Just as I was rounding a mountain curve on the high side in my Jeep, a red tail hawk riding an updraft up the hillside suddenly appeared talons to me, barely three feet in front of my hood. I swear that both of us shared the same look of surprise and momentary fear.
Even though our languages were different, I am convinced we both blurted out identical expletives. Before my momentum carried me past the critter, I watched its talons lock into an impressive defensive posture. Then its muscles tightened and with a powerful wingbeat went soaring upward towards into the wild blue yonder.
I was shaken and trembling, yet grinning from ear-to-ear. Close encounters with the more powerful critters of nature leave me in awe. Some are obviously extremely dangerous, such as bears and cougars and sharks, but I wouldn’t want to make a large raptor feel like it needed to do battle with me. The power of those talons and beaks are to be respected.
One time, years ago, a group of kids had an injured owl cornered near a campground. They were raising quite a ruckus and I went to investigate the whooping and hollering.
When I got there I heard one kid arguing to rush the bird, put it out of its misery and take the talons for decorations. I gave that kid a stern lecture and sent him off pouting. I doubt I could ever like the man he would grow up to be.
Some other kids wanted to capture the raptor and take it back to camp to heal it. I figured I’d better convince them otherwise, so I pointed out the length and sharpness of the talons and said I would give them an example of the power of those weapons. I invited each kid to squeeze my arm as hard as he or she could.
When they had all done their best, I rubbed my now sore arm and explained that the power of that bird’s grip was just about the same as all of the kids added together and therefore strong enough to dig those talons right into bone.
A wise group decision was made to leave the bird alone and hope for the best. Truth is, that wound looked more like a flesh laceration that a break, so I figured the bird would be okay if it avoided large ground predators long enough to heal for flight. The kids all learned something and the bird looked very happy to see us go.
I am one to stop and admire a large raptor in flight, or even sitting on a fence post, power line post, or treetop. There is something magnificent about all the big birds of prey. They combine grace and power in a way that commands respect.
While chatting with a friend in his front yard, we heard the rustle of wings above and watched a huge owl land on a branch about 30 feet above ground. When we looked down, his small dog was no longer at his feet. Even though that dog was an incessant noisy yapper, it had made a silent beeline for the front porch. Where it cowered, looking upwards. Instincts can be a powerful force.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.