Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bald eagles on Martin Luther King Day

While J. and I didn’t set out as early as I wanted to (by three hours), we had more time than eagles at Starved Rock. The ice chunks had shrunk or melted, so the eagles had spread out along the river again, with only eight or so visible at any time.

I made the mistake of not checking the weather forecast, too, so I was surprised when a few flurries in Homewood and Tinley Park had into turned into more serious snow by the time we arrived in Utica. As we watched the eagles and a few of their flights from the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, visibility decreased, then the temperature rose and the snow turned to rain with perhaps a bit of sleet. A good number of people stopped by, although most took a quick look and left as soon as they realized they were being pelted with cold snow, rain, and ice bits. One younger man complimented J. on his camera lens. Mildly disappointed by the low eagle turnout and activity, both fellows’ interest picked up again when I pointed to a juvenile that was passing directly overhead, not very high. “That wingspan is amazing,” the other man said with wonder. According to the center’s graphics, a bald eagle wingspan rivals a tall man’s height—6’6”. I await the moment an eagle shows a sense of humor by dropping a load while everyone is looking straight up.

After a short visit, we crossed the bridge and had lunch at the Starved Rock Visitor Center, which was very quiet, with few cars in the parking lot and more employees and volunteers than visitors. By now, the parking lot, walkways, and steps were treacherously slick, and I’d noticed from the other side that no one was up on Starved Rock. J. asked me if I wanted to try it, but with the cold, rain, ice, and lack of Yaktrax (we both forgot ours), I passed. As it turned out, it was difficult enough to cross the picnic area, where the rain didn’t deter juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and red-headed and downy woodpeckers from feasting at their fenced feeders.

On this side, the best view was of a solitary eagle on a nearer tree. A solitary, soaked, bedraggled bird. I took several photos and video of his persistent attempts to preen himself in the continuous drizzle. By now, the breeze had died down, and my fingers ached only mildly with the cold.

We watched for a while as the late afternoon became gloomier and gloomier. The eagles seemed frozen, and even the earlier frenzy of flying gulls had thinned out to only a few dozen. We both decided to skip a visit to the Lodge up the narrow, hilly, twisty, icy road.

Not that I80 was smooth sailing—or rather it was. J. felt the slick spots before I did, but if the truckers speeding by at 70mph noticed them, thy weren’t deterred. A few miles along, we spotted flares and reflectors on the right shoulder behind a cab and trailer at an awkward angle of 30 degrees to each other, the load off the hitch. I can’t imagine how that happened in those conditions.

We detoured to LaGrange for dinner at Prasino (“green” in Greek), which I highly recommend. Vegan, vegetarian, and organic fare, great service, and decor made of wood reclaimed from Sportsman’s Park make it a delightful experience all around.

Except for one or two important details, life is almost good.

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