Recently I stumbled across a batch of photos languishing in a digital thicket, way back in the hinterlands of a hard drive. I pulled them loose from drifts of pixel debris, wiped them off, and realized that I had meant to write a post about the circumstances surrounding those images.
One day last December Bev and I drove downtown to visit the library and the post office, ready for a fix of what Henry Thoreau called “an influx of novelty”. We parked in a large lot behind a coffee shop. This lot adjoins a sloping concrete retaining wall, a bulwark which discourages Highway 80 from sliding down and obliterating downtown Bisbee.
Just as we pulled into a parking slot something clumsily flew across our field of vision. It seemed to be a raptor carrying something heavy in its claws. The bird abruptly landed or collided with the ramped concrete wall. I’d forgotten to bring my camera, but Bev had hers with her. I rolled down my window and got some shots, but I needed to get closer. The bird and its prey, which seemed to be a common rock dove, an alien city pigeon, was about thirty feet away. As seen through the truck window:
I slowly exited the truck and crept closer. The bird, which turned out to be a Cooper’s Hawk, was having problems and paid no attention to me. The hawk had a large and succulent piece of prey in its clutches but the wall was too steep to perch upon, and the hawk kept sliding down. I squatted down behind a steel grid anchored into a low wall and shot some more photos:
I was about ten feet from the avian drama and I used the camera’s built-in zoom. The hawk managed to find some footing, glanced at me, and began to pluck down from the pigeon’s breast. I think that the impact when the hawk collided with the wall might have killed the pigeon, as it certainly looked dead by this time. Tufts of down floated in the air as the hawk impatiently flung them away:
The hawk’s head is blurred in this shot, but it shows the characteristic mantling behavior hawks use when they want to shield the fresh prey from sight. As if to say, “Don’t even think about stealing this, human!”
The hawk and its prey began to slide again. As it neared the bottom I think the hawk may have realized that this was not an ideal setting for a meal.
Once the hawk was down at the parking lot level I think it became more aware of me. I wished I had been quick enough to get a shot of it flying overhead with the dead pigeon dangling limply, but the bird was gone within seconds.
It’s not often that such a scene presents itself!