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 UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

That’s Houston physician Dr. Stefanie Steel receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Jan. 19, 2021 from RN nurse manager Cindy Cockle. (Northern Health photo)
First Houston vaccinations take place

Long term care residents, health care workers on list

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Most Read