Monday, March 16, 2020

Wild Encounter with a Cooper's Hawk

The wildest encounter I have ever had with an animal in the outdoors occurred during a canoe trip down the Delaware River in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area back in the summer of 1983. My co-leader Margaret and were guiding adolescent summer campers on a combined canoe/backpacking that was taking us down the Delaware River and would take us northward on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey.

One day Margaret and I were in the same canoe. I do not recall who was in the bow and who was in the stern.  As we paddled downstream, one of us noticed what appeared to be a bird flapping its wings midair several feet over the water and a few yards from shore but going nowhere. paddling closer, we realized the bird, a  Cooper's Hawk, had become entangled on a fishing hook suspended from a fishing line hanging from a tree branch out over the river.

Margaret steadied the canoe as I stood up in it. I reached up as high as I could and grabbed the line. I then pulled it down as low as I could, passing over the tangled bird until I could reach the line above it.  Using my Swiss Army knife, I cut the line about a foot above the hawk and sat back down in the canoe while I was holding the fowl by the line. Margaret paddled over to shore where we both climbed out onto the New Jersey bank with me still holding the hawk, suspended by its wing, the fishing line still in my hand.

Hawk after we removed the hook
While I held the hawk by the line, Margaret emptied a small nylon stuff sack and put the sack over the hawk's head, covering the beak. She then cradled the creature in her hands while softly singing to it.  I used my knife to carefully cut the three barbed hook, line attached, from out of the crook of the animal’s wing.

After I removed the hook, Margaret sat the hawk down on the bank and removed the stuff sack. The Hawk stood up straight, puffed out its chest, and pulled back its wings as if enjoying its freedom, and stared straight at us. I grabbed my  camera and snapped the attached photo. I don't recall how long all this took, but it seemed like a half hour or so.

Margaret and I had no idea how long the hawk had been suspended mid-air over the river by its wing, nor do we know what eventually happened to this beautiful creature, but we both felt intense satisfaction for having freed it from its predicament. The experience was the highlight of a very memorable trip. Thirty-seven years later, I still recall it as one of the most intense, transcendental wilderness encounters with an animal I have ever experienced.

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