November 29, 2014
A Hungry Hawk Dines on Pheasant (before Thanksgiving)
At a recent haze-canopied noon-time, Nora and I approached a line of Douglas fir trees on the east end of Bennington Lake.
I paused on the slanted trail below the west-facing bluff.
We had walked a little over two miles from the WW Community College athletic fields, along Mill Creek where we saw herons and mergansers, and along the the concrete channel toward the lake.
Nora sniffed ahead on the path as I scanned the trees for the silhouette of a long-eared owl.
They often perched there on past winter-dark days.
Then a thump, squeak and flapping of wings drew my attention to the bluff.
A hawk apparently battled something hidden among the tall grassy stalks.
The hawk’s curved beak speared at something big in its grasp but out of sight.
Could be a pheasant?
We had walked past that spot, maybe 25-yards away, without seeing a pheasant hunkered in the grass. We had, however, heard several shotgun reports from the slope just beyond the line of trees and close enough for me tense at the possibility of being pelted with bird shot.
I considered a pheasant may have been wounded and run through the grass to the bluff, where the hawk had nailed it. The possibility that the hawk could get lead poisoned from a holdover of old lead shot went through my mind as I continued to snap images.
Finally, to reach a better viewpoint, I moved slowly up the slope.
Even if I scared the hawk, I figured it would quickly return. Besides, I would have a better view from the other side of the bluff, at least with the sun-lit haze at my back.
A wing -- surely a pheasant's -- flapped into view as I swung the camera around and aimed it.
Nora, with her short legs, remained oblivious of the drama.
Then Nora tumbled to the situation and dashed into my view through the view finder. I kept snapping images in case I could catch one of the hawk launching.
Suddenly, however, Nora skidded to a stop and I looked down as the hawk launched.
I would deduce later that the scowl on the hawk's face as Nora approached would have made anyone skid to a halt. And Nora has plenty of savvy for her size.
So we crossed over the bluff, and I noticed the limp, bloodied body of a rooster pheasant. Nora sniffed but walked on at my insistence.
No sooner had I turned around, maybe 10 yards from the corpse, than the hawk returned to ripping.
I had a better view, but with only a mound-like silhouette of the pheasant. The hawk appeared to be swallowing chunks of flesh and feathers in single gulps.
We eventually moved on -- after I recorded 100-plus images of the dining hawk (which, on later research, I deduced to be an uncommon-to-the-area Northern Goshawk or, more likely a Northern Harrier or Marshhawk) -- back the way we had come and saw the same herons and mergansers on the stream and a distant deer in a stubble field.
Today Nora and I passed the spot where the above hawk dined on pheasant, and none appears to have been wasted.
Also, I read Mike Denney's always informative U-B column today, and the photo of the Merlin gave me pause, especially with the white eyebrows. Perhaps the hawk above was a Merlin, although I judged it to be too large and possibly a Cooper's hawk. Anyway, I used the book that Denny co-authored (Birds of the Inland Northwest and Northern Rockies) to make my shaky identification, and I'm sticking to it.