Over the tilt of his coffee cup this morning, my friend saw the touch down on the boathouse roof. “Look, a hawk!” he said, pointing. I knew before I turned it was one of the youngsters from the leaf-shrouded nest above the Resurrecton stage, forty feet up a live oak trunk. The three-fledglings have been practicing this flying stuff so they can leave home.
Just four days out of the nest, this fellow had made a kind of clumsy landing. He kept his wings outspread just in case he needed them again to shift his position. But give him a week, and he’ll be wheeling, cruising, sky-borne toward the summer sun, handsome and confident on the wing.
And this young hunter will make his fierce sky-blue reckonings that there is prey below him from ten stories high. And then he will go into a tucked and targeted dive at more than 120 miles an hour, until at the last fraction of a second, he extends his wings and the long feathers tremble and cup the fast air to break his fall, razor talons spread for the killing lightning swipe, and powerful breast strokes to lift him again and rise toward some nearby thick branch, a good horizontal perch for the meal.
Today, the youngster is interested in me. Probably knows my voice. The cell signal is better on the boardwalk beneath his nest, and he’s watched me and heard me talking for almost a month. This time I’ve come out on the walk, leaving my iPhone behind in favor of my digital SLR and the telephoto lens and tripod.
When he left the roof, he actually flew in my direction. And from the first branch he chose, he dropped to a lower one, still closer to me. With my little dog Bobby at my feet,
I stood for almost twenty minutes and watched him watching me. So I gave him a name. Gabriel.
Then Gabriel made this funny little hop to yet a still closer branch that I actual caught with the camera, albeit the image is a bit blurry.
We kept our places, him and me and Bobby, studying each other, until Gabriel finally dropped toward the ground in a descending glide that took him out of sight around the end of the house.
I’ll miss the three adolescent hawks. Their days are numbered. The parents will feed Gabriel and his siblings for about three more weeks while they perfect their flight skills. Then they’ve got to bend their wings toward some stake on their own territorial claims that won’t infringe on Mom and Pop.
If someday, from some little skiff making easy headway along Fish River’s winding course, a Red-shoulder hawk makes an unusual nearby approach, I’ll cut the engine and drift. And, just maybe, from the treetops he will do his little Gabriel-hop in my direction. As I console Bobby, telling him not to worry, telling him this hawk’s checking out old friends, not measuring us up for a meal.