February 4, 2022

Guardians Of The Red River

When we got on the river we had a feeling something special was going to happen. Something special always happens on the river. Our momentum had been forward and our vibrations were positive. Not long after floating into the current we found ourselves amidst a group of Purple Martins practicing flight patterns and demonstrating their agility. Next, a Cooper's Hawk flew over our head, leading us down the river. Shortly after we saw the Cooper's Hawk, we saw a large bird fly around the curve in the river below us, followed by the sound of a hawk screaming incessantly. I pulled out my Merlin bird app, played the calls of a Cooper's Hawk but that wasn't it. I tried a Red Shouldered Hawk and the sounds matched, but the bird never presented itself. After 10 minutes of this we decided to keep paddling, rounding the next bend with the shrieks of the crazed raptor fading off in the distance.

   The birds were dense during this trip. How many species of birds inhabit this area? What a loaded question! Of course it changes seasonally, but it seemed like we saw and heard most of them. EJ had his binoculars and bird book, me with my camera and birder app. We successfully identified many of our avian friends and left some to be identified upon further study. Every now and then we'd see that big blackish bird fly around the corner. It wasn't a turkey, although we'd seen a few of those silly big birds fly over head as well. Nor was it a vulture, crow, or great blue heron.

   All of the sudden it got quiet. The wind stopped blowing. The birds quit chirping. Silence led us around the bend where that big black bird was found perched on a log jam, looking right at us. I was firing the shutter button as fast as I could. As I drifted closer I knew I was looking at something special. It wasn't a hawk or owl or buzzard. It was a water bird. It's great razor sharp talons, yellow legs, white splotches hidden within it's dark plumage and overall size indicated we were sharing a moment with a juvenile Bald Eagle, and we then knew that was the mysterious great bird who'd been eluding us all afternoon.

  We drifted within 15 yards of it before it turned around, spread it's wings, braced legs, shifted weight, adjusted balance, decided it was time to utilize this recently learned skill of flight, and slowly took off around the bend again, where we had just enough time to look at one another in jaw dropping awe, let our heart beats subside as we drifted around the corner only to be greeted by the mother Bald Eagle perched on a Sycamore branch overlooking the river, staring straight at us and accompanied by not one but two juvenile Bald Eagles! Again, expecting these majestic birds to take flight at any moment I snapped away trying to increase my chances of decently capturing this moment of beauty by getting as many frames as possible. Low and behold, we drifted to a stop along a rocky beach where we were able to study them for what seemed like a lifetime.

   But that wasn't the most amazing part of our experience. I am fortunate to have an adventure buddy with whom I can share these moments, or else I would convince myself I am delusional. While we sat in our boats 30 yards from 3 eagles, in absolute marvel, we spotted a small group of Cedar Waxwings, countless swallows, a couple of Indigo Buntings, a Red Headed Woodpecker, a pair of Belted Kingfishers, and other birds flying circles in front of the eagles and taking turns perching in surrounding trees and log jams while the mother eagle moved her eyes from one set of birds to another, to us, to more birds and so on. The eagles were lording over their subjects while the smaller birds displayed their most beautiful presentations. Was this for the eagle's approval, or was it a bird party, or did we find a tear in the time/space continuum where all is at peace in the world?

  I would love to talk to an expert who has seen or heard of such demonstrations and has insight about it. Until then, it was simply a magic moment in life. In the photos below, when you see the eagles looking down and to the sides, they are watching the other birds, and when you see photos of the Cedar Waxwings and Red Headed Woodpeckers looking up and over, they are watching the eagles. We could have stayed until dark, but the sun was setting and we still had unknown waters to paddle ahead, so once we agreed we didn't want to wear out our welcome at the bird party. We got back in the current, paddling happily and serenely into the night.