As drove down the road toward the shelter, I noticed a big red tailed hawk perched in a tree next to the nature trail. As I pulled into the shelter lot, a man in a truck had a huge camera lens sticking out of his window. He was photographing the hawk, so I waited, then chatted with him. He had seen the eagles earlier that morning, but they had flown off north.
I pulled into the lot, planning to walk down the path and see the hawk. Unfortunately it flew away as I parked.
I headed out on the walk anyway. It was around 20 degrees. The wooden slats of the path creaked and groaned loudly with every step, scaring off any wildlife.
The nearby creek wasn't frozen over. I heard it rushing over the rocks and low-hanging grasses.
I thought back to the walk we did with my mom on New Year's Eve. The kids were obsessed with whacking cattails with the hiking pole.
"See! It explodes like popcorn!" the middle kept saying with every whack.
"When I was little, we called those cattails," said my mom.
My oldest paused for a moment then said, "We still call them that."
I couldn't help but start laughing. Then my mom laughed and so did he. It was one of those weird moments that is hard to explain later why it's funny.
Back to today's walk. I walked a little less than a mile, but no eagles. There were tons of songbirds. That's the cool part about bird-watching. You can do it all year. Even in 20 degree weather those birds are flying around, chirping. I love those little songbirds. I love when they visit my bird feeders in the yard. But there is something special about the big raptors.
When I got back to lot, I snapped an overview photo. The eagle's nest is a dark lump in the trees. It's pretty impossible to see in this photo, but easy to find when you're there in person.
I sat in the van a bit, just to wait and see if any birds returned. As I watched, a bird soared into view. I snapped this photo from below. It headed off into the woods behind me.
Here's a zoom.
Honestly, it could be a turkey vulture. But I swear I saw a lightness to its tail as it moved away into the trees.
I felt rewarded for my patience, so I sat around a bit more. Then a red-tailed hawk came back to the area and landed in a nearby tree. I hopped out of the van and strolled over to snap a photo. I captured this just as it launched from the tree.
Look at the fanned tail! You can even glimpse the dark spots on the leading edges of the wings, called the patagial marks. Definitely red-tailed.
I waited around awhile longer, but it was lunchtime and I was hungry. Right before I turned the van around to leave, another hawk soared over the trees way in the distance. See that tiny dot?
I drove home feeling very satisfied with my bird watching. But there was more to come.
As I pulled into my neighborhood and passed a small local park, two hawks glided across the road in front of me. What luck! I watched where one landed and pulled into a church parking lot nearby. I was able to snap this photo of the bird perched in a tree. I could not get any closer, but I can see the dark belly band across the light breast feathers that confirms this is a red-tailed.
No eagles today. But lots of other raptors and songbirds. Overall a successful day!