Wildness Within Sight

This map gives an overhead view of nearby areas of mixed forest, field and small bodies of water bordered by housing, gardens, and streets where Mission Creek Nature Park is located in northeast Olympia. Not shown, but close by, is Priest Point Park, a much larger area that includes the meanderings of Ellis Creek and Mission Creek where they debouch into Budd Inlet, the bottom of Puget Sound. The combined area is rich with wildlife.

We were just returning from an exploratory walk in Mission Creek Nature Park in northeast Olympia when we observed a still figure perched on a fence railing. As we quietly approached, my friend noted the white breast with its few streaks of brown and the banded tail, “It must be a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. It doesn’t know enough yet to fly away.” Not that we posed any danger; we stood still in awe just drinking in its form while it appeared indifferent to our presence. But who could tell what such a wild creature was thinking? We were not as interesting as a mouse or small fluttering bird! Its expression was a blank to us but we were thrilled to be touched, even remotely, by our brush with untamed nature.

The juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, posing…or just indifferent to our gaping.

Mission Creek Nature Park, now that I think about it in hawk terms, offers a good habitat: “forest, broken woodland, farms, neighborhoods,” as listed by my handy guide, Birds of the Puget Sound Region, by Bob Morse, Tom Aversa and Hal Opperman. They note that these hawks are fairly common and can be found throughout the region. Had it chosen, the hawk could have burst from its perch with speed; had we been prey it would have snatched us in a swoop of its wings. It is known to haunt birdfeeders. Its call is said to be a “repeated kek” with a nasal twang. That day, however, it remained impassively silent. We slipped away.

The park offered a perfect edge environment inside the city, with enough forested land, grassy fields, and some wetland areas with low bushes to support a healthy hawk, handily supplemented with birdfeeders in nearby back yards. Reading the work of University of Washington Professor of Wildlife Science John Marzluff has changed the way I see this mixed landscape. In his Welcome to Subirdia study, Marzluff studies both the new opportunities these human disturbed places created for birds—and other adaptable wildlife like coyotes—as well as the hardships for those whose needs are not flexible. While still working to save true wilderness, we should also value these accessible places where many birds can flourish.

The park offers trails through woodland, fields of grasses and wildflowers such as this vibrant stand of fireweed, low bushes and patches of wetland. And glorious cloudscapes!

Margaret wrote extensively about gardens and birds-in-gardens. She would have enjoyed Marzluff’s work immensely as it confirmed what she already knew: that we can all make the world friendlier for birds if we take into account their needs for food, water and shelter along with our own needs. We can co-exist. The sight of a magnificent Cooper’s Hawk could be our reward for leaving some spaces “wild enough.”

See my review of Mazluff’s book, Welcome to Subirdia in The Echo, the online publication of Black Hills Audubon Society, January 15, 2018 edition: https://blackhills-audubon.org/armchair-birding/

3 thoughts on “Wildness Within Sight

  1. I had my first encounter with a Cooper’s hawk when I was volunteering at PAWS in Lynnwood, WA in their bird rehabilitation section. Located in a forested area, there was an enclosure of various small birds who had been nursed back to health from illnesses or injury and this space allowed them to get their flying strength back and remember how to self feed. My job that day was to check in on the birds and make sure there was clean water and plenty of food available.
    When I arrived at the enclosure all the various small birds were in an absolute panic. Flailing around, and shrieking it seemed for lack of a better word. It took me a second to realize that nothing inside the enclosure was causing the difficulty. So I looked outside. There perched on a branch right outside the enclosure was a Cooper’s Hawk staring intently at all the meal possibilities. After taking a second to marvel at his size and the intensity of his gaze, I shooed him along. Calm instantly returned to the enclosure and I too slipped away with a smile on my face.

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  2. I had a close encounter with a Cooper’s Hawk years ago when I was volunteering at PAWS in the bird rehabilitation section of the Lynnwood, WA facility. Small birds, who had mostly recovered from illness or injury, were put in an outdoor enclosure where they could regain their flying strength and practice foraging for food again before their release back to nature. My job was to make sure everything in the enclosure was in top shape, including lots of clean water and an abundance of food.
    One day, as I approached the enclosure, I knew something was not right. The small birds were flying around in a panic and some were almost screaming, for lack of a better word! After I surveyed the enclosure, I realized nothing was wrong with the inside of the space. So I took a look outside. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a branch looking down on the small birds. Wildness within sight! Not just for me but for the small birds as well!
    The hawk was looking so intently at his prey, he could care less about me. I had plenty of time to marvel at him before I shooed him away. Calm quickly returned to the enclosure. I slipped away with a smile on my face.

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