Friday, December 08, 2006

Encountering the Raptor

Despite living in NYC for the better part of a decade we never saw the famed nesting- pair of Red Tailed hawks that lived in Central Park; nor the Red Tails who were evicted and later reinstated at a tony address on 5th Avenue; nor the Peregrine Falcons who supposedly hunted at will throughout Midtown; nor the trained falcons used to control pigeons in Bryant Park. It took our move to Boston to start encountering urban raptors.

Just last week, while walking near my office a sudden movement high atop a bell tower caught my eye. The pigeons who roost up there suddenly took flight and started flying around the tower in large swooping arcs. Within moments a Peregrine Falcon coasted into view looking for lunch. The small bird peeled away and about three minutes later it reappeared, approaching the bell tower and potential lunch on a new vector.

At another job, in one of Boston's tallest buildings, we had the good fortune of sitting in a cube with a westward facing window -- looking out towards Fenway Park and Boston's western 'burbs. A Peregrine Falcon lived nearby for we saw it almost daily, hunting while riding the updrafts that scoured this structure. Our perch was high enough that at times we could see the falcon from above.

As much as we might have wanted to we did not see either of these falcons make a kill. We did witness a kill on the Quarter Acre in the spring of '05. One morning, while holding Child One by a window, watching birds on the feeder, all of the avian diners bolted in a panic. Within a moment a hawk dove past the feeder, talons out, and landed on the lawn. It came so close to the feeder that at first we thought it had picked off an unfortunate sparrow. However, as it flew away, after standing proudly in the middle of the lawn, most-definitely occupying the top of the food chain on the Quarter Acre, we saw that it had nailed a ground-feeding chipmunk.

This same hawk has flown by our porch -- at eye level, close enough to hear the air moving over its body -- and we frequently hear it while working in the yard, chirping and screeching from its nearby, but unseen nest. Last spring this raptor had a partner and we watched them soar high, high above us, nearly transparent in the sky, but highly audible as they screeched to one another while making lazy circles.

Spending as much time as we do commuting to our job we also notice many hawks perched above the highways and byways of the Commonwealth. Two hawks hunted from neighboring lampposts over I-95/128 in Woburn. One was struck by a car -- we saw its carcass by the side of the road in the late summer -- leaving only one hunter to scan the shoulders and median strips of that road. A giant hawk perches atop a lamp post along Soldiers' Field Road in Brighton, hunting along the obviously abundant banks of the Charles River.

The overt presence of these amazing predators is one more exhibit in a growing body of evidence that nature is adapting and growing ever more comfortable living in close proximity to humans. Many might argue that Man encroaches ever-more into nature, and forces this adaptation. Our neighborhood, however, was built in 1954, and is therefore, not a recent encroachment into some pristine wilderness area. Despite the seemingly settled nature of our man-made environment we are surrounded by the eternal struggle between hunter and hunted, entropy and stasis. It would not take much for our environment to revert to its original state as evidenced by the raptors that live comfortably in our midst.

No comments: