Friday, February 20, 2015

In Which The Eagle Quest Has a Tiny Success

The Beast parked in my office hallway today. Because, below, the rack is blocked by snow.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it was just too darn cold to ride a bicycle. Wind chills of 30 below will cure me of the biking habit.

But today, the morning temperature was in the positive zone. A stiff, cold wind was blowing, but the chill was just not as bitter as it has been. So, I decided to take the chance. It worked out OK—I got a bit cool on the way in, but it wasn't too bad. In the middle of the day, the sun came out, and I was looking forward to a sunny bike ride home this afternoon.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the trail. Before I left campus, clouds rolled back in.

However, the temperature did not drop, and even if it was chilly as I started my afternoon ride, I was well dressed for it. I swung down to Cedar Lake, hoping that maybe the recent cold snap had reduced available open water, and perhaps some eagles might be found by that body of water.

Nope. But since the day was, well not really nice but not totally crappy, I decided to keep going and check out the river. I've recently ridden east to cross at the lion bridge, and I thought that possibly I saw an eagle in the distance when I rode that way, but I’m not sure. So I decided to head west today instead, biking towards the Ellis Trail.

That’s a slightly dicey choice. Because of construction, finding a bicycle route to cross the river downtown isn't easy right now—and I ended up riding on a sidewalk so I could cross going the wrong way on a one-way street. But I made it to the west side, and turned west on the riverfront walk, heading towards the five-in-one dam.

That’s where I was hoping to find a few eagles. The churning water keeps a large area of river open, and probably makes life a bit easier for a carnivorous bird that has a taste for fish.

5-in-1 dam and river. Looks like good fishing area to me. Where are the eagles?

Lots of birds, some of them large. But not our nation's symbolic bird.

Pigeons roost on the I-380 bridge, the top level of the 5-in-1 dam. Looks like another snack bar for eagles, to me.

I suppose one issue might be that a lot of the river is open water despite recent cold. There are lots of spots for eagles to fish in.
But, no. There were lots of birds in and near the open water—geese, some sort of gull, pigeons—many of which would probably not be hanging around if an eagle were nearby in the sky. If an eagle can’t grab a fish, it will gladly snack on a pigeon.

After I crossed the dam, the river closed into a solid sheet of ice. It didn't look like eagle country to me, and I headed west just to finish the loop of the trail by the river, planning to try some other day to find the big dinosaurs.

And I decided to stop, briefly, and photograph the river.

This is what the river looks like all frozen over. Amanda Moscou,  I should caption this picture "spring in Iowa."

That’s when I noticed something. There was a nest in a large tree across the river—a large nest high up in a very large tree. And sitting in the tree next to the nest (the bird was in the next tree, not the tree with the nest) was a bird. At that distance, I wasn't at first 100 percent sure—but it looked pretty big. I think in this area only a turkey or an eagle would be that size—as the dark bird looked way too large to be a hawk. Still, at this distance I was partly guessing at size.

The bird just sat there, but then it turned its head. And when the angle on its head changed, even at a distance where I could barely see it, I was suddenly sure.

That head: white. A big dark bird with a white head that sits high in a tree by a river? Here in Iowa, there’s only one option: eagle.

I put my compact point-and-shoot  camera at max and tried to snap a photo. It was not easy—when the little camera is at maximum range setting, it’s easy to “lose” an object because the field of vision is so small. And camera shake might make the photo blurry, anyway.

So I knelt down behind a park bench that was beside the trail, resting the camera on the back of the bench. I must have looked odd to passing motorists—who is that strange man who prays alone at a bench by an icy river? As I shot, I could not tell if the pictures were clear, and as you can see, they are not super sharp. But, they are sharp enough. The photos confirm it. That dot on the horizon, maybe more than a mile away from me across a wide stretch of the Cedar River, was for sure a bald eagle.

Two views. You can see the head, the body shape and, if you look close, the white tail. Even, barely, the pointy curved-down beak. Definitely an eagle.

The nest is in the tree to the left, just a bit beyond the field of view for this photo. This bird is a mile or so west of the dam,but then again, as big as eagles are and as powerfully as they fly, it's a pretty easy short flight for this bird. Maybe it does go their for lunch, fish or pigeon.

Well, I can’t whine anymore about not seeing any eagles. Granted, in the past I've been much closer to them—maybe 20 yards away when a group of them roosted in trees by Cedar Lake. Once, on a March bike ride we (Matt, one of my sons but I am not sure which one, and I) passed very close by an eagle in a tree.

So, this is only a tiny success, a distant look at an eagle. Still, it beats not seeing an eagle.

TV reporter from KWWL was by the river, too. Not for eagles--she said she was shooting a story at the site where a car eluding police recently hit a school bus. The suspect faces more charges and police are seeking him.

No comments:

Post a Comment