I live in a highrise apartment building perched on the lip of the Don Valley.
It’s a 1960s building, showing its age a bit but solidly constructed and well-maintained. It’s a good apartment and everything about it suits my modest needs.
The only downside of the location is the constant white noise fizzing up from the Don Valley Parkway below me. (I love those summer weekend mornings when the DVP is closed for charity fundraising events — gloriously quiet, apart from the occasional self-important jackass on a megaphone.)
But that minor annoyance is more than compensated for by the spectacular view I have — a sea of green spreading out before me, topped by one of the greatest Toronto skyline views anyone can have (from the CN Tower in the south to Yonge and Sheppard in the north with skyscraper eruptions at Bloor, St. Clair and Eglinton). And the sunsets are a constant wonder.
But the thing I like most about my view is the pair of hawks that circle and wheel and float on air currents over the valley — sometimes just 10 or 20 metres from my balcony railing.
At times (depending on the mating/nesting season) there will just be one hawk, at other times three or four, sometimes — for months, even — no hawks at all.
But at the moment there are two. I’m supposing the fledglings are now grown enough to be off on their own, and mom and pop are back to being empty nesters — free to waft and swoop and dance together in the sky before me.
I get endless enjoyment from watching them — much as they seem to get endless enjoyment from their life of flight. I know I should be working on the computer in front of me instead of looking out the window and they know they should be swooping down on unsuspecting rodents on the valley floor, but we’re all much happier when the hawks are just riding the air currents and looking so damn cool.
I take lots of photos of them and one of the hawks in particular doesn’t like it. If I make myself too obtrusive on the balcony, he (or she?) will swoop down toward me with little screams of indignation, then hustle back up the air stairs to where its partner is cruising and shoo her/him off out of sight. Within an hour, they’re back drifting on the breeze in front of my living room window and we’re all happy again.
But I have a problem with my hawks and that is that I’m an ignoramus when it comes to nature.
I’ve only this summer learned to visually identify poison ivy even though I’ve spent decades walking through it and paying the price (three leaves with the two at the base close to the stem and the solo leaf sticking out further). Most sheep look the same to me. Cows too. I once took home a stranger’s cat because it looked like my missing cat. And about the only flowers I can identify are roses and glads and daisies and daffodils and sunflowers. Oh, and tulips and orchids. But even orchids throw me sometimes. And I couldn’t tell you the difference between a gardenia and a chrysanthemum to save my life. Asters and flox? Surely you jest.
When it comes to identifying birds — either by sight or sound — I am totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. When I refer to bird books, I never see anything that looks like the real bird I’m trying to identify.
I’m not even sure if the birds I call “hawks” are hawks or falcons.
I call them “red hawks” because their back and wing feathers are a beautiful reddish brown — auburn, really — that glow like bronze in the sun. (And actually the hawks I’m seeing now are not as reddish as they were a month or two ago. Now they’re more like the one sitting on a DVP light standard below — more brown with white mottling on their backs. I don’t know if the birds’ plumage is changing — or if they’re completely different hawks. Remember, I misidentified my own cat.)
I’m assuming my “hawks” are red-tailed hawks, quite common in Toronto (known to feast on pigeons in Moss Park among other locales) but, like I said, the reference photos of red-tailed hawks don’t look (to me) like the birds cavorting around my balcony.
So I’m asking for your help. I’ll post a few more photos here and you tell me what kind of hawks we’re looking at. I know the vast majority of people reading this will say (hopefully just to themselves), “What an idiot, that’s so obviously a blah-blah-blah.”
Well, sorry to disappoint you but it’s not obvious to me. And I’d sort of like to put a name to my feathered friends (apart from Madge and Phil, of course). So take a gander (or a hawkeye) and tell me what you think.