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The Mystery Bird

One day last winter, I was trying to photograph birds, and they were not cooperating. Birds that I do not ordinarily consider shy would take one look at the camera and slip away before I could shoot them. I walked around the fenced half-acre behind our house for about an hour and hardly saw a bird (though they were singing just out of sight everywhere). I had been able to get intelligible pictures of only about a half-dozen of the most commonplace types of birds. Chickadees didn't mind the camera. But everyone else was deeply suspicious.

mystery birdIn birdwatching, there is often a mystery bird, one that you know is something good, but you just don't get a good enough look to nail him down. That February day, I saw a large bird, about the size of a white-winged dove (10") but a little larger. He flew silently and low across the wildflower field in the middle of the yard and swooped up to sit on a limb of the hackberry tree along the east fenceline. I pointed and snapped. I'd been so preoccupied with the camera that I hadn't kept the binoculars handy, and without binox, you are not likely to get a solid ID on an unfamiliar bird.

I approached the tree in time to see him move to the shrubs on the hill by the northeast corner of the house. A jay screamed at him persistently, until he flew up and away, circled a couple of times, and disappeared into the canyon. As he took off, I saw the barring on his tail. When he hovered, I saw the length and shape of his tail. None of this was worth even trying to shoot, so I just concentrated on memorizing the overall contours that I could see with my unaided eye. Craig said he thought he had seen a pigeon hawk, and we have had them as visitors in winters past. This 12-inch bird fit the description. At left is the first (very unhelpful) picture I got of the mystery bird. I have circled him.

Continue: Sharp-Shinned Hawk


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