I am a “middle of the road” eagle watcher.
I don’t particularly mean that I stand in the middle of a road to watch eagles (although on some occasions I have done just that) but rather I mean that the opportunities to see these magnificent creatures here in Dayton, Ohio are better than in some places but far worse than in other places. In most of the country encountering a wild eagle is still an extremely rare experience while many other areas are enjoying a repopulation of nesting eagles along nearby lakes and rivers, with some of those areas now having several established nests. We have just two eagles here…for now. But I am extremely grateful for those two! Therefore when I get the chance to share about a special encounter with one of our eagles, I cannot wait to do so. Many, if not most, of the followers of this blog have rather limited opportunities to go wild eagle watching and since it has been a while since I have taken all of you along for the trip, grab a jacket, climb into my car and join me on a recent ride. But be aware of the fact that there are now more than 530 followers of this blog so my car may be a little crowded and we may all have to share seatbelts, but it will be worth the inconvenience!
It is the day after my last posting and as we approach the area of Eastwood Lake the noise and activity at the bridge construction site is in full swing. The massive cranes have already placed two of the four huge concrete beams on the supports and the third beam is just about to be pulled into position for unloading. The misty drizzle blurs the flashing yellow lights on the construction vehicles but they seem to sparkle even more brightly under the brooding overcast skies.
As we enter the park we find the entrance road is damp and the green grass is wearing what looks to be a glistening coat of heavy dew. A dozen or more rain-soaked robins hunt for soggy worms as we idle slowly by. The local Whitetail Deer must be bedded down within the seclusion of the newly leafed underbrush for they are nowhere in sight. As we turn towards the lake a lone Great Blue Heron glides effortlessly above the water surface and lands on the shore nearby. Great Blues never seem to mind the rain. I reach for my camera and realize that it is still locked in the car’s trunk where I had placed it during a short stop for coffee on our way to the lake. I consider leaving it there but the heron is posing so beautifully that I begrudgingly zip up my jacket and step out into the cold, moist air. As I retrieve the camera and slip back into the driver seat the heron flies off laughing loudly as it heads to the far side of the lake. “What a dirty trick!” I sigh as I wipe the water from my glasses. But I am not at all surprised. It has been like that a lot lately. The windy, wet and unseasonably cold weather combined with the clutter and clatter of the bridge construction project has made picture taking difficult. Today’s dismal light conditions will require slower shutter speeds and any moving object will appear fuzzy anyway. It may not even be worth the effort to try to take pictures today. I put the car back in gear and we once again begin idling along the lake.
Then it happens!
Far ahead, beyond the distant guardrail of Harshman Road and just visible above the barricade of construction trailers, there is a flash of movement! As our eyes focus on the object we instantly recognize the strong, steady, determined wingbeats of an American Bald Eagle! Before you can say, “WOW!” my foot has already depressed the accelerator and we lurch forward. As we rush a few hundred feet further east all eyes are on the majestic bird. It momentarily dips low and out of sight, far behind the row of parked trailers but then it reemerges closer than before. We smile with the realization that it is headed directly towards us! My driver’s window comes down as I turn right and quickly park the car in the grass with the driver’s side facing the approaching eagle. Various questions flash through my mind in the instant it takes to grab and ready the camera. Is the eagle going to circle back into the well field? Will it turn and fly north along Harshman Road vanishing into the northern haze? Will it slowly gain altitude by circling over Eagle Lake? All of these scenarios are way too common as of late but the urgency of the moment drives those questions from my thoughts. And the eagle just keeps coming!
The bird is clearly visible now as it gains altitude to pass over the power lines that parallel Harshman Road. Judging by the size of those wings we are almost certain that this is our Cindy! “Every new mother needs to stretch her wings once in a while.” I muse. We cannot help but be impressed by the power she displays. Surely the drivers carefully maneuvering their cars though the orange barrels have to see this beauty passing just overhead! Surely the busy construction workers must be watching in amazement! But we will never know for our eyes are locked on this approaching wonder. As she clears the power lines I refocus the camera and continue snapping images.
I find it rather difficult to focus on an eagle flying straight at me at around 30 miles per hour. Maybe that difficulty is a result of my lack of skill or a quickened pulse from the adrenalin rush (or quite possibly it is a combination of both) but I do my best to keep her in focus. Onward she comes! She clears the roadway! She is over the park now!
My shutter is singing as she passes almost overhead. I even have to back off on the zoom to keep all of her in frame! While she passes about 50 feet away she glances in my direction and the telltale notch in her head feathers confirms the identification as she smiles down at us. (OK, maybe I just imagined that she smiled, but I was smiling big enough for both of us!)
Then she turns her focus to the lake as she flies on.
I start the car and we head after her hoping that she will fly back towards us. She circles a few times over the center of Eastwood Lake…
before she turns north, leaving the lake and the park and eventually dissolving into the northern haze.
As we sit and attempt to regain our composure, we rejoice in appreciation of what we have just seen. It has been months since we have had a close encounter of a personal kind with one of our eagles. Somehow the cold, damp weather is a bit brighter, as are our moods. Hours of waiting and watching have finally proven to be fruitful. The middle of the road is not a bad place to be when the right type of traffic is passing by. As we look through the images securely captured within the camera it dawns on me that I had entered the park not expecting much to happen. In fact I would have missed the entire opportunity if it hadn’t been for that laughing Great Blue Heron that had tricked me into retrieving my camera from car’s trunk. I took its laughing as if it was mocking me while it flew off but perhaps it was laughing for me in anticipation of what was about to happen. As I think about that heron and Cindy’s short visit I am grateful for my life full of so many blessings, some of which even have wings!