Only a few miles from our house there is a canoe access to the Haw River, or in my case a “kayak access”, and if I’m lucky, an eagle.
This morning I decided to pay him a visit. Now, of course that is really up to him, not me. By 8:15am I was paddling down the narrow section of river toward the spit, which was largely dirt the last time I was here several weeks ago. Today it is completely covered in vegetation, bright green plants a foot or two high, which obscure the rubbish that also collects there, and that I often take back with me to the empty trash can at the launch site.
The river is also lower today and a large rock protrudes out of the water, one I can usually float over.
Then I see my first Great Blue Heron. He is on the bank at my left. I try to paddle very quietly, evenly, calmly, and he doesn’t move. I am deeply flattered at his decision that I am not a threat, and he lets me float gently by, within about thirty or forty feet of him.
Past the spit the river widens, and though I paddle for thirty minutes or so, I see only a few more herons and some noisy crows. There seem to be fewer birds today. Too late in the morning? Too late in the summer? I hear a woodpecker, but don’t spot him. Where is the osprey, the cormorants, and please, the Bald Eagle?
But it is wonderfully peaceful. There are a couple of low gray fishing boats, but the fishermen are quietly pursuing their prey, and we keep our distance.
After a while I turn around and head back. This is my first paddle here with no eagle, but the bright red trumpet vine along the bank is pretty, and I am filled with gratitude for the beauty of this place.
And then I feel him fly over me, catch sight of his white tail, and watch as he settles on to a high branch in a tall pine tree.
“You’re here!” The thrill passes through me. I grab my binoculars, find him, and gently paddle his way. Cautiously, stopping to take a look every so often, I float almost to the bank, right under his pine tree! In the nearly dozen times I have seen him, this is the closest I have ever gotten. He has let me come so near that I can make out the details of his wings, his handsome white head and yellow beak, and see him turn and give me a long stare. I lean back and get comfortable and we spend several minutes together, enjoying this lovely, sunny Sunday morning – me, in abject admiration, while he tolerates my presence. After a while he lifts off, slowly, with such grace, as if to show off his handsome wingspan and flying prowess.
As I paddle back up stream it is as if he has spread the word, and everybody has come out of cover. A stunning white Egret is at the spit, and a pair of sweet little Killdeers have appeared, running back and forth.
And my Bald Eagle is there as well, high up in another pine tree on the opposite bank. Is he still watching me?
As I float back toward the launch site, it is hard to leave, to get on with the rest of my day. But I am thankful that I can come back, again and again to this magical place, to enjoy another visit with these beautiful birds.