“Keeeeeeeer!” The Red-tailed Hawk’s descending cry pierced my marrow and made my neck hairs stand on end. A gorgeous female and male circled directly above me, and I didn’t even need my binoculars to see their heads peering (glaring?) downward at us as we tried to sneak up the sandy wash. We froze and waited for them to move on, but I knew we were in their sights.
We had seen the female with nesting material in her beak twice in the previous 45 minutes; they like to adorn the existing nests with fresh greenery. This pair had co-opted a stick nest occupied last year by Great Horned Owls, and she was now adding her own personal touches to it. I had the privilege of watching her fly directly into the cliff hole with the branchlet, so I knew that had to be her address.
Trying to locate nesting hawks is a hit-and-miss proposition. Timing is everything, and patience is everything else. The red-tails are incubating this month, with hatches coming soon, so you have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s difficult to find a vantage point high enough to see into the nest cavity, but far enough away not to disturb them. I feel like a raptor spy.
You know, the day couldn’t have been much finer. Sue and I never saw another human being, but a Scott’s Oriole sang to us at lunch and posed at the top of a near juniper. Pinyon Jays, the local avian gossips, followed our every move. Pieces of the finest chert, flakes discarded in the making of stone points, lay everywhere — as if to distract our eyes from the sky-gazing task. And the pair of Red-tails filling my binocular lenses? That’s what I get up for in the mornings.