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

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of May 9

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Abbotsford Christian Elementary School recently held a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the opening of its StoryWalk project. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford school offers outdoor walk with picture book along the way

StoryWalk project at Abbotsford Christian Elementary celebrates literacy for all ages

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

<a href="Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning." target="_blank"></a>Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning. (File photo)
Man killed in fatal hit-and-run collision between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Body reported at 6 a.m., police close North Parallel Road, single highway lane as they investigate

Kassandra Clack of Abbotsford has been named one of 18 finalists in the Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search, taking place in June.
Fraser Valley country singer Kassandra Clack a finalist in national talent search

18 finalists vie to win Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search in June

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Vancouver Giants celebrated a Justin Sourdif goal Saturday night in Kamloops. Giants dropped a 3-1 decision to Kamloops, a game that clinched the 2020-21 B.C. Division banner for the Blazers. (Allen Douglas/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants drop 3-1 decision to Kamloops

Third-period rally should have come sooner, said coach of Langley-based team

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country’s crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
IHIT investigating after man killed in Burnaby shooting

Police looking for more information on fatal shooting

After Bobby Henderson apologized online for his comments to a Toronto reporter, the Langley Rivermen announced that he was no longer team coach and general manager and in fact, had ‘parted ways’ with the franchise in March. (file/Twitter)
Former Langley Rivermen coach and GM apologizes for comments to Toronto reporter

Bobby Henderson blames stress due to the pandemic for his ‘disparaging’ remarks

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read