Tag Archives: Peregrine Falcon

In the middle of the city

An eight year old girl was going through a stack of magazines with her mother, looking for photographs of animals for a school project.

“What kind of animals?” I asked.

“Birds,” said the girl, smiling.

Her mother looked at a sheet of paper that looked like a homework assignment. “Mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and, uh….” She looked over the paper to see if she had missed anything.

“Do you like birds?” I asked the girl.

“Yes,” she said smiling.

“I do too,” I said. “I’m a bird watcher.” Then I told her about how I saw American Oystercatchers down on Palmer’s Island in the middle of New Bedford harbor, and how they have long orange bills that they use to eat shellfish. The mother kept looking through the magazines, and she had that glazed look that people usually get when I talk about birds; but the girl seemed vaguely interested.

Five minutes later, I was walking down Market Street, right in the middle of the city, when a flock of pigeons burst up into the sky in front of me and flew madly away, and out of the corner of my eye I saw this big bird, as big as a seagull but dark gray-brown, sweeping along to my right about ten feet in the air with a long tail and I could just catch a glimpse of its sharp hooked bill as it flew into the late afternoon sun behind me and disappeared:– a juvenile Peregrine Falcon, out hunting pigeons. It flew within thirty feet of me. Right in the middle of the city.

Lost on Hawk Hill

The map showed a narrow trail that ran up one side of Hawk Hill, meandered three quarters of the way around its broad low peak, and descended quickly to the other side. I walked up the dirt road to where the narrow trail should have begun. I saw nothing but a small cairn on top of a large rock and no evidence of a trail. At last I decided that the trail must go up beside the cairn, and I headed up the hill in the general direction the map showed.

For a while it seemed as if I might be on a long-abandoned trail, until it petered out. The woods were open, and I thought if I kept going perhaps I would happen onto the trail. The hill got steeper; in places the hillside was strewn with rocks, in other places it was open bedrock, but mostly it was tall trees with a few lowbush blueberries growing underneath. Once or twice I struck a deer trail that I was able to follow for a few hundred feet until it disappeared.

The ground began to level off, as if I might be approaching the top of the hill. The ground began to be covered with low, shrubby oaks, which I had to fight my way through. I gave up on finding the trail, and enjoyed being mildly lost. I came upon an open area with a view of another hill, which I decided must be Buck Hill; for Buck Hill had had a brush fire this past May Day, and the hill I looked at showed several places recovering from effects of fire.

I climbed further up, walking across more bedrock, pushing through more shrubby oaks, coming across little openings and hidden glades here and there: a shady glen under a tall dense pine which cast such a shadow that nothing grew under it; a stretch of open bedrock with lanky late summer grass and little scraps of pineweed growing in its cracks; an odd little peak of stone almost hidden in the trees; some more open bedrock which, when I got close, turned out to be part of a well-worn narrow trail marked by a low cairn and a faded blaze painted on the rock.

So I followed the trail down the other side of Hawk Hill. It wound around the broad top of the hill, through an open ledge from whence I could see Buck Hill again, and further off the Interstate highway, and further still two reservoirs split in two by a narrow dike. Then the trail dove down into the trees, and brought me out on the other side of Hawk Hill.

On my way back to the car, I walked along that same dirt road from whence I had begun walking. I stopped and looked around the little cairn again, but no trail did I see. The ancient Greeks said that Hermes, god and guardian of the traveler, lives inside cairns to help guide people along. Hermes was also a mischievous god who even tricked the great Apollo; it would be no trouble for him to fool me. I considered taking down the little cairn so that others wouldn’t be fooled by it, but decided I better hadn’t.

Nor did I see any hawks on Hawk Hill; just an immature Peregrine Falcon at the top of nearby Chickatawbut Hill, starting out on it first trip to the south, who swooped down and sat in a tree top surveying the woods while all the other birds kept quiet and hid.