Wednesday, June 18, 2008

National treasure

Out of all the creatures God created, I think birds fascinate me the most. I’m not a card-carrying member of the Audubon Society, mind you, but I do enjoy sitting and watching those feathered folks who fly around me from time to time.
I have learned to identify some of the more common birds who hang around my home. Grackles, robins,sparrows, blue jays, mockingbirds and mourning doves often hang out in and around my oak tree and look for food in my front yard. A pair of cardinals must have had a nest somewhere near my house because I saw them flying around for weeks. The male was the most vivid shade of crimson that I have ever seen. He was almost friendly and would stare intensely at me whenever I would talk to him. It gave me great comfort to have them around because my mother and grandmother both loved those birds. Their appreciation for them came from the fact that my grandfather was such a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals that they adopted the bird because of him.
This spring, I’ve even had a little finch lay eggs in the red geranium that hangs on my front porch. I have photos of the two little offspring shortly before they took flight and left my ‘hood.
It sometimes annoys my friends because I gather up scraps of bread or any other foods that I think birds will eat and throw it out on my lawn for the little feathered creatures. To them, a little piece of moldy bread is caviar. The squirrels – who gnawed up my feeders that were hanging from trees in the backyard – get to enjoy the handouts as well.
As much as I enjoy watching the birds that cross my path at home, none of them can top the four I had the opportunity to observe recently, though. Seeking something fun to “shoot” during Memorial Day weekend, my best friend, Mandi, and I ventured up to Shiloh National Military Park. We had gone one time before but the battery on her camera had played out long before the tour was over.
I couldn’t talk her into watching “Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle,” the antique movie that not trip up there is truly complete without viewing. But I did con talk her into walking down the Sunken Road in search of my favorite monument that we never did locate. I need to put that on my “things to ask my favorite Park Ranger Ashley Ball the next time I see her” list.
We got out of the car at almost every tour stop along the way and found something interesting to take photos of each time. We spent the most time at the old cabin and the Bloody Pond. We snapped photos of the cabin with the split rail fence in the foreground and some without the fence at all. I even got a close up shot of the door just because I thought it would make a unique enlargement some day.
At the Bloody Pond we got landscape perspectives as well as lots of reflection shots of the nearby trees. There was a black and white horsefly that eluded my attempts to get a photo of him in flight. While taking photos, I thought of all the soldiers who supposedly used this pond to wash the horrors of war from their bodies and couldn’t imagine the carnage that area witnessed during those bloody two days in April. I thought of it until I overheard a re-enactor tell his wife that most likely the pond didn’t even exist during the actual Battle of Shiloh and the story of it was made up by the first park superintendent. Dude was dressed in blue so I don’t know that I believe his tale and plan to add that to the infamous Ashley Ball list.
Nearing the end of our tour we drove up to an area of the park that had been roped off and noticed several people sitting in lawn chairs looking skyward. I couldn’t imagine what they were doing until a recent article in the Daily Corinthian came to mind.
“Eagles,” I whispered.
“What did you say?” Mandi asked.
“There are baby eagles in that tree!” I exclaimed.
Noticing a nearby no parking sign, Mandi drove to an area where other cars were parked and we hiked back to the site. Looking up into a pine tree, I spotted the ugliest two animals I think I’ve ever seen. They were poised on two different branches around this huge nest that looked like something out of a dinosaur movie. Another bird watcher explained that the two creatures were the eaglets and one of the parents was sitting in a tree way across the open field in front of us.
Pretending that I could see the adult eagle, I stood there silently wishing it would fly toward us. Almost as soon as I made the internal wish, I heard a slight “whooshing” sound and quietly said to Mandi, “EAGLE!!!!”
Anyone watching would’ve thought we were being attacked by killer bees or something by the way we were moving around trying to get photos of the regal bald eagle in flight. And the eagle must have sensed we wanted some good pictures cause he (or she, we still can’t tell ‘em apart) slowly glided over our heads and circled around before landing ever so gently on a branch near the babies.
Although I couldn’t see my face, I’m certain my mouth was open as wide as my eyes at that point. I’ve seen eagles flying on TV and in movies and have even seen the majestic creatures at zoos and wildlife reserves. But nothing that I’ve seen before that Memorial Day weekend Saturday was as awesome as that bird in flight.
Thanks to the joy of digital photography, we stayed there until nearly dusk and shot hundreds of pictures of the babies and parents. We got to see both adult eagles fly a couple of times each and every time they did, it seemed just as magical as the time before.
Taking the long trek back to the car, Mandi said, “What are we doing tomorrow afternoon?” to which I quickly replied, “Coming back to see the eagles!”
Deciding that eagles are probably creatures of habit, we timed our second visit to the nesting site with the first one. We hadn’t been up there 10 minutes when one of the eagles flew up to the nest. Even though each flight was exciting, this one was even more of an event to watch when we noticed the adult was carrying dinner in their talons. Since Mandi has a zoom lens on her camera and could get more up-close-and-personal views of the birds, we were able to determine that the menu for Sunday night included catfish.
An observer who had apparently made several trips to view the nesting area said that various cuisine including a baby pig and small red fox had been brought in for the treetop picnics. While we were talking, someone in the nest tossed out a turtle shell and, as it hit the ground, I added that to the running list of snacks the birds had devoured.
It’s still odd to me that those eagles – a national symbol, you know – picked a national park to build a nest. And of all the trees In that park, they chose a pine tree standing near the roadway pretty much in a solitary area. It’s almost as if the birds wanted to give us simple minded humans a special glimpse into their world.
As of yet, I’ve not become an eagle expert. But I have been doing a little research. I’ve found that eagles tend to return to the same nests each year. So odds are there will be more little eaglets hatched there next spring. Odds are, Mandi and I will return to visit them, too (odds are, also, that I will have a zoom lens by then).
Watching those birds take flight on that Memorial Day weekend, I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 40:31, of course: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” (KJV)
Seeing the birds so closely not only renewed my strength, it also rejuvenated my faith.
And for that, I’m grateful to my four new feathered friends.


H.F. Mason said...

Hey Kim,

Got your "mass email" about your blog, and I thought I would check it out. That is a good story. At Beaver Lake (just outside Fulton on the Tenn-Tom) there is an Eagle's nest. The nests are huge!! Unfortunately, we didn't see any eagles while we were there. It was good see you the other night, although I didn't get to talk to you. I'm sure I will see you again soon now that we are back in Emmaus season.

marla said...

cool story! hope to see you at E this weekend.