If you’ve been reading my articles you’ve probably noted the many reasons why I love the winter. Among other reasons, winter allows anyone interested to take pictures of animals on beautiful snowy backgrounds, to follow animal tracks after a fresh snowfall, and to easily locate waterfowl, as growing lake ice encourages them to group together in the few open patches of water.
That said, by the start of March I was as sick of the cold as everyone else and more than ready for spring.
I’m writing this on March 9, and I can hear the birds singing outside my window. It might still be -10°C outside but that hasn’t stopped the return of little birds like sparrows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and many more. As I stepped outside to refill the feeders I saw a red-tailed hawk and a copper hawk flying by and it reminded me of one of my first exciting birding moments almost six years ago.
It all started when a co-worker told me about a big bird building a nest near our office. I went over to investigate, certain it was just going to be a crow, and was amazed to see it was actually a pair of red-tailed hawks! I was so fascinated with this pair that in order to watch them more often I started arriving for work extra early, and leaving late. I started having my lunch outside, and I would even come by on weekends to follow their progress. For the first time in my life I was able to track a pair of red-tailed hawks from the beginning to the end of nesting season.
I watched with amazement as the parents broke off branches from trees and then wove them together into a nest. I remember seeing the female sitting on eggs for what seemed like ages before my first sight of the little eyas. Their tiny, white, alien-looking heads were like nothing I’d ever seen in the wild, but their cute/ugly appearance was much less interesting than watching the parents hunt, kill, and feed their young.
All this excitement was eventually shared with both friends and strangers who came to watch the nest and the growth of the hawk family. Our bosses were thankfully understanding as the fifth floor of the Scarborough Civic Centre became obsessed with our very own reality show. Coworkers brought cameras and binoculars and every day there was some sort of conversation revolving around updates on what we’d seen that day in the nest.
Our excitement initially came to an end when the babies took flight and moved on. We felt privileged to have witnessed their growth, but felt a new form of ‘empty-nest-syndrome’ when we realized they were gone, unlikely to ever return.
Luckily for us the parents came back to the same spot for another two years and we watched several other eyas hatch, grow, and spread their wings and fly away. As I’m writing today I’m happy to report that the same mated pair is still there today, though the nest has moved deeper into the forest and is much harder to observe.
Let’s all say goodbye to winter and enjoy the spring for its warmer weather, the return of some of our favourite animals, and another season of nature running its course.
I have photoblogged life at the red-tailed nest for the last six years at redtailnest.blogspot.ca. Look up 2009 to see more of those first exciting memories.
Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer – naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca