Red-tailed Hawk and Crows

October came to a quiet end today with a pleasantly warm, sunny day, a clear blue sky and autumn sunlight filtering through a mixture of green, yellow, orange, and wine-red leaves. Every day there are a few more patchy clusters of orange-brown leaves in the white oaks. The sweet gums have all turned burgundy or dirty gold, the dogwoods dusty red, the water oaks speckled in dull green and brown. The leaves in the pecans are mostly yellowish, thin, curling, and falling. It’s been an abundant year for acorns, especially in the white oaks. All day and night huge, heavy acorns still plonk down noisily onto the deck and the balcony right outside our bedroom windows.

Early this afternoon, crickets and grasshoppers chirped loudly and a few sulphur butterflies drifted through open, sunny spots. Threads of spider silk hung in the air and caught in the leaves of the trees. One Red-bellied Woodpecker and one Downy worked on excavating holes in the dead and dying pines. Some of these trees already are riddled with holes, and today the Downy fussed aggressively at the much larger Red-bellied Woodpecker when it came too close to one it was working on, in what was left of a skinny, skeletal dead trunk of a pine that looked like it was more holes than tree.

Eight Turkey Vultures sailed over, traveling together, from northeast to southwest. A Phoebe hunted from very low branches near the ground on the edge of the woods. Then a Red-tailed Hawk flew over the treetops with three Crows noisily harassing it. The Hawk was silent, wings outstretched, looking perhaps more serene than it felt, circling and climbing as the Crows flapped and cawed and darted and snapped all around it.

About thirty minutes later, the hawk was sitting in a pecan tree by the road as I walked out the front door. The Crows must have given up or lost it. It spread its wings and lifted into the air, and its shadow passed over me as it flew back over the house. I walked out into a clear spot and watched it circle several times, at first quite low, as it gradually climbed higher in the cloudless, deep blue sky. Again, it flew silently, and the way the sunlight filtered through its broad, outstretched wings made it look almost angelic in a powerful way, lit from within by a strength and grace beyond my understanding. Its underside was pale with one low dark band of streaks across the breast, a brown-hooded head, dark shoulders and wing-tips, and muted red-orange tail. The fine details of patterns in its wings and breast were elusive, like subtle gray lines in shifting white sand. It never flapped its wings, but held them out almost flat, tilting the tail and wingtips only, and turning its head from side to side. At one point, while it was still pretty low, it crossed paths with a Turkey Vulture also circling upwards, in the opposite direction. A few minutes later, when it was very high, it screamed, just once.

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