January 12, 2012
(from guest blogger and Refuge Volunteer - Kris Purdy)
You never know what birds you might see at the refuge. That’s why I perform a monthly survey not for water birds, but for birds that may not be associated with water—raptors, gallinaceous species, doves, owls, woodpeckers, and songbirds. I had completed my January survey and was arriving at the visitor’s center to record my data at the eBird kiosk. I noticed a small hawk perched on the guardrail as I drove up the driveway to the parking lot. "A Merlin!", my gut said, considering the open habitat around the center.
But I was wrong. The first-year Sharp-shinned Hawk, ambush species of woodlands and backyards, flushed from the guardrail just as I reached the spot. What on earth was a Sharpie doing there? The hawk angled toward the walkway leading from the parking lot to the building and took a new perch. I had a good long look at the bird as I approached the walkway while its attention was focused down. Then, it flew again, this time toward the south side of the building where the feeders are, and I figured that was the last I’d see of a bird that seemed so out of place in the wetland that surrounds the center. But I was wrong.
I could hear mysterious rustling in the reeds as I passed the spot, and I figured a couple American coots were down there, tripping over cattails with their fat lobed toes. Then, unmistakable chirps of House Sparrows told me who was using the thick cover.
I half-turned and looked down the walkway I had just crossed as I was opening the door to enter the center. There was the hawk again, this time perched on a piling, looking down into the reeds intensely. The bird wiggled its tail back and forth like a person who rubs his or her hands together with great anticipation, and then, the bird flew down toward the reeds and swooped under the walkway. I wondered what madness was ensuing under there where I couldn’t see. Accipiters are known for pursuing their prey on foot through brush, and I had no doubt the little Sharpie was causing havoc among the sparrows. Eventually, the hawk emerged from the north side of the walkway and flew west, remaining low over the parking lot like a falcon does, but with the flap, flap, flap gliiiiide flight pattern of an accipiter.
I’ll never know if the hawk actually caught a House Sparrow or not. But I do know that bird knows where to find dinner, and just like at your backyard bird feeder, it will likely be back. Keep your eyes peeled on the walkway!