Saturday, September 3, 2011

Birds and dreams

It is said that dreaming about birds has deep meaning.  Asking the internets, I find answers that sound more like a horoscope than something deep. 

Yesterday was an evening of birds.  I left work early to go to the Berkeley Marina to fly kites with a colleague.  We were the only kite flyers there on a chilly Friday afternoon.  As I arrived, I saw a large, soaring bird.  Or was it a kite?  It was so stationary, just hovering in one place.

Then it flapped.  A big, slow flap that only a big bird can do. 

"Cool, a turkey vulture at the Marina." was my thought.  I love turkey vultures.  Their scientific name, Cathartes aura, means "purifier" or "pacifier," and Cherokee Nation calls them Peace Eagles.  They cannot kill, and by eating rotting flesh they provide cleanliness and dignity to the dead.  Their courtship involves many hours of spectacular follow-the-leader aerial patterns.  For myself, I categorize them as "V birds" because (1) vulture begins with a V; (2) when they soar, they keep their wings in a dihedral, or V, that is quite distinctive (and in that postion they have a distinctive wobble), and (3) because  seen from below (as they usually are), they show a dark "V" of body and leading wing feathers against their white wings.  They are quite intelligent and gentle.  When they are on the ground, they are awkward, so their method of defense is to vomit.  In place, not even projectile.  The smell of their vomit is so foul that it defends them well.

I also love how absolutely enormous they are.  I think my next kite will be a huge delta kite.  My most recent kite is a yellow Wala, about four feet wide, with a 45-foot tail (22 feet when looped).  Big, but let's go bigger!

So there I was, for a fraction of a second (much shorter than it takes to read this), thinking, "I've never seen a turkey vulture flap! Or fly so low!" when I realized that it was not one.  Wrong wing shape, wrong head size, no dihedral, no wobble, no V pattern on wing.  And smaller.  It was shaped like a red-tailed hawk, another bird I can spot fairly easily, and another bird I adore.  Also exciting!  It looked like a red-tail except its tail was not fanned and not red.  I started taking pictures on my iPhone.

Then it soared closer.  And closer.  Finally settling about 15 feet above the ridge, entirely still.  With my Wala in my hand, I strolled toward it, trying to get a look at plumage to see if it was some other kind of raptor, hoping not to scare it.  I finally got within about 25 feet of it.  It paid no attention to me, as it was staring down at the ground, watching for rodents (this was an excellent place to look for them).  It still looked like a red-tail, a little ragged, and certainly it looked a bit unsteady.  It periodically let itself catch a breeze and soar off to the side or below, but it would come back to the same spot.  Once it fell (attacked a rodent?) to the ground, and I got a look and a picture of it, legs apart (they have a wide stance), pantaloons (no spindly legs showing), fierce raptor gaze in my direction, pissed off that I'd seen it be awkward.  Then back to the air.  It did fan its tail, and it was definitely the right shape, although not the usual bright rust red.

I decided it was a juvenile practicing its hovering and hunting.

When I got home, I looked red-tails up in my bird book.  Because red-tails have an infinite variety of colorings (at most basic, Western and Eastern, light and rufous), it may have even been an adult, but I'm still thinking it was a juvie.  The book and the internets verified that this location is red-tail perfect and that red-tails have been spotted there.

How special to have had such a close encounter with a big raptor.

[Note from the next day: I went back and asked one of the regulars if he'd seen a bird like that.  "Oh yeah," he said, "That's the marsh hawk."  Now, I'd never heard of a marsh hawk so I figured he was wrong until I got home and discovered that that's another term for northern harrier, a bird that perfectly fits the description of what I saw.  Yet another local raptor to watch for!]

I also read the news
and saw that an endangered bird, the clapper rail, has been spotted in San Francisco. 

And, to get to the dream part, I dreamt about red-tails and that I saw a flying clapper rail.  I was amazed that I had just read about the clapper rails and appreciative that if I hadn't I wouldn't have recognized this rare bird.