A Cooper's Hawk Dines in Oakland by Walter Kitundu

I was wondering if the avocado tree in our backyard was ever going to host a raptor, and if I would be home to see it when it happened. Today I got my answer in the form of a healthy adult Cooper's Hawk with a freshly caught Rock Pigeon.

As luck would have it, she landed on a branch outside our second floor window. The stakeout began. For the first 2 minutes I was shooting through a window and a screen (above). For the next 2 hours through just the screen (below). Eventually I cut a hole in the screen so I could get the lens clear, and the difference was stunning. I'll point it out when it happens but I'm guessing you'll notice.

life and death in oak.jpg

She spent nearly 25 minutes just getting comfortable and making sure she'd found a safe place to eat.

Once she relaxed she turned her attention to the pigeon. I like this photo because the blur communicates the ferocity of the moment.

A dead pigeon is a heavy load and round sloping tree branches make for tricky dining tables. There is a lot of repositioning to do.

Eventually she stabilized the meal and removed the head and worked her way to the vertebrae. She wasn't interested in the bones, just removing little strips of meat as she went along.

This avocado tree brings us beautiful shade, dappled light, and a sense of peace. I'm glad its riches include the occasional predator.

wo hours in and I was fed up and used an exacto to cut a hole in the screen. The screen created little atmospheric artifacts and reduced the light by nearly a full stop. If you ever need to photograph a bird in your yard do what you can to shoot without a window or screen in the way. It makes such a dramatic difference.

She got down to the crop of the pigeon and was now picking through the pigeon's last meal. It wasn't to her liking and she tossed most of the contents, likely grain or bread, to the ground.

By now she had been at it for over 2 hours and needed a quick bathroom break.

Feathers on your bill are par for the course when you are a bird hunter. Scratching them off with your enormous talons is effective...

...but a head shake is quicker and lets you keep a firm grip on your prey.

At this point, three and-a-half hours later, this patient raptor was working on the keel. The main parts of a pigeon that are of interest to a Coop are the head and the massive flight muscles attached to the keel. 

Baby Robin Rescue by Walter Kitundu

These baby Robins had a rough night. Their nest had fallen and unceremoniously dumped them 10 feet onto the ground. They were cold and the parents couldn't seem to find them. The parents have a history of building poor nests in poor locations. For all they know, the nests magically transform into baskets at some point - this is the second time I've intervened. The last time it was because I found a feral cat standing on the nest.

Here are the two of them as I found them this morning, cold and barely moving.

Here is the fallen nest. The rain had made the muddy grass nest heavy, and it was built into the leafy branches of a tree that fall off when they get old.

I cut the old basket out of the tree that held last year's nest prepared it with some wire.

I placed the nest in the basket...

and wired the nest into the tree right where the fallen one had been.

After warming them in my hands for about 5 minutes, a parent returned and seemed to be searching for them. I placed them in the basket and about three minutes later, the parent arrived at the nest with food but they were so cold and weak they couldn't eat. The parent ate the food it had brought and left the nest carrying some old nest material. I left for work and when I returned the parents were busy feeding the chicks in shifts, and I could hear the little ones chirping. I was so very happy to see that they had made it through the day. I'll keep you posted on their progress. Here is a little video from the time I was trying to warm them up. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/23993998 w=590&h=1041]