Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17: Bird Poker

The one bonus of daylight savings time: last night there was enough light after I left work that I could run outside instead of having to go to the gym. It truly felt like spring, and my steps were lighter for it. House finches and cardinals sang as I ran down my street, doves flushed from the roadside, and a pair of geese glided together up the river. There's a section of Route 105 where fields open to the river and a wide vista of the Tablelands and Mount Megunticook. I was just about there when I happened to look up, and I almost stopped in my tracks. Above me swirled a kettle of many vultures. I tried to count them while not straying into the ditch or the path of an oncoming car. Twenty-one! Previously I had only seen four at once. Now they seemed to be back in force.

A little further on, I looked up again. The birds were more spread out this time, lower, just above the treeline, perhaps heading in to roost on Bald Mountain. It was, after all, almost 6:00 p.m. They were easier to count, and I again tallied twenty-one big black birds soaring westward. Twenty-one vultures. Blackjack! All black cards, too. Amusing myself with this poker metaphor, I ran on. I often run with a song in my head to help keep my pace up. What came to mind then was Sting's "Shape of My Heart": "I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier. I know that the clubs are weapons of war. I know that diamonds mean money for this art, but that's not the shape of my heart..." A lovely song. A good song for soaring raptors.

Farther along 105 as it comes close to the river, I got my jackpot. I just happened to look up and see a very large bird fly over my head. At first I thought it was one of those vultures, it was so big. But when I could see its plumage patterns, I realized it was a hawk. A big hawk. But not a red-tail. Because it flapped those big wings a few times, then glided, then flapped a few more times with slow strength, then glided across the river and into the pines. Distinctive flight pattern of an accipiter. According to Hawks in Flight by Peter Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton, "Rule of thumb: any bird that is first identified as a buteo and turns out to be an accipiter may safely be called a Goshawk." (Italics theirs.) But before I even got home and read that sentence, I already knew I had seen a goshawk. Some things you just know. I also knew that I'd been dealt a very lucky hand that day.

Twenty-one vultures:
winning handful of black cards.
My jackpot: goshawk!

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