The sun was beating down mercilessly as I trudged down a particularly open part of the Appalachian Trail. I would not call what I was doing hiking, frankly, it was more of an amble. Sweat trickled down my my cheek. Stopping to pull off my hat and mop my brow, I saw a through-hiker staggering under the weight of an enormous pack coming around the bend in the path. As he approached, he slowed to pass the a few words of cheerful greeting. He asked about water and shade. I was thankfully able to reassure him that shade was close by and I had just dropped off 2 gallons of water by the kiosk. The relief spread over his face. His parting comment tossed over his shoulder was, “I’ve been seeing lots of birds.” I shouted at his back, “Good for You!”
“I wish I was,” I muttered as I turned and pushed on.
Birding had been light at best. Yes, it was the doldrums of the day in the dead of summer, but still I had expected more than I was seeing. As I made the turn around a pond, I looked up to see a kettle of swirling vultures. Watching them I saw a flash of white. In hawk-watching terms, these birds were bigger than pepper specks, maybe even large grained pepper, but you needed bins to see them.
There! Another flash as the bird banked. Hot diggity. White at tail AND head. There was a Bald Eagle slumming with the boys in the hood. I stood there in the blazing heat losing him in the pale sky and haze; then catching sight again as the sun reflected off the white.
A group of 3 fully-loaded hikers and a dog strode toward me. They stopped when they saw me standing in the middle of the path craning upward.
I looked over grinning. “Ever seen an Eagle?”
None of them had. They shrugged out of their packs and we stood sharing my bins watching majesty in the sky. They were thrilled. Heck, I was thrilled. Watching eagles never gets old. And sharing with nature-loving strangers is the best.
Winter is a great time to look for Eagles. We have them here in NJ on both the Delaware and Hudson Rivers as well as most reservoirs. Many bird groups or Audubon Societies offer winter Eagle field trips. Check it out and dress warm if you go. I almost froze my patootie once on an eagle trip.
But, let me tell you an Eagle story.
A few weeks ago, as I was driving around the Wanaque Reservoir I glanced through the trees and there were thousands of Common Mergansers sitting on the water. Thinking there might be other things hanging around with such a large flock, I slowed up and squeezed into the only available hint of a pull-off. I walked back to peer over the fence and through the trees. Hoping for a better view, I followed the fence line until I found a thin opening through the trees, when all of a sudden the Merganzers exploded into a swirling mass of white. I looked up expecting a Peregrine or some other raptor. What I saw was a 3rd year immature Bald Eagle. As soon as the flock would settle down onto another part of the water, he would buzz over the top of them causing them to take to flight again. He did it repeatedly, I could almost hear the laughing. I watched transfixed. I had never seen anything like it. After playing with the Merganser for several passes, he started to swoop low and drag his big yellow feet in the water that they had vacated. Maybe he was fishing? He suddenly veered off to the north when a large adult Bald Eagle appeared. It started to do the same thing though-flying low over the water and dragging its feet. Within a few minutes the immature Bald Eagle was back and they both skimmed the water back and forth dragging their feet. I watched them for perhaps 20 minutes. They were still doing it when I left. It was one of those birdwatching moments when I wished someone else had been there to see it. Have you seen Eagles do this? Were they fishing?
To see other birds check out Bird Photography Weekly.
Ya shodda been there.
Tropical Storm Hannah passed in the night leaving a chilly day with scuttling clouds against a bright blue sky. Thinking it might be too windy for migrating hawks, I nearly didn’t go to Mt. Peter today. But, boy, am I glad I did.
When I climbed onto the platform, I was greeted with cries of “You just missed it.” Veteran hawk-watchers, Judy and Ken had watched a trio of eagles lazing in the updrafts, before one turned, heading south leaving the other two to fly back north. They had put on a show for half an hour. While there had been hawks, passerines, and the odd Monarch to tally; it was the eagles that caused the most excitement.
I was only there for maybe half an hour when a pair of eagles reappeared from the north spiraling up the thermals to find their southern highway. Their heads and tails shone in the sunshine and as they circled against the sun, their tails positively glowed. We watched them awestruck, tracking them as they flew south. There is nothing like seeing eagles. An hour later, 3 more eagles popped up from behind the microwave tower. They too made a bee-line for the south.
At the end of the day, 6 eagles had passed overhead. I don’t know the finished count, but while I was there, we saw Osprey, Cooper, Sharp-shinned, Broad-winged, and Red-tailed Hawks, as well as the ubiquitous Black and Turkey Vultures.
For me, standing for hours scanning the sky is relaxing. The world slows down. I can take the time to really look at everything: study the clouds, notice small butterflies, thrill to the buzz of a hummingbird on a mission. If you get a chance, come up. There is someone there most days until mid-November.