Smiling is contagious. Maybe it is not as contagious as a yawn (Are you yawning now?) but usually if you smile at someone they smile back at you. I have tested this observation often and on the rare occasions where my smile is not returned I often silently pray for the unsmiling one, for their burdens and trials must be heavy at that moment.
This world is full of things that make me smile. My dog peacefully asleep on the floor, the warm aroma of baking bread, an unexpected blessing or my grandchildren doing pretty much anything, are a just a few of the things that force the corners of my lips jump for joy.
Eagles also have that affect on me. Earlier this month I was able to enjoy a few minutes of watching Jim and Cindy’s young flyers in the sky over Eastwood. They were fairly high up, soaring together in wide circles. I was able to follow their dance for almost twenty minutes! One youngster gradually climbed higher and higher until it became almost impossible to spot it with the naked eye. Even my big camera lens could only bring it slightly closer but oh what a joy to see the young one soar so masterfully and effortlessly!
Its sibling gradually dropped a bit lower while still maintaining a healthy altitude, allowing for a much better image as it passed overhead.
I eventually completely lost track of the higher bird but after circling for a while, the lower juvenile drifted back over the well field, dropped its feet and went fishing in Eagle Lake!
It was reassuring to see how well they have learned the skills necessary for survival in the wild. As I thought of the successfulness of Jim and Cindy’s breeding, brooding, fledging and teaching abilities I smiled again. But that is where we are in this annual cycle of the story of our eagles. For now The Treetop Palace is dormant and empty except for some smaller birds sheltering in its basement. Next month Jim and Cindy may visit it off and on and maybe rearrange a stick or two. Then, as the cooler air and shortening days of October and November arrive, they will grow increasingly more attracted to each other. The power of their lifelong bond will be openly displayed in December’s frigid winds. January and the new year will bring about focused nest rebuilding in preparation for mid-February’s eggs as the cycle continues.
(That is the how the cycle plays out here in southwestern Ohio but in the more southern areas of our country Bald Eagles are already returning to their nests in anticipation of this year’s eggs! Eagles are very hardy creatures, able to flourish in the harsh climate of Alaska or the temperate regions of Florida. These southern birds may be slightly smaller than those farther north but they are just as fascinating to watch as they devote themselves to each other, their offspring and to conquering the challenges that confront them.)
But here in Ohio tensions are a bit less than in the heart of nesting season. Adults with established territories are not quite as aggressive without eggs, eaglets and brooding mates to defend. One of the advantages of this more hospitable time is that offspring from the past nesting seasons might return home for a brief visit and not be immediately chased away. I have seen two young adults in the area over the past weeks. While hiking in Eastwood Park along the Mad River (without my camera) I flushed a large (possibly female) four-year-old eagle from a tree along the river. I had not seen it hidden behind the leaves and I was only about 20 feet from it when it flew so I was quite startled. It flew out over the river then back through the trees, about 10 feet above the ground, making a 100′ circle around me as it headed back into the well field across the road. Then yesterday I saw a smaller young adult Bald Eagle fly north from the well field. The path that it flew is a familiar one to me so I headed a few miles north to the area where Jim and Cindy have established a territorial boundary with a nesting Miami County pair, and that is where I found the young adult along the waters of The Great Miami River.
The oppressive heat of summer will soon melt away and the brilliant hues of autumn will take command of the landscape. As the palette of nature explodes across the hillsides and the air grows crisp and refreshing with anticipation of rest and renewal, may you be blessed by the sight of an eagle on wing and may you never fail to smile.