I was birding at the base of Flagstaff’s Mount Elden recently, poking into likely nooks and crannies, trying to find as many different species as possible. The weather has warmed as the monsoon trails off, so I checked out various water sources. My guide was the old Arizona adage, “Where there’s water, there’s life.”
I was standing still near Mount Elden Spring, listening to the trickle of water, when dark wings flashed through the forest nearby. The bird maneuvered rapidly through the close-growing oaks. It followed the watercourse uphill toward me, then veered off to perch on a branch.
I got binoculars on it and was rewarded with a nice view of a Cooper’s hawk. These are woodland hawks. With short, rounded wings and a relatively long tail, they are well-adapted to flight in tight quarters.
Cooper’s hawks prey mostly on small birds. That may explain why I’d been hearing no bird sounds along the stream bed. Alert juncos, jays, and woodpeckers had cleared out of the area ahead of their airborne predator.
The hawk soon launched from its perch and continued up the watercourse, landing within sight again, this time with its red-and-white breast facing me. I brought my binoculars to my eyes again and took another long look.
The bird was aware of me, but uninterested. I was not a small songbird, not a potential meal. Nor was I a threat, standing still in the woodland, almost as quiet as the trees themselves. It had no reason to be concerned with me, and it wasn’t. Absorbed as I was in the sight of it, it gave me barely a glance.
This is one of the many things birding means to me: the chance to be part of the landscape for a moment. To a Cooper’s hawk on the hunt at least, I am insignificant. I don’t know why it felt so good to know that.