Saturday, November 6, 2010

60 Degree Freeze

While I haven't been out for much dedicated birding in recent weeks (migration is over and the work schedule is crippling), my husband and I did manage a casual walk at Skipper Bay near Utah Lake a few days ago. As the sun was setting and light draining from the sky, the birding wasn't phenomenal - a northern flicker, small flocks of red-winged blackbirds, a great blue heron on the osprey's now vacant nesting tower. Then in a flash of feathers and a dart through the trees, the action picked up in a lovely wild kingdom moment.

Far more agile than you could believe until you've witnessed it, a sharp-shinned hawk darted through the thick, brushy trees on the west of the path. We saw it perched a few moments later, then flying off toward the south. We thought it had ventured elsewhere in search of a meal until it burst back out of the brush and swooped toward an unwary covey of California quail just on the edge of the path. The quail scattered and the hawk, certainly disgruntled, flew on. We were thrilled to see this just a dozen yards in front of us, but it wasn't until we got to the site of the attack that it was most thrilling.

Still frozen on the side of the trail were two of the quail, both males, sitting utterly still just a scant five feet away. So perfectly were they still that you could scarcely tell they hadn't been victims of the hawk until one blinked. They were crouched low near rocks, and didn't even turn their heads as we approached, then paused to watch them. It wasn't until after I'd taken a few photos and we began to move again that the birds flushed.

Bird camouflage is amazing. Many game birds may seem to have bold plumage when you see them in the open, but when they are still and silent, those same bold markings break up their silhouettes and help them become invisible. A birder can feel even more triumphant for such a sighting, because not only does it bring one a great look at a bird, but often far closer than you can imagine.

No comments: