Let’s face it, for Upper Valley birders awaiting the spring migration’s onset, the last few weeks have been the avian equivalent of “Waiting for Godot.” As we dig out from the most recent snow event, winter seems unprepared to release its unyielding grip with only more snow and sub-freezing temperatures in the near term forecast. We know spring migration eventually will happen, after all tree buds are starting to swell and male goldfinches are beginning to assume their brilliant yellow plumage, but we can be excused for wondering.
The Connecticut River is frozen over from Wilder Dam going north which has effectively precluded waterfowl activity in our area. There are regular reports of waterfowl observations in the open water right below the dam and farther down toward the Massachusetts border, but even those sightings are not measuring up to expected norms.
For land birds a smattering of reports have come in locally for turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds, but the number of individuals being reported with those sightings is very small.
Nonetheless, inspired by a couple of reports of red-winged blackbirds sighted in the area, and much in need of something resembling a spring migration outing, I decided to drive River Rd. from the Hanover/Lyme town line to its junction with NH Rt. 10 in Orford. Heading north along the river, I felt as if I had stepped into a scene from Dr. Zhivago, the broad, white swath of the frozen-over Connecticut bringing to mind nothing so much as the vast snow-covered steppes of central Russia.
My surroundings evoked the emptiness and stillness of that great frozen landscape too. Not only did the ten-mile drive not produce any red-winged blackbird sightings, it produced almost no bird activity of any kind! I even put the truck window down hoping to hear a blackbird’s distinctive, hoarse trill or the staccato cluck of a common grackle. No such luck.
By the time I approached my journey’s end up at Rt. 10, I had identified perhaps a few black-capped chickadees, two or three juncos, half a dozen American crows and three blue jays. It was hardly the result for which I had hoped.
Then, off to my left, movement in the sky caught my eye. It was a very large bird leisurely flapping its way south, paralleling the highway. It was an adult bald eagle, its white head clearly and brightly visible despite the cloudy conditions. It was not more than 30 feet off the ground as it passed over me flying slowly off into the distance.
OK, so the result of my original plan was something less than successful, but the sight of that magnificent eagle, so close at hand, was compensation enough for any other disappointment. But that’s the way it can go with birding when one enjoys the immense satisfaction of experiencing the unexpected.