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For The Birds

One weekend in early February, my wife asked me first thing on Saturday morning if I had filled up the car with gas, and then asked if I was up for a road trip. You bet I was, and before long we were heading off to… somewhere, but where was to be a surprise.

We headed up Interstate 64, and at first I thought we might be going to Hannibal MO, a town that we both really love. From our house, it’s about 115 miles and takes under 2 hours’ drive to get there. Once, we went there for a day trip and came back with 2 clocks from a simply amazing shop where they build and repair all types of old timepieces. We love how you can experience the Mississippi from there, and marvel at how picturesque it is. But, although we stopped at the tourist information office there and had a nice chat with the lady on duty, it was evident that our destination was yet further north.Another 40 minutes on the road, and we were at our destination; Canton MO, and my wife explained the purpose of our visit; she had read in the news that today was the town’s “Eagle Watch Day”.

Down to the Mississippi riverbank we drove, and at once we spotted an eagle sitting on high on a tree by the water’s edge. There was a roadway leading to some camping spots that seemed to go right under where the bird was sitting, so we drove slowly along that way, afraid to disturb it. The bird seemed totally unaffected by these puny humans in their steel box, and we were soon directly underneath him, and able to see the feathers of his wings as the breeze blew them.

As we sat there in the car for a moment, we noticed another eagle on a tree just a few yards further on, and we slowly approached it, once again managing to get really close up to it without it seeming to notice. We drove on a little way to park and get out of the car, and as we did so both birds took off and soared for a few minutes above the river, an incredible sight. Then they came back above where we stood watching, before disappearing into some woodland on the river bank behind us.

The scenery was stunning, and we had seen two eagles already after having been here for no more than a few minutes. Although there had been no new snow for a few days, the whole area was still white with snow, and it was cold standing there, so we got back in the car and drove further along the riverbank, but then we relly needed to find a restroom, so we headed into town and stopped at a gas station.

I bought a cup of coffee and whilst paying for it I mentioned how we had come for Eagle Day, and wondered if anything much was going on. The staff there didn’t know anything about Eagle Day, and even suggested that maybe it had been the week before. We looked at the local newspaper on their stand, and sure enough it talked about Eagle Day that day. In fact, one of the day’s main events was to take place in a building on the next block, but the first these locals knew about it was when some tourists came to visit. Despite this, eagle spotting is something that most people seem to like to do along the Mississippi.

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Down in St Louis, we had once been to an Eagle Day event that took place on the old Chain of Rocks Bridge. It was a cold January day and felt inordinately cold when walking high on a bridge in the middle of the river. But there were crowds of people and fun activities, and guides to help us spot the eagles flying high above.

On another occasion, I was visiting in the area around lock and dam 13 near the Illinois/Iowa border. It was deepest winter, and the Mississippi was frozen over, apart from the area just around the dam, where the current kept the ice at bay.

As I stopped on the Illinois side near to the Lock and Dam building, I noticed that the trees on the opposite bank seemed to be full of white. It was not long before I realized that what I was looking at was hundreds of bald eagles, all here to fish in these open waters. As I stood there, one eagle swooped down to the water and grabbed a fish right in front of me, and then flew directly overhead, the fish swinging in its talons. This was not an organized event, just something that is a part of the normal ebb and flow of life along the river.

It’s sometimes easy to think that all of the world is the same, that all our experiences are dictated by the internet and the latest events. But that’s not truly what we experience in our lives. An Englishmen from Kent, eagle watching by the Mississippi, just goes to show how different our lives can be.

Derek was raised on the UK's South Coast, and has lived in London, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the East Anglia region of England. He is now a resident of St Louis, Missouri, USA. He is an author and blogger, and you can also follow Derek's adventures on his blog and Facebook page.

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