End of Day – Young Red-shouldered Hawk

Late in the afternoon, near the end of a very hot, sunny day, clouds had grown and gathered and almost covered the blue sky. The back yard felt still, the air humid and warm and mostly quiet at first, except for insects, and the soft, rapid, overlapping pik-a-tuk-tuk-tuk, pik-a-tuk-tuk-tuk calls of two Summer Tanagers. Both were hidden in some pines, screened from view, but they sounded close together and called like this repeatedly for several minutes, one call overlapping another, over and over.

A Carolina Wren sang somewhere down in the woods. And the large, silent black wings of an American Crow rose from a hidden spot among the oaks, followed by another crow. They flew from tree to tree, settled back into the foliage and disappeared. This happened two or three more times, with at least five or six crows around now, and an eerie and ominous feeling about the silent way the black winged forms appeared and moved around. Then a couple more crows arrived and they began to exchange several caws. Two crows flew to the bare branch stubs of a standing dead pine tree, and one of them made a series of some unusual vocal sounds, a variety of short, hoarse, harsh syllables something like kek and ko and krek – though that’s only the vaguest description and they were all strung together in one expression. Neither this crow nor the others seemed agitated, in fact, this one looked down at its own feet as it made these sounds, as if it were talking to itself. After a couple of minutes, it flew to somewhere else.

Meanwhile, the Summer Tanagers continued to call, and an Acadian Flycatcher came unusually far uphill from the creek, and called sharp wheets! for several minutes, moving from place to place among the oaks, sweet gums and dogwoods around the edge of the yard, but staying out of sight in the leaves. A big yellow and black Tiger Swallowtail floated from purple flower to flower in the butterfly bush beside the deck.

When I looked up at the dead pine snag again, at first I looked away, thinking there was another crow sitting there – then I looked back. It was not a crow, but a hawk. A closer look revealed a handsome young Red-shouldered Hawk, with dark brown streaks across the upper chest and on the sides. Its head was turned in profile, as if posing. After only a few minutes, it spread its broad wings and slipped off quietly into the woods and out of sight. The crows seemed to have disappeared, too, after that, and I don’t know if they had been watching the hawk and discussing it or if their presence was just coincidental – they never harassed it the way they would a Red-tailed Hawk.

The Summer Tanagers fell quiet or drifted away. Two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipped between the feeder and the branches of nearby oaks. A Scarlet Tanager sang its strident song from very far away in the woods. The songs of cicadas rose and fell.

And then one of the nicest things – a Wood Thrush began to sing from down in the woods along the creek, its fluted notes a cool, relaxing, enchanting music, at the same time rare, and the most natural and fitting way to end a summer day. It sang for several minutes, gradually making its way up the creek, and fading into the distance.

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