Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bicycling and the Wild Life: Aerie

Enough with the complaining. You're either going to bicycle, or you're not. If you do, it will be a pain and an inconvenience, and risky. Or, it might be nice. Or, it might just change everything.

There's an aerie in the neighborhood. And guess what? You probably won't see it unless you are on foot or on a bike.

This morning, the eagles put on a show. A pair, nesting on a butte that overlooks the river and bike path called out raucously and passed overhead, then balanced on a craggy branch in a fir. (The photo isn't mine, although it might be my eagles, taken locally a few weeks ago and posted on the web. Credit and thank you to kparkton and Flickr from Yahoo).

A good friend many years ago fell in love with birds of prey, and it seemed that everywhere he went, there were kestrels and Swainson's hawks, and saw whet owls. He even had a snowy owl recuperating in his bedroom for a time. Not true for me. Sometimes wildlife has to practically hit me in the face before it registers.

This might be changing. Getting outside helps. One fall morning, maybe the first or second bicycle commute across a bridge that always has heavy traffic, there was a peculiar and unfamiliar bird cry, distinct even above the noise of the cars.

Is this just me, or is there something about bird calls that makes them easy to remember? Is there a primitive brain part that supercedes ordinary places where things are remembered? Although my memory is not great, once someone identifies a bird's particular song, it's in my head forever. Towhee (a buzz, cofirmed by the red eye), robin (tweedle-up, tweedle-up, over and over), flicker, kingfisher, red tail hawk, scrub jay. Hummingbirds make a sound that could come straight from the nectar they drink. Although it is a struggle to remember the difference between the visual profiles of buteo and accipiter, it is easy to distinguish the cry of a grosbeak from a starling pretending to be a grosbeak. Equally, unfamiliar calls are easy to recognize as, unfamiliar. This one started like a loud gull's cry, then ended in a sweeter sound, something between a neigh and a warble.

The sound was odd enough to get me to stop and look around, although without someone to officially identify whatever it was, chances were slim of figuring it out. At least, that's how things usually go. If friends point out bald eagles and hand me binoculars, eagles are pretty obvious. Eight foot wing span, yellow feet, and all the rest; but, on my own, unless someone spells it out, eagles blend together with hawks.

Not this one. A huge bird appeared out of a tree that grew next to the bridge, swooped across the river, did a U turn right in front of me, not more than 30 feet away. White head, white tail. OH. Unmistakeable.

Another bicyclist weaved past and muttered. A river of cars passed, drivers oblivious. It was tempting to call out to the next bicyclist who was speeding by in tight jersey, clip-on shoes and sunglasses, "Look! It's a bald eagle!" but the biker was already gone.

This was to be a just-for-one-person moment. In the middle of town, among hundreds of people, there was just me, my bicycle, and the eagle.

The big bird glided away, neatly folding her wings before tucking back into the tree, a big leaf maple with bright yellow leaves.

My skeptic's heart knows that it was coincidence, serendipity, a lucky break, but seeing that creature, powerful, close, a species that has made its way back from the brink of extinction, made it seem like more. The beginner's thrill. My first bald eagle siting on my own, so blatant there could be no doubt, and it only happened because it was a biking day, not a car day. If there are such things as omens, this felt like one.

1 comment:

  1. From Andy B: I would like someone like you, with youth, energy, leadership skills and smarts to focus on what I see as the most important human dilemma facing America and the world at large.

    People are living longer and your generation is likely to live the longest; but you are producing even fewer children to support you in your vigorous old age than we did. Most of us lived like you, raising our children to play sports and watch nature in their spare time and study in school. You know what it is like to try remaining useful after your kids leave and you are considered too old for the "job market", too old to earn your way after our commercial society is through with you. Someone who lived like us, someone who knows us like you do will need to study our laws to change them, study our society to change it and raise awareness of the potential for wisdom and skill in our elders.

    We can count birds and would do it if society showed it was important. Old professionals like lawyers and doctors or skilled artists like painters and musicians are acceptable and honored as contributors. The rest seem to deteriorate and run up medical bills. That's a shame and a waste. Worse, soon we won't be able to afford it.



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