PHOTOS: Hungry hawk versus reluctant rattler showdown recorded by B.C. photographer

A bald eagle tracks a male mallard duck at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)A bald eagle tracks a male mallard duck at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)
A bald eagle closes in on its prey, a mallard duck, at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)A bald eagle closes in on its prey, a mallard duck, at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)
A bald eagle captures a mallard duck at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)A bald eagle captures a mallard duck at 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)
A bald eagle holds tight to its prey, a mallard duck, as they both tumble in the sky above 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)A bald eagle holds tight to its prey, a mallard duck, as they both tumble in the sky above 103 Mile Lake. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)
Photographer Murray Zelt captured this dramatic shot of a red-tailed hawk taking on a rattlesnake near Kamloops on the Mother’s Day weekend, 2020. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)Photographer Murray Zelt captured this dramatic shot of a red-tailed hawk taking on a rattlesnake near Kamloops on the Mother’s Day weekend, 2020. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)
Photographer Murray Zelt captured this dramatic shot of a red-tailed hawk taking on a rattlesnake near Kamloops on the Mother’s Day weekend, 2020. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)Photographer Murray Zelt captured this dramatic shot of a red-tailed hawk taking on a rattlesnake near Kamloops on the Mother’s Day weekend, 2020. (Photo credit: Murray Zelt)

The province’s highways are a reliable place to have encounters with B.C.’s amazing wildlife, but few drivers have had the experience of 100 Mile House’s Murray Zelt, and fewer still have managed to capture it on film.

Zelt, an aspiring wildlife photographer, was driving to Kamloops on the Mother’s Day weekend to see his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. As he headed down the hill toward the Deadman River crossing west of Savona on Highway 1, something flew out of the ditch to his right and almost hit his vehicle.

“I thought it must be an eagle or a hawk, it was so big,” says Zelt. He looked back over his shoulder and recognized the bird as a red-tailed hawk; a relatively common sight in the area. What was not so common, however, was what the raptor was carrying.

“I saw the bird first, and then I saw it had a huge snake in its talons,” says Zelt. “Crazy!”

Fortunately, he never goes anywhere without his camera, so after pulling safely off to the side of the road he snatched it from the vehicle and jumped out to try to grab some shots.

“The bird didn’t want any part of me possibly interrupting its meal, but I managed to get some shots as it flew away,” says Zelt, who adds that he was surprised to see the hawk managing to gain altitude, even with its heavy load.

“It was a big snake, definitely not a garter, and it didn’t look like a bull snake.” The diamond pattern on its back made Zelt think it was a rattlesnake, as they are known to inhabit the area, and that possibility made him cautious, as well as more than a bit uneasy.

“I was trying to get closer, so I hopped a barbed wire fence. I was paranoid about not stepping where there might be a rattlesnake, because I thought that if the hawk was packing one there might be more around. I was wearing shorts, and I didn’t want to end up going to hospital with a bite instead of going to see my grandson.”

As he picked his way through the sagebrush he was more focussed on looking through the viewfinder than looking at the ground. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a sharp poke and pain in his calf, and turned around, envisioning a snake biting down on his leg.

However, it wasn’t a snake that was stuck to him, but a ball of prickly pear cactus the size of a kiwi fruit.

“That was a relief, seeing that large cactus cluster stuck in my skin, even though it hurt,” he says with a laugh. “I was extra cautious on the way back to the car.”

Zelt says that wildlife photography is a hobby he developed almost by chance. He worked at the Chasm sawmill north of Clinton for more than 20 years, until it closed last year, then transferred to the West Fraser plywood plant in Williams Lake. He credits a former site manager at Chasm for getting him interested in the hobby a few years ago.

“What got me into photography was a Nikon camera I got as a 25-year service award at Chasm, so I’ll always give credit to Adrian, the site manager. I went up to him a few weeks after the ceremony and said that it had really inspired me to get started in photography.” He has prints for sale at Junctions Coffee House in Cache Creek, and wants to pursue more photography when he retires.

Zelt’s hobby means he does a lot of hiking, walking, and exploring in his spare time, and he says it has opened up a whole new world.

“It awakens the senses a lot more, makes you attentive to wildlife. You see a lot of things most people won’t because your senses are in tune with all the amazing creatures out there. There’s so much out there to see if you just open your eyes and appreciate it.”

He always has his camera with him, because he doesn’t want to miss any shots. Before the hawk/snake showdown, he says that the most bizarre thing he ever saw and photographed was a hungry bald eagle chasing a male mallard duck at 103 Mile Lake.

“It circled the far end of the lake in hot pursuit until, like an aerial manoeuvre from Top Gun, the eagle, now fully inverted, grabbed the mallard as feathers billowed to the ground. I snapped rapid-fire pics of the wild encounter and luckily got the shot, but it had to be close to 400 yards away, so obviously it wasn’t the sharpest. It was still very cool, though.”

The shot of the red-tailed hawk with the snake was also a long one, even with a zoom lens, but Zelt says it’s a decent depiction of what those birds will go after for food. When he got home he did some research and found that the hawks will tackle rattlers on occasion, but speculates that they sometimes get bitten and lose the battle.

“I’m curious to know how that particular encounter turned out.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Wildlife

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Younger Princeton residents are now being urged to register for a vaccination notification. (Black Press Media photo)
Princeton lags behind in vaccination rates

Approximately 24 per cent of residents here have received their first dose

Sisters Audrey Cunningham and Donna Erdman, join the Vernon Kalamalka Chorus singing in their cars, tuned into the radio, under the direction of Debbie Parmenter. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Okanagan choir steers around COVID with ‘carbershop’ twist

Singers find a unique way to practice during pandemic restrictions

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

A Falkland man will present a 600+ signature petition to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District board Thursday, May 20, opposing dog control in Electoral Area D, which includes Falkland, Silver Creek, Salmon Valley and Ranchero/Deep Creek. (File photo)
600-plus sign Falkland man’s petition against dog control

Similar bylaw rejected by 200 public hearing attendees when topic came up 9 years ago

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Notes of hope, encouragement and camaraderie were left on the message board inside the kitchen of TacoTime. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Adiós, Taco Tuesday: Kelowna residents flock to TacoTime on restaurant’s final day

‘We don’t need another Starbucks. We need tacos on Tuesday, with extra hot sauce’

RCMP. (Black Press File)
Major Crimes called in after two bodies discovered near Penticton

A manhunt involving a police helicopter took place on May 10

Most Read