Sunday, April 09, 2006


A bloody slab of fresh kill lay right there on the edge of the ice, and ripping at it was a big brown hawk, all shoulders and powerful haunches. He had an audience--three seagulls and two crows, all standing at a respectful distance, calling him "sir" and waiting for him to finish. Now and then an opportunistic crow would sidle up and take a few hasty pecks at the meat, whereupon the hawk would turn, swear at it and resume feeding. The crow, chastened, backed away and waited.

Up rolled three cars. The doors were flung open, spilling out families with cameras, field-glasses and restless children. The hawk shrank down into immobility, his dilemma obvious--lose the meat and stay safe, or wait this out? A moment before, he looked like the king of the skies; now he looked like a dirty little predator caught red-handed. I'm sure this wasn't what the onlookers had hoped to see, and I thought how often, in our rush to possess something, to make it our own, we ruin it.

After a few minutes when nothing much happened, the sightseers climbed back into the cars and roared away. The hawk at once regained his courage and resumed feeding; this time three more hawks were circling idly above him, waiting their chance. And then, from nowhere, came the bald eagle.

It was now the hawk's turn to watch in dismay at a polite distance, while the eagle devoured his lunch. The great bird tore strips off the meat--not pausing even when more sightseers drew up--whittling it down to something portable. Replete and bored, he flew lazily away, leaving what was left for the hawks and crows.

I've never seen a bald eagle around the village before. This isn't the west coast, so they're pretty unusual. In the summer, when everything's crowded, the wildlife runs for cover, so I'm happy to have the calm while it lasts, with these rare glimpses. I'm tempted, though, to buy a couple of pounds of stew beef to spread on the ice and see what turns up next.

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