One for the Road

Bald Eagle over Hiwassee Refuge

Bald Eagle over Hiwassee Refuge

At the Sandhill Crane Festival, some of the volunteers spotted a bald eagle and what I believe they said was a Northern Harrier.  I didn’t get a good look at the Northern Harrier and, unfortunately, the birds were circling far enough away that my 400mm lens wasn’t sufficient to get a good shot.

Circling Eagle and Hawk

Circling Eagle and Hawk

Smaller birds circled outside the frame, periodically diving at the much larger birds of prey, trying to convince them to move along and feed elsewhere.  The eagle and the hawk seemed to run into each other almost by accident.

They soared around in a big, oblong loop like they were discussing their winter vacation plans and trying to arrange a carpool.  Eventually, they must have realized they were headed different directions.  They split off and flew out of sight in opposite directions.

I am puzzled by how birds navigate on their long migration journeys–especially those that don’t travel in flocks or who are migrating for the first time.

Migrating ducks stopping over to recover before continuing South

Migrating ducks stopping over to recover before continuing South

Apparently I am not the only one puzzled by this feat.  Scientists seem to think birds are able to identify the direction they’re going, perhaps using the sun, moon, and stars for orientation.  However, it’s unknown how birds find an actual place when they do things like fly across an ocean and return to their nest from the year before.  In some experiments, birds were captured and moved via aircraft to a distant location.  They still managed to find their way back without wandering.

I used to think I had a great sense of direction.  I remember being lost in Dallas back when I was in my late 20’s.  I was with my boss, but I was driving since the rental car was in my name.  We had gone to see the West End in Dallas–a place everyone kept telling us we had to see.  Then, it was time to return to the airport for our flight home.  The airport is a good 30 minute drive from the West End of downtown if you don’t run into any traffic..  This is almost an impossibility in Dallas.  I ended up doing a 6-month temporary assignment down there and during that time, I experienced getting stuck in traffic at 11PM on a weeknight on more than one occasion.

Sandhill Cranes on the bank

Sandhill Cranes on the bank

I managed to determine what direction we needed to go without a map and got us to the airport on time.  My boss was impressed.

More recently, having moved to Chattanooga, I’ve had the realization that my sense of direction isn’t a sense of direction at all.  Rather, it’s a way of orienting myself to direction by noticing what direction I’m going relative to where I started from.  I can only do this when I’m in a place whose streets form mostly straight lines.  In Chattanooga, even after a year and a half, I remain hopelessly disoriented and often lost.  Imagine if I were a bird flying over the ocean–I would drown.



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