The bird watchers are out in force this time of year, some strictly for sport and others taking part in official counts that keep track of all of the various species. These are very worthwhile and enjoyable ventures which enhance our appreciation of these animals, and increase our knowledge of their numbers and their migratory patterns.
While structured and organized wildlife observations certainly are rewarding, nothing beats the chance encounter. These occur when we least expect them, so there are no photographic records, no stunning video and no notes other than those we take with our mind in the flash of a few seconds.
A reader wrote recently about how a boring and mundane drive down I-75 turned into a moving experience that essentially has changed her life, all due to a single bald eagle.
This 50-ish woman had covered that stretch of road dozens of times while traveling to visit relatives in the Dayton area. She had seen countless deer, both the nervous and alive type and the dead and stiff variety. There were lots of possums and raccoons on the shoulder of the road, with an occasional groundhog - most of them also deceased.
While there is a certain beauty to the rich, deep green of a growing wheat field or the gentle breeze-driven sway of a huge tract of mature corn, it had all become so blah-blah-blah after she had driven this piece of highway so many times.
Then, with her husband at the wheel, this casual observer of all things outdoors, who counts herself as neither a hunter nor a fisherman and dreads even the thought of sleeping in a tent, snapped out of her daydreaming funk.
She saw a very large bird circling near the roadway. First thinking it was a hawk, she re-assessed that call as their car moved closer. This bird was much larger than the hawks she had seen doing their hunting in the skies around her rural northwest Ohio home.
When she was close enough to catch the distinctive white head and the huge wingspan she knew belonged only to a bald eagle, at her urging her husband pulled the car over on the gravel and well out of the flow of traffic. There they sat for the next 10 minutes or so, just watching, and in awe.
Like many, this individual had seen the image of the bald eagle on our currency and on numerous government symbols and seals. She had watched a number of nature programs with stunning video of eagles in flight, building their massive nests or feeding their young.
Over the past couple of decades, she had read the accounts of the stunning comeback of the bald eagle, of how it had teetered on the brink of extinction before dramatic moves on the environmental and habitat fronts reversed its fate.
But this was different. This was live and in your face, more or less. As the eagle sliced gentle swaths through the bright, blue sky, the folks in the car momentarily lost track of time and where they were headed, and they ignored the buzz of the world around them.
Although it made no moves towards any potential targets, this eagle was likely on the hunt like so many other animals in the wild, looking for that next meal. It came close enough where they could clearly see that bright, white head and those powerful wings. Figuratively speaking, if there was a breath at that moment, it was taken away.
After that fleeting encounter, the eagle ventured off towards a nearby river, and continued its hunt. The folks in the car went on to see family another hour down the highway, feeling a new appreciation for that proud national symbol after their chance meeting.
Matt Markey is The A-T outdoors columnist.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org