“What are you looking at?”
I jumped at the sudden voice behind me. I looked around and found my Cleric, my Gypsy and my Young Hero crowded around behind my chair. They were looking over my shoulder at the computer screen. I sighed.
“I’m just looking through some of my old photos I took while bird watching.”
“Why?” inquired my Young Hero.
“Well, it’s been so long since I’ve had the opportunity to get out and take a nature hike and do some bird watching, I’m starting to develop cabin fever.”
“Oh, no! Cabin fever? Is it serious? I hope I have enough healing herbs!” My Cleric pushed her way past the other two, and felt my forehead. Then she grabbed my wrist to check my pulse.
I pulled away and laughed. “Relax! It’s not a real illness. It’s just an expression. I just mean that I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature for so long, I’m getting cranky.”
“Oh-oh. She’s not all that nice to be around when she gets cranky!” my Gypsy informed the others in a stage whisper.
“Thanks a lot!”
He smiled and gave me a rakish wink, then turned back to the computer screen. “I would love to see some of the photos you have taken of the birds. I have a deep interest in birds myself.”
“Do you, now?” I chuckled.
“I do, as you well know.”
“Yes,” my Young Hero chimed in. “In the past, the Gypsy could often be found lounging against a wall, cleaning under his fingernails with his stiletto, and whistling like a meadowlark.”
“I remember.” I smiled.
“Do you remember the time I told my uncle about the Gypsy?” My Young Hero did not wait for a response before continuing. “I told him the Gypsy knew the name of every single bird,” he related. “And I told him the Gypsy was so good at imitating the birds, sometimes they answered him!”
“What did your uncle have to say about that?” my Gypsy asked.
My Young Hero replied, in perfect imitation of the gruff old Dwarf, “Bah! An astounding feat thet should take him far in life…”
My Gypsy doubled over with laughter. “That sounds like something he would say!”
The rest of us nodded in agreement.
My Gypsy’s attention returned to the computer screen. “That’s a nice picture of a Great Horned Owl,” he said admiringly. He hooted softly, like the owl.
“He looks sleepy,” my Young Hero noticed.
“Yup. He was napping on a fallen log when I spotted him. You can see that in the next photo.”
“What other birds have you seen on your bird-watching treks?” my Gypsy wanted to know.
“Well, I have been actively bird-watching for many years, now, so I have seen scores of different birds – waterfowl, song birds, waders, shorebirds, woodpeckers, game birds…” I replied. “This folder,” I indicated the pictures I was currently viewing on my computer screen, “are raptors.”
“Raptors?” My Young Hero looked confused.
“Birds of prey,” my Gypsy informed him, before I could respond. “Falcons, osprey, hawks, eagles, owls…birds with sharp, hooked beaks; strong, curved talons; and sharp eyesight. Birds that hunt and eat other birds or mammals.”
My Cleric drew closer. “May we see these photographs?” she asked with undisguised interest.
“Sure. Let’s see now, what’s the next photo? Ah, yes, here’s a pair of Bald Eagles. They were feasting on some roadkill as I drove past. They flew into a field, and I pulled over to the side of the road and captured a few quick images. I didn’t stay long, as I didn’t want to disturb their meal.”
“That’s good,” my Gypsy nodded approvingly. “The roadkill may have been a fortuitous find for the eagles. Birds of prey do not make a kill every time they make an attempt. Sometimes, scaring them away from a meal may trigger starvation.”
I nodded, and brought up the next photo.
“Is this another eagle?” my Young Hero asked.
“No, this one is an Osprey,” I replied.
“Ospreys are a bit smaller than Bald Eagles,” my Gypsy lectured us. “They’re fish eaters. They dive feet first to grab a fish, which they carry back to a nest or perch to consume. This Osprey may have just finished a meal.”
“You really do know your birds,” I replied. “This one had actually just delivered a fish to the nest, and was taking a break on a nearby pole. He flew off shortly after I snapped this shot, heading back toward the lake, possibly to grab his own dinner.”
I brought up the next photo. “Care to identify this one for us?” I challenged my Gypsy. “It was the subject of great debate in several online birding groups to which I belong.”
He looked at the picture and smiled confidently. “Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.”
“Not a Cooper’s Hawk?” I baited him. “It looks a bit large for a Sharpie.”
“A female Sharp-shinned Hawk can be as large as a male Cooper’s Hawk,” my Gypsy retorted with a superior arch of his eyebrow. “Her head looks small compared to her body, she has a broad chest and narrow hips, and her legs look long and thin. And the bold streaking on her chest and belly, which marks her as a juvenile, would be much finer in a Cooper’s Hawk, and confined to her chest. This is definitely a Sharpie.”
My Young Hero laughed and advised me, “I told you he knows every single bird! There’s no fooling him!”
“Is this what my hawk looks like?” my Cleric inquired, studying the photo closely.
“No, your hawk doesn’t really exist. Your hawk is larger than the Bald Eagles we were looking at a few photos back, but is marked like this bird, an American Kestrel.” I brought up a photo of the small falcon.
“What a beautiful bird!” she exclaimed, happily.
“American Kestrels are the smallest falcon in North America, as well as the most colorful,” my Gypsy informed us. “They are fierce little predators, and you should be pleased your hawk was modeled on a bird such as this,” he told my Cleric.
“I am,” she replied. She turned to me and said, “I am glad you know so much about birds – almost as much as the Gypsy here! You chose well when you gave me my hawk.”
I smiled. It is not often my characters are so openly appreciative of my writing! On the rare occasion one shows such approval, it makes me want to sing like a bird!
If you would like to learn more about my Cleric’s hawk, or any of my characters, stop back from time to time. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.