The Quiet Ones

A juvenile bald eagle calls out in the rain while perched on the ice of a frozen Rest Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in January 2008

A juvenile bald eagle calls out to other nearby eagles on a rainy winter morning in 2008. Rest Lake had frozen over during a cold snap but by mid-morning a steady rain was falling and soon enough the ice would melt. I was rather surprised years earlier when I first heard an eagle’s call, given their size I assumed they’d have a rather raucous call so I was a bit taken aback by the soft and gentle cry that escaped their fearsome beaks.

I Blame You, Boolie

A bald eagle sits on a mound as the rain pours down at Rest Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

This bald eagle seems to be looking accusingly at me as the rain pours down at Rest Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. It was a cool and wet spring morning after a cool and wet (and occasionally snowy) winter. Fair enough, I do love the rain and get a little cranky when it’s been sunny too many days in a row (such as today, as we enter another heat wave in May. May! It’s still spring!).

This is another picture where I took 4K video at the same time and the video gives a different feel to the photo and the moment it freezes in time. You can really see the rain hitting the water (and hear it hitting the car) in the video, as well as the current pushing the water past the eagle’s feet. And perhaps most importantly you can see that the eagle almost never looks in my direction, it was much more concerned about what was happening in the marsh, which is as it should be.

But in the photo, it’s gaze is fixed on me forever.

Wingtips

A head-on view of a soaring bald eagle

Just your typical “Say, you didn’t bring any of your delicious cats with you, did you?” bald eagle flyby.

This young bald eagle had been heading in a direction to take it over to my left but it changed course and headed straight toward me. This was the last picture I could take showing its full body as with its long wings it was already wingtip-to-wingtip in the frame. The eagle was flying much too fast for me to change lenses as it flew closer, and it did fly quite close to my car before turning to follow the edge of the lake.

I’ve noticed many times before how the birds that soar above Ridgefield’s meadows and lakes have their flight feathers spread apart at the wingtips, both vertically (as you can see in this head-on view) and horizontally, but this time I was finally compelled to do a little reading to see if there was a benefit to it or if the birds lacked the structures necessary to keep them locked together under the pressures of flight. It appears that the spread feathers affect the vortices that form behind the wings when they’re providing lift, reducing drag as the bird soars through the air.

Almost Bald

A young bald eagle soars above Rest Lake

A bald eagle soars above Rest Lake on a cold winter morning. Next winter it should have the full white head from which the bald eagle’s name is derived, and I suspect it will attract much more attention from the resident adults as well. For now, though, its competition seemed to be the other young eagles on the refuge.

Disturbance

A young bald eagle takes to the skies

This young bald eagle was perched on a tree overlooking Canvasback Lake, watching the waterfowl below, when it suddenly took to the skies. Normally I would have liked more empty sky in the upper left corner of the picture but the eagle bolted with no warning, disturbed by the sharp retort of a shotgun blast, so I had no time to properly compose the shot. The birds aren’t normally so perturbed by the blasts, but I do prefer the off-days during duck hunting season, not because I have a problem with hunting per se but because I prefer the quiet.

An Almost Car for the Ages

Bald Perch

I’m at that age where I should be having a mid-life crisis, so in addition to my practical little hatchbacks I should be looking at a mid-life crisis car. My choice would be the same as any other man’s — a Volvo.

Ahem.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Volvos although I don’t know why. I’ve never owned one, and while we had one while I was a kid, we sold it before I was of driving age. But I’d occasionally see a beautiful little Volvo hatchback as I drove to work, and was vexed enough to want to know more, yet I never could get a good look at its nameplate. I searched Volvo’s website for hatchbacks but nothing came up, and even looked for it at the auto show in January but didn’t see it. Perhaps we just missed it at the end of a long day. But I discovered one in the neighborhood while walking Ellie and finally identified my mysterious beauty — the Volvo C30.

Volvo doesn’t call it a hatchback, even though it has a hatch in the back, but never mind. It’s not only still being made, it’s for sale here in the States and could be mine for the asking. Both inside and out I think the C30 is one of the prettiest cars on the road, at any price, and it’s quick but not at all fuel-efficient. So I think it qualifies as a mid-life crisis car, just with a Boolish twist. Not a sports car, but nevertheless a car for my heart and not my head.

But even that’s not quite true. This along with the Lexus CT would be two of the best cars for my commute, and would be comfortable for those winter and spring days at Ridgefield when I sit in the car for hour after hour, waiting for those lucky moments like this bald eagle at Long Lake. I’ve been taking our Civic to the refuge the past couple of months, mostly to see if I could tolerate a stick shift at the refuge, but I was caught off guard but how much less comfortable I was by the end of the day in the Civic compared to our Subaru. We’ve had both cars for about 12 years so it’s not as if they are new to me, but I guess I just haven’t spent long days in the Civic before.

If the C30 was available in all-wheel drive, I think my head would follow my heart on this one, but sadly it is not. Rumor has it the C30 is being discontinued in any event, so I suppose it’s a moot point.

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It Turns Out, I Can Be Wrong

A bald eagle pair perches above Canvasback Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington

This bald eagle pair has been courting at Ridgefield each spring but I always assumed they nested elsewhere. Apparently not. I had never seen a bald eagle nest before — it was massive. The two youngsters rested while their parents kept a watchful eye from a nearby tree. The young eagles looked pretty big, I suspect they’ll fledge soon, but I could be wrong. Again.

Two bald eagle nestlings look out from their nest high in a tree at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington in May 2012

Wonderland

Long Fallen

When we moved to Oregon, my wife and I would sometimes go out for a drive just to get the lay of the land. One day as she was driving and I was navigating, we were heading south and looking for a good place to turn around. The map showed that we could take one highway into Junction City and then take a different route back north, so we decided to do that. On the way out of town we crossed over a river and at a glance I thought I spied a bald eagle atop a large tree.

I assumed it was a decoy, like those placed to scare off pigeons and geese, but a second glance confirmed that this was a living, breathing eagle. My first! I leaned back in my seat and wondered what sort of wonderland we had just moved to, where you could drive down an ordinary highway and see bald eagles in the trees.

We’d see more eagles over the years, including one on our honeymoon perched over the Rogue River, but they were mostly occasional glimpses until I discovered Ridgefield. Eagles are common there in winter and spring, most of the close views are of younger eagles but occasionally you’ll get a good view of an adult.

Even so, I was speechless when I made a return to Ridgefield in April after being sidelined with a bum ankle and found this adult on a dead snag in Long Lake, right beside the road. There’s close and then there’s close. I eased the car up behind another that had already stopped and watched the eagle in the wind and the rain. It hung around for another 15 minutes before taking off for the interior of the refuge.

Every time I think I should spend less time at Ridgefield, because I do spend an awful lot of time there, my little wonderland offers up a surprise like this and keeps me coming back for more.

I had another nice surprise when we visited the auto show in January. I had started to do some research before the show and had some vehicles in mind that I wanted to see, but my wife and I agreed just to walk around and look at everything. Which was fortunate because otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped at the Lexus booth.

But there it sat at the edge of their display, a gorgeous little hatchback, and I was smitten. I walked around to the placard and saw it was a hybrid, got pretty good gas mileage even in the city, and while a bit expensive wasn’t out of reach. It had some nice touches like a memory system not just for the seats but also the mirrors and telescoping steering wheel. It had the new knee airbags for both driver and passenger. Turn indicators on the side mirrors. Whiplash-reducing seats. And the staff didn’t think it beeped when it backed up the way the Prius does.

And there it was. A great car for Ridgefield. A great car for my commute. I had found my next car.

But then I got home and did more research and it’s luster began to fade. It turns out it does beep like the Prius when you put it in reverse and you can’t eliminate it entirely. And it also has a new pedestrian warning system that makes these oddball sounds when you’re moving otherwise silently in electric mode.

My quiet Ridgefield car was gone.

And that nice memory system that would make it easy for both my wife and I to drive the car? In our area it’s only available as part of a $6400 package full of other things I don’t care about. And despite the tone of the Lexus advertising, it wasn’t any faster than the Prius.

I’ve been mentally sorting the cars we look at into a tiered list, and suddenly the little Lexus started falling fast. My heart keeps shoving it back up the list but my brain keeps shoving it back down. For now the brain is winning and the Lexus isn’t even in the top tier, but my heart is OK with that as it’s convinced that with one test drive the little hybrid’s charms will overcome all objections, even that infernal beeping and the high cost.

My brain is equally convinced it won’t.

If the time comes to replace the Civic, we’ll see which one was right. My money’s on the …

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