Saturday, August 4, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk & GPS

It was a One-Bird Day. 
All the songbirds have lost their brightly colored feathers for this year.  They’ve flown south for the winter. I’ve decided to follow them.  I’m traveling the Great River Road along the banks of the Mississippi River, stopping at National Wildlife Refuges’ to see what I can find with feathers. My goal is New Orleans, Louisiana with its swamps and bird sanctuaries, but that is days away yet.  This is about a Red-tailed Hawk and a GPS.

This Red-tailed Hawk lives in Illinois…in far northwestern Illinois to be accurate.  Where Chicago would be if the Illinois map were flipped; near Elizabeth.  I thought Elizabeth would be a good starting place for this bird trip because the Great River Road runs right through Elizabeth.  Two of my biking buddies, Mike Chiaverina and Charlie Chapin, come from Elizabeth.  Unfortunately, I missed it completely and missing it is difficult because big State Highway 20 runs right through it.  It wasn’t a great start!

I blame this onto my new GPS.  It got me lost, or so I’d like to think. Or maybe I trusted it too much or maybe I just don’t know how to use it.  It’s one of those three excuses.  Here’s what happened.

It was raining.  I turned onto a road that I would never have taken, had I not been told to by the sweet female voice on the GPS to do so.   I turned, where she said to turn, and it was a gravel road.  Not dry hard-packed gravel, but loose wet, sloppy gravel; splashes-onto-the-windshield type gravel.  I considered going back, but knowing I had four-wheel drive…how bad could it be?  So I continued.  Besides the GPS said it was only a mile and a half to the next road.  I thought ‘what the hell’ I’d take this road for the adventure.  And it was an adventure too, twisting, turning and bouncing with cornfields passing on both sides.  What the GPS didn’t say was, the next road was gravel too and the next and the next, until I ran out of road and then she said in the same sweet GPS voice, ‘Navigate Off Road.  Now I’m getting a little worried. 

Going back was an option I didn’t like.  There was still a roadway, although now only slightly wider than a vehicle.  I shared this space with a dual-wheel farm tractor and a couple pick-up trucks, but mostly I was alone.  So alone, I felt comfortable to stop the truck, eat lunch and pee in the middle of the road, without inconveniencing or offending anyone. This was rural Illinois.

The people living along these rural roads seemed quite friendly.  They all waved to me as we slowly passed each other; the only way one could pass out here.  They must have known, they didn’t know me, but waved for their own reasons.  Whichever, it seemed appropriate to wave back and I did.

One guy scared me though.  Quickly coming out of the ditch, dressed in camouflage and carrying a bow and arrows; I did a double take when he suddenly appeared. He didn’t smile or wave at me. I didn’t mind that at all, as I passed him quickly.  I’m thinking as I drove down the road, ‘Did I just heard banjo music?’

Eventually the sweet-voiced GPS lady got me onto paved roads again, even if I was back to an earlier point.  That was okay though, because this is where I saw the red-tailed hawk sitting on a fence post, ten feet off the road. I stopped, lowered the rear window and without making myself known, shot forty frames of him on the post.  He posed politely, but took little interest in me.  He perched on his post unperturbed until a brisk wind from behind ruffled his feathers and he took off.

So, if it weren’t for the sweet-voiced GPS lady taking me on this back roads adventure, I would have been down another road and I would have missed this red-tail hawk encounter.  Then this would have been a ‘No Bird Day’. 

November 8, 2011