Driving in Cars, with Birds

by Katherine Hauswirth

When I practice my new birding skills in field or forest, I work hard at being still and patient, a skill at odds with barreling down Route 9 at 65 mph plus. But, while highway-side perches chosen by birds are viewed at a clip, they are often unobscured, putting the birds on stage for any commuter who looks up.

My favorite pastime as I drive is to keep an eye out for raptors. As I rounded the ramp to Route 9 one day, I hastily pulled my car over on the narrow shoulder. How could I have done otherwise when a handsome Bald Eagle graced a rather low craggy branch nearly within arm’s reach? We gazed at each other for a while and then we both launched — he back toward the Connecticut River and me to my work desk.

woman birdwatching by riverMiddletown, a small city along Route 9, is a raptor hot spot, at least along the highway, which for a while runs directly parallel with the river. Red-Shouldered Hawks are what I see most on that stretch, peering down from the green road signs and lamp posts. I wonder if they go after the Rock Pigeons, who form blue-gray huddles on the posts. I like to count them. Nine on one post is the record.

Spotting a large raptor can make my whole day. Each workday last summer, I happily anticipated the Exit 69 sign during my commute home, where a large Osprey often perched, right at the start of a high bridge. I wanted to pull off in Old Saybrook, park at the Quality Inn, and walk the nearby fenced pedestrian path toward Old Lyme on the other side of the river. This would allow me to get close to the bird, albeit with the distraction of cars and fumes. I’d be able to stare up at his brown and white magnificence, scrutinize his tail feathers through my binoculars. Maybe he’d scrutinize me, too.

Always, I had to be somewhere, or get dinner on the table. Although the workday was over, its tenor was still driving me and my daily to-do list, and apparently my car. If the Osprey comes back to Exit 69 this summer, I am determined to wrestle the car away from its well-worn rut and go visit with the bird this time. For now, I take River Road home once I’m off the highway. Now that the day lingers longer I can cruise this curvy path with the river to the right. Near Pratt Cove I peer over at the two Osprey aeries planted in the salt marsh. I park in the Cove’s gravel lot and walk the short distance to the Osprey path, where I stand on a jutting rock and watch the bird watching the marsh, hearing him or her (they take turns on the nest) calling, wondering if there are eggs deep in the pile of sticks. I think the highway Osprey and relish the thought of his return.

Visit Katherine Hauswirth’s blog, First-Person Naturalist.
Click here for Kathrine’s book, Getting Started with Nature Writing.
Her latest book, The Book of Noticing, is available here.

Book of Noticing cover

Photo by Leung Cho Pan

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