A wild, beautiful vision in the heart of downtown

I’ve got this thing about hawks. Whenever I’m driving through the countryside and I see one gliding above the road or the woods and fields to the sides, it’s special to me. I’m like, “Look! A hawk!” And my wife is like, “Yes, I see that — yet another hawk…”

Well, she would have been impressed had she been with me a few minutes ago.

I was eastbound on Lady Street, waiting at that light (which must be one of the Top Five longest red lights in Columbia) to cross Bull. The light finally changed, and as I put the truck in gear and started to move, a hawk came swooping across the street at me, no more than four or five feet off the ground.

It was carrying something furry and rather large — maybe a big squirrel, smaller than a ‘possum or raccoon — and I think maybe that was retarding its effort to gain altitude. It passed my window, almost within arm’s reach. I saw the working of its wings, its fierce, proud visage (which would never show that it was having a hard time), close-up and in action.

As I rolled across Bull, I glanced in the rearview and saw the hawk glide around, rather than over, another vehicle behind me (anything but let go, in keeping with the First Law of the Foot). Then I saw it rise, maybe 12 or 15 feet, toward a tree branch. Then I lost sight of it.

But what I did see was a treat. If you have a thing about hawks, the way I do. I wish I could have gotten a picture. But even if I were wearing Google Glass, it was probably too quick to get the shot — unless I just happened to be shooting video, and it’s hard to imagine why I’d have been doing that at the most boring intersection in Columbia.

I’m sure it was less of a treat for the furry thing. But that’s nature for you. As Woody Allen observed in “Love and Death” (in answer to Diane Keaton’s observation, “Isn’t nature incredible?”):

To me, nature is…I dunno, spiders and bugs and big fish eating little fish, and plants eating plants and animals eating…It’s like an enormous restaurant.

11 thoughts on “A wild, beautiful vision in the heart of downtown

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I love hawks! First off, I can see them with my lousy eyesight (also why I like herons) and second because they glide and swoop. There are red tails downtown– one nested atop the Wachovia building across from the art museum, right above my office at Nexsen Pruet. Another pair nests atop Christopher Tower. Cooper’s hawks hunt on the Horseshoe.

    Red tails are buteos, who soar on thermal currents, while Cooper’s and their smaller kin, sharp-shins, are accipiters, who flap around the treetops. There are red shoulders, with a falling two-note call, all over by the Cayce Tennis Center and Timmerman Trail.

    It’s hard to photograph birds against the sky well. My dad has a special lens with a giant cylinder protruding from it– the mark of a birder!

  2. susanincola

    I worked rehabilitating hawks and owls for awhile in college (who knew birds could have substance-abuse problems? but I digress). We’d get to take them out and fly them (on a tether) so they’d get their strength back. Great fun.

    1. Norm Ivey

      I would have loved to have seen that! A hawk in flight is beauty. A hawk at work is thrilling.

      I share your passion, but it goes far beyond hawks. My bride and I were blessed with seeing a California Condor in flight over the Grand Canyon last summer. Here’s a really nice webcam of mated eagles somewhere in Iowa. They were sitting on an egg. I suppose it’s hatched by now.

      Tartan Day South at the old Columbia Speedway is coming up in a couple of weeks. Last year they had a birds of prey guy (a falconer?) who did a bit with hawks and owls. Neat to see them up close. That alone is worth the price of admission. The Celtic music is fun, too.

      There’s a red tail that pays occasional visits to our backyard bird feeder. He’s not interested in the safflower seed, but in the Carolina Wrens and Finches, cardinals, doves and squirrels eating the safflower seed. T was in her garden a couple of years ago and looked up to see the bird sitting on the back of the lounge several feet away.

      We also have deer that frequent our backyard, a possum that comes around once in a while, a raccoon who visited several nights last summer, a healthy herd of rabbits this year, and a colony of bats in a bat house on the side of the garage–all in the middle of a residential area. In May and June, one of our favorite activities is to sit out back with a drink and watch the fireflies.

      1. Doug Ross

        There’s a very good series of books written by C.J. Box about a game warden (Joe Pickett) in Yellowstone who gets involved in solving crimes. A recurring character in the books is a falconer/ex-Navy Seal. Each book has some extended sections that go into the details of the sport without interrupting the flow of the story too much. Interesting stuff. These are quick airplane reads… like Jack Reacher and Spenser series.


      1. susanincola

        You know, that probably was what brought them to rehab — many had been in car accidents, and the scenario Brad describes sounds like just the sort of situation that would land them in rehab. It was the squirrel-high that got ’em.

  3. Rose

    Hawks are one of the few things that make students at USC stop in their tracks. Then they all whip out the cell phones trying to take videos and pictures. When I was a student at USC, pigeons were all over the campus and especially on the Horseshoe. The benches were covered in poop. Hawks moved in, no more pigeons after a while. They keep the squirrels population in check now. There are owls on campus too. We spotted one outside of our building during the daylight. I called Rudy Mancke and he rushed over, explaining it was a young barred owl and that when they are just out of the nest they tend to display some risky behavior like flying around in daylight. Then he demonstrated how to talk to an owl. It looked at us but didn’t hoot back. It was awesome. Standing on the campus, hooting at an owl in broad daylight. I love Rudy. He said there’s also a great horned owl on campus.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Barred owls hoot “Who cooks for you all”, while horned owls do a more classic hoot. It is very hard to see horned owls, and they are excellent ventriloquists–you are standing under the tree where they sound like they are while they are laughing at you several trees over!

      Rudy Mancke has done more for natural history appreciation in this country than anyone else!


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