I had the good fortune today of seeing a woodchuck up close and personal as. I must say that I am always ready for such animal encounters as I always carry my camera when walking in the botanical garden.
I had spotted the animal from afar as I was walking on the road that passes by a large field. This field is used by children who plant vegetables and other produce and are then used by the community. The animal was towards the end of the field where only grass is present.
I immediately walked straight towards the object of my interest, but at a slow pace. Woodchucks are notoriously shy and a sudden advance on them would have been the kiss of death on my photographic projects. I therefore moved only when it was not looking at me.
The animal was content in eating the grass that was in front of it, sometimes turning left and at times not moving and looking in my direction. I acted the part of appearing to be a statue. It would often chew on the grass and then look up. I was always on the move until I was a few feet from it, hiding behind a rock formation that had been shaped as a wheel by employees of the garden. From there I began taking pictures as I was unsure for how long the animal would stay.
The weather was not the best as the skies were cloudy but at times the sun would shine. I was now crouching and taking pictures of the animal and decided to get even closer to it but slowly. I knew that any rapid movements on my part would mean the sudden departure of my subject.
At times the woodchuck exhibited a strange behviour. At one point it stood on its back legs and stood up looking at me, seeming to strike a pose for me. Of course it is possible that it was trying to intimidate me by appearing larger than it really was. Interestingly not a sound was uttered by the animal. I took more pictures especially as the sun’s rays were now shining on my subject. The animal is not a colourful subject as its fur is brown with some reddish tint into it and it has the face of a beaver. But it is wild.
I was now facing the animal squarely and it did not seem to mine. In fact, it was so comfortable that it installed itself on a flat rock and stretched it front paws slightly in front of it. It was still eying me though, keeping a close eye on me. I was happy as I took more pictures while it stretched in the sun.
After about ten minutes of this the woodchuck suddenly got up and entered a small forest at the back of the area leaving me alone. Not once had it uttered a sound. It was always looking at me and knew at all times where I was and what I was doing. I was not doing much of course, except taking pictures.
I arrived late in the botanical garden. It was a very cloudy day but I had thought that it would be a dry day but in the end it was anything but. I had purposely waited until 09:00 to take the bus but still had to contend with bad weather.
Here I was, walking with my camera and looking for a subject to photograph. With no snow on the ground and few birds, I was left with the prospect of trying to find mushrooms. Add to that low light and a small drizzle and one can see that I was less than enthusiastic about my prospects. It is the time of the year when a photographer has to be creative.
I had been walking for well over an hour and I still had nothing to show for except two pictures of some lowly mushrooms growing by the side of a dead tree. Nothing to crow about I would say.
I thought finally that swinging by the bird feeding stations would be a good idea. I was still hoping to see some birds so I began walking in the direction of one station that was near a small wooded area, at the junction of two small roads. A stream was also flowing nearby. Generally it is not the best feeding station as foot traffic can be intense at times.
I was walking along the trail when all of a sudden my eye caught something whitish on a branch high besides the feeding station. I approached cautiously and using the zoom on my camera began to examine this. As I looked I realized that it was a hawk, a red-tail hawk. I was besides myself.
This hawk does often frequent the garden but it is hard to see and harder to photograph as it tend to be quite high, looking on the ground for small rodents and birds. Not knowing if it was very skittish I approached slowly, taking a series of pictures in case it flew away, but luckily it did not.
I continued my approach until I was facing it. I then extended my monopod to the ground and began taking some more pictures. By then it was still drizzling but harder. I had my plastic bag protecting my camera as well as my lens, but not completely.
The bird was very much looking in the direction of the feeding station. It often would look at me as well, probably wary of what I was doing. It flew several times around the area, going from one branch to another. I could distinctly see its red tail sticking out. It is a massive bird much bigger than a Cooper’s hawk. I am always amazed how it can fly so silently and not uttering a cry.
Here I was, walking in the botanical garden. It was late morning and I had been exploring the area trying to take pictures of something worthy of. In winter this is not easy. Sure, there were birds at the bird feeding stations but they were the usual birds that I have photographed often such as cardinals and juncos.
I was walking the ski trail and trying hard not to walk on the ski tracks but beside them. No need to arouse the ire of skiers I thought. I try hard not to antagonize people unnecessarily. I was walking towards an area of the garden where one can find tall conifers as well as several sculptures that are made of metal. Ugly objects in my view as rust was attacking them. It was cold, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. I was a hunter on the prowl, but no animals would be harmed today by me.
I turned a corner and I could see on my left some conifers bathed by the morning sun. As I approached a tall conifer my heart raced when I saw a bird on a branch, a hawk called a Cooper’s hawk. It was only a few feet away from me and I was lucky that it had not been startled by my sudden arrival. Coming upon a hawk on a branch was a stroke of luck for me as these birds are notoriously difficult to see and especially to photograph. At least for me.
The bird was somewhat hidden on one side so I purposely walked sideways more to the left of it as I wanted to get a good shot. Finally, after a few careful steps I was exactly at the spot that I wanted. The bird cooperated with me and I took several pictures, and then not content with what I had I approached the bird even more. Again I took several more shots. At one point the bird lunged in front of it, or so it seemed to me. I was focused on the bird but I did notice that it had released itself. I had seen nothing else. For me there was nothing else to see.
Soon after a skier arrived and as it passed by the conifer the hawk flew away. I could not find it afterwards even if I did try. I left the area shortly after and reviewed my pictures. They were nice and I was happy with them. A day later, as I reviewed again my pictures I noticed something red lying on the branch where the hawk was. I increased the magnification and to my surprise saw that it was some sort of prey that the bird had caught. It had chosen this branch on that conifer to eat its prey. Despite the fact that the scene was in front of me I had seen nothing!
Truly we are blind. We see what we want to see and nothing more and it is probable that all our senses are affected in this way. Our eyes do not see and our ears do not ear. It is the brain that interprets reality. I was wondering, what else escapes me during my walks in the garden, and of course, in my everyday life? Are we all sleepwalking through life?