You Should Have Seen the One that Got Away

This seems to be the weekend all the big ones got away.

Saturday I was standing out in the backyard next to the fence trying to finally get a picture of the contrary Blue Jay that’s been eating all the hazelnuts in the tree next door. Naturally, my attention was totally focused on him and not on what was going on around me.

Suddenly a brown blur seemed to touch, momentarily, on a tree limb not more than three feet from my face. Before I could blurt out, “What the …,” the huge, at least at this range, bird, which I later assumed was the Merlin falcon that had visited our yard last week, was off. Breaking off to the right before making a sharp left between Leslie and I, it pursued a small sparrow that had been at the feeder, apparently unaware of our existence.

I yelled at Leslie to look, but she said she never saw it, though it had passed less than a foot above her head and less than a foot in front of her. For a scant second, all I could see before my eyes were brown and white feathers, in perfect silhouette. My camera with it’s bulky 400mm telephoto lens never moved the entire time.

Somehow the fact that I didn’t get a picture didn’t lessen the sense of awe and, yes, touch of fear, as I suddenly felt as vulnerable as my small visitors must feel in such an awe-full presence.

Furthermore, all the pictures of Sunday’s visit to Nisqually Refuge turned out blank. Though the camera said there were only 13 pictures left on a Compact Flash Card that usually holds 65 shots, there we no images on the card when it was inserted into the computer. I’m still unsure what went wrong, but I’ll admit I was bitterly disappointed that the pictures of what appeared to be a large hawk or eagle and, more importantly, a river otter did not turn out.

Strangely, both of these were pointed out by Leslie, once again proving that two sets of eyes are always better than one set. I adore river otters but have never seen one in the wild before. I wouldn’t have seen this one because I had the camera focused on some sandpipers when Leslie whispered, “Look” and I saw the head of what certainly appeared to be a river otter swim right in front of the birds I was taking a picture of. I followed it with the camera as it swam swiftly about ten feet and then dove and disappeared into the water, likely into a den just under the bank of the stream since he never reappeared.

A park ranger confirmed that there are several river otters on the refuge, and, despite the lack of proof, I’m convinced that must have been what we saw. Hopefully in future visits I’ll finally get a picture now that I know where its den is.

3 thoughts on “You Should Have Seen the One that Got Away”

  1. This post reminds me of two things. Firstly a good friend of mine is a professional wildlife photographer, and one of the few people licensed to photograph golden eagles in Scotland. He told me once how he had spent 4 days in a hide high in the mountains in winter with his camera trained on a red deer carcass which he had dragged up the hill and left a few metres away from the hide. He had built the hide months earlier (so the birds would become accustomed to it) out of stones, with a roof of branches and other vegetation, and he told me that on one occasion when a female eagle that had been feeding on the carcass flew off she passed right above him, inches away, and the whole roof shook with the draught from her massive wings. He said it was an incredible experience, and quite unnerving in a way.

    Otters are common in Scottish rivers, but very shy for the most part. However I was once fishing in a salmon pool just as dawn was breaking when I suddenly became aware of a strange snorting sound behind me and looked round to see a mother otter and her three cubs drifting down towards me on the current. They were so close that I could have reached out and touched them as they passed, but I remained absolutely still and rather than swimming away or diving for safety all four kept their heads raised to scrutinise me, swivelling their necks in unison as they floated by. The mother kept making low, gruff barking sounds until they were some distance away – either to alert the youngsters to the potential danger, or to warn off her territory!

  2. Your post reminds me that Scotland is one of the few place overseas that I’d really like to visit, not the cities so much but the countryside.

    Perhaps it’s merely the old tales of grandfathers who came from there and were passed down, but I’ve always wondered how much it resembled the Pacific Northwest and if that explained why so many of my relatives on both sides of my family came from there.

  3. Maybe you should come and visit? I think there are similarities with the Pacific Northwest. I visited the Seattle area once, but unfortunately didn’t have time to explore the countryside.

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