Birds in Flight

I'm fastinated with birds in flight, although the pair in the photo unfortunately were in a zoo. I could stand for a long time just watching the different types fly, and around where I live there is a diversity of "urban" birds along with "native" birds who winter or summer in the Puget Lowland. One of my favorite are swallows after watching a pair of barn swallows in Bellingham in the mid-1970's. They have to be one of, if not the, most agile bird in flight. Their turning ability to catch an insect in flight is remarkable, and to fly so close to buildings and the occasional people who wander near their nest is always worth the watch. A pair of tree swallows live in my building and routinely warn me away.

But what's best are the moments where you have an experience just watching them in flight. One day while streamgaging in the upper Willamette River, above Hills Creek Reservoir east of Eugene, Oregon where I worked with the USGS, I was standing in the river making a discharge measurement. The river was wide and shallow and I was in the middle of it when I felt a reason to turn around (we always face upstream to make measurement). About 10 feet above the river slowly gliding up the river was a Peregrine Falcon. As he passed directly overhead, he cocked his head to see what I was, and them continued to glide up the river around the bend where he rose above the trees and was off.

In the early 1980's I was transferred to our Phoenix, Arizona office and immediately got the field trips in the Mogollon Rim and Plateau country. One day while working on Tonto Creek above Roosevelt Reservoir I saw a hawk circling above the canyon. When he got low enough a pair of ravens began harassing him by flying close and diving away. One would distract him while the other flew close. One time one was diving from above, and meant to get very close, almost touch a wing, when the hawk tucked his wings in and flipped upside down. He then used his talons to grab the raven, and almost succeded as the raven couldn't dive away fast enough to keep all his feathers. The hawk flipped back and began chasing the other raven who almost didn't get away.

I had no idea that a hawk was that agile in flight and almost caught one raven except they can't turn as tight a circle as a raven, but their speed makes up for it. The ravens took off quickly leaving the hawk to circle up and then fly out of the area over the canyon wall and out of sight. The whole thing took about ten minutes but an eternity while watcing. I also like watching the sea gulls glide a few feet above the Puget Sound for great stretches and suddenly lift to fly back and glide again just over the water. So instinctively and effortlessly, evolution gave birds such great gifts of flight, and it's almost as if they're flying for pure joy.

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