I drive on, the image of the bird burning. How can a moment contain such power?
On the Napier Road another kahu drops from the sky towards the road. I brake and veer. The bird hovers over a small, crushed body, blood and feathers on the tarmac; the kahu realises it's too late to pluck the morsel from the road and beats its wings, rising to safety in the sky. Another vision, another moment; again, the movement hardly there — the pale bird, long legs stretching downwards, head looking down, body suspended from upraised wings. Another emblem or omen, like an angel — not the pretty, insipid angel of catechisms but the powerful, dangerous angel of mythology.
Of all the common birds here, kahu might be the most difficult to photograph. Sometimes one of these big birds will watch the car drive past a few metres away, the effort of releasing the body of a possum or hare and rising into the sky not warranted. But if the car slows, even at a distance, the kahu flees. On foot, a hundred metres is far too close for a kahu. I don't have the patience to wait interminably in a hide near a dead possum, and I don't have the kind of lens that would allow a satisfactory photo of a kahu in flight — even in the refuge of the sky, they're unapproachable. I'll keep trying, but perhaps my continual failure's no bad thing. I have some sympathy for Geoff Dyer's belief that "the world will exist only as long as some part of it remains unphotographed".
1.Kahu (pronounced, roughly, KAA hoo) are a common sight in most rural areas of Aotearoa, particularly near roads, where they take advantage of the abundant road kills. Most people simply call them hawks; the official common name is Australasian harrier; the scientific name is Circus approximans.
1.Kahu over the edge of my terrace, last year's big slip below.
2. About as good as I've managed so far. Cropped and processed to the limits.
Photos and original text © 2009 Pete McGregor