Oh Merry, sorry to disappoint you but I've scarcely reached novice status with this bird-feeding gig! What I use is all-season wild bird seed. I mix in a few handfuls of oiled sunflower seed and fill the hanging 4-perch feeder with it. If you scroll back through a few blog posts, you'll see a few images of that feeder. I also hang a suet basket and toss out some peanuts for blue jays and squirrels.. whichever get to them first. It's usually the jays. I've noticed that the juncos around here tend to feed on the ground mostly. I've seen them on the feeder occasionally, but mostly they dine at the multitude of seeds that the sloppy sparrows spill when they're at the feeder. And yes, the hawk was certainly helped by the abundance of sparrows which visit the feeder. Thanks for the reminder and for stopping by. :)

• Hi Jenn. Ah yes, the squeaker. Benny had that sucker uncovered in short order. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Yeah, Frank.. really! Do something about that, willya? ;)

• Agreed, Stace. It doesn't sound harsh at all. It's all true, and right. I'm told that I'm just too Disneyfied. ;) Thanks for the visit!

• Geesh Tink, you could have warned me. I'd have brushed my hair or something! Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Reb. I was pretty surprised at that difference too. I'm glad you enjoyed them. :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures again, Hil. :)

And have a wonderful Valentine's Day. I just wanted to wish you a day of much lurve and CHOCOLATE!!!!


(Happy Love Day)

Crabby McSlacker said...

Gorgeous photos!

And I'm glad, actually, that you weren't able to post a hawk-killing-sparrow photo. I know it's real life, but I prefer the Disney version where the prey always escapes and the predator slinks off, still hungry, to have dinner when I don't have to watch.

But I love the pretty pictures!

Shammickite said...

During the last thaw, I found a huge pile of blue jay feathers under the pine tree in the back yard, not far from the bird feeder, so hawks have been hunting for their dinners here too. We all have to eat, even hawks, in this cold snowy weather.
BTW loved your "looking a little... pail" comment.... har de har har!

Shammickite said...

PS Just looked up Stephen's Gulch and I see it's just N of Bowmanville. I'm often in Bowmanville, my YoungerSon and his wife have bought a house there.

Chica, Cienna, and Cali said...

Beautiful pics......the first image has that precious red leaf lying in the corner amidst all that white ........

elasticwaistbandlady said...

We got to see a hawk swoop down and carry off a baby squirrel not that long ago. The cries of the baby from up in the tree was almost too much to bear.

Circle of Life and all that, but it's still hard to witness.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sweet and Salty said...

Wow!!! Amazing photos, as always, and I love all that snow laying around. Wish I could be there, but then I didn't see snow till I was in College so I'm still fascinated by it.

Poor sparrow... :(

Moby Dick said...

My JRT loves those plushies!!

The Merry said...

Hilary, have you seen this?

Great Backyard Bird Count:

Judging by that map, they need more Canadians!

the Bag Lady said...

Hilary and Merry - don't want to rain on your parade, but thought I should warn you...if you don't want yards full (and I do mean FULL) of weeds come summer, only use black oil sunflower seeds in your feeders. The stuff they sell as wild bird seed is chock full of weed seeds. Like quack (or crab) grass, among other things. The Bag Lady is still regretting the wild bird seed she used in her feeder 3 or 4 years ago.
Most birds will eat the sunflower seeds - the Bag Lady has juncos at her feeder in the spring and fall (they don't winter here).

The Merry said...

Ack! Bag Lady, thanks for the warning!

Hilary said...

• Twizzle, thanks so much for your kind words and chocolaty good wishes. I hope you had a very yummy one yourself.

• Thanks, Crabby. I'm kind of with you on that Disney deal, but I'd have still posted the pic if I'd have been able to capture it. ;)

• Hi, ex-S. Yup, the Gulch is near B'ville. I've spent a fair bit of time there myself recently. Tis a nice area for sure. Thanks for stopping by.

• Moi, thanks for the kind words. I hate to disappoint you, but I think that the red that you're seeing is a piece of plastic connected to that dark barrier on either side of it. I almost Photoshopped the red out of the photo so nobody would think it's a Cardinal!

• Wow, EWBL! I would find that very distressing indeed. I'm not so sure I'd get over that in a hurry either. Thanks for the good wishes.

• Thanks Pavel. It's not the snow that's laying around that is bothersome. It's the snow that absolutely must be shoveled. And there's been a lot of that this year.

• Hi Al. This little JRT loves them.. gutted. Thanks for stopping by.

• Thanks for the link, Merry. I'll have to give them a closer look and see what I can do about Canadian content. ;)

• Thanks for the info, Baggie. I think it's too late for my back yard. I've been feeding them this stuff since early winter. But I have to wonder about a yard full of seed husks too. It won't promote growth of weed but the quantity that our visitors are eating would create quite a blanket of shells too. Ah well.. pros and cons to everything. I'm enjoying the birds and will worry about the weeds tomorrow (fiddle dee dee). ;)

Kappa no He said...

I have reoccuring nightmares where I am witnessing some magnificant sunset or surreal skyscape and I realize that I don't have my camera or it's not working properly. I completely feel for your struggle between watching the hawk and running (sneaking) to the camera.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful winter pictures Hil, howerver can't wait until you can take some beautiful spring pictures! Personally enough snow!! We also have a hawk swooping down on the birds here too. Good thing Gizmo isn't as small as he used to be! love, Andi

Hilary said...

• I hear you, Kappa. The camera is not quite an extension of my arm yet, but I'm working on it. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks Andi. I'm looking forward to spring too. The snow is nice enough but the shoveling.. not so much.

Craver Vii said...

I thought I was beginning to get tired of all the snow this year, but those pictures are glorious... I'm ready for another round or two!

Hilary said...

Thanks, Craver. That's very kind of you.. you can have my next round of it! ;) Thanks for stopping by. :)