Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On the Flight of Eagles

A young Bald Eagle has been hanging around town in the past few weeks, in all likelihood drawn to the large numbers of waterfowl that have been congregating on the big river that runs through the area. (The lakes and ponds have been frozen for weeks, forcing the wildfowl to the open stretches on the river.) It was a glimpse of this young dark eagle by the river two weeks ago that led me to find the rare inland Harlequin Duck that made such a splash in Connecticut in recent days. (You can read about it HERE and HERE).

A first-year Bald Eagle is mottled brown and ivory over its entire body; the rich dark-brown body feathers and familiar white head and tail won’t be fully developed until the bird reaches its fourth year.

I saw the young eagle yesterday morning as I loaded groceries into the car outside the supermarket. I grabbed the binoculars from the front seat and got some great looks as the bird worked its way along the river behind the shopping plaza. Always take the binoculars when you leave the house…you never know what you might see, even on a routine grocery run. (In fact, it was in this very spot in November 2008 that I happened to look up while loading the groceries in the car and spotted a Golden Eagle. I had sustained, clear views of this single bird flying steadily, heading very directly due south, clearly on a migration flight.)

This morning as I was stopped at a traffic light near the river, the young Bald Eagle flew past, following the water just above the tree line. As I watched it winging westward, I was aware that my jaw was hanging open with wonder at its grace and sheer wonderfulness. I was happy just watching it fly and was sorry when the light turned green and I had to head in the opposite direction.

What is it about seeing hawks and eagles that fills me with such delight and well-being? I’ve pondered this question often over the years…could it be as simple as this: That the stark beauty of a bird’s wing against the sky is sufficient for joy? That the eagle’s long unfettered flight inspires us to soar, if only in our imaginations? That in the act of looking up, we are uplifted?

As I did yesterday in my essay about crows (HERE), I turn to Henry David Thoreau:

April 23, 1854. Saw my white-headed eagle again... It was a fine sight, he is mainly - i.e. his wings and body - so black against the sky, and they contrast so strongly with his white head and tail. He was first flying low over the water; then rose gradually and circled westward …. Lying on the ground with my glass, I could watch him very easily, and by turns he gave me all possible views of himself. When I observed him edgewise I noticed that the tips of his wings curved upward slightly the more, like a stereotyped undulation. He rose very high at last, till I almost lost him in the clouds, circling or rather looping along westward, high over river and wood and farm, effectually concealed in the sky. We who live this plodding life here below never know how many eagles fly over us. They are concealed in the empyrean. I think I have got the worth of my glass now that it has revealed to me the white-headed eagle.

Thoreau on Birds. Compiled and with Commentary by Helen Cruickshank. New York: McGraw-Hill, c1964.

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