And Cartwheel for Love.
The ice on the Mississippi cracks creating holes and floes. Around La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Mississippi is a braided river, with many islands and back channels and sloughs. The large trees along the river are bare of leaves in March, and it is prime migration and prime viewing of bald eagles.
The eagles perch in the branches and watch for winterkill fish surfacing as the ice breaks. Hundreds of bald eagles migrate north, and hundreds of bald eagles make this rest stop of easy eating.
I counted over one hundred birds one day before I gave up, as the eagles glared down at the river, swooped onto the ice, waited patiently like an ice fisherman with a flag rig. I don’t understand why this amazing sight is not among the world-known migrations, as awe-filled as it is.
I heard eagles scream, although I have never seen — and always wanted to watch — the mating ritual of bald eagles. They fly high into the sky, clench talons, and tumble in cartwheels until separating before they reach the ground. These cartwheels may replicate the joy of the mating ritual we know, although I would like to plummet through the heavens as part of a mating dance instead of having the earth move, soaring instead of trembling.
The tundra swan migration is also awesome. Around Brownsville, Minnesota, hundreds if not thousands of swans will stop on the Mississippi during their migration. I have driven by with car windows open to hear the cacophony of hundreds of swans. At times, one cannot see the water but can only see a river filled with white feathered birds.
I received the prize for the best-called spot on a bird-watching event at the Trempealeau Refuge along the Mississippi. Most birders in the group were watching two pairs of woodpeckers fight for control of a nesting tree cavity. I watched a black and white striped plume of a tail switching through the tall grass, headed for our group. I pointed it out to the leader with her binoculars trained on the trees, and the entire group moved away from the tail’s straight-line path.
February often seems like the longest month of winter, even though it is short in calendar days. It is the time of slogging through. We are not yet at spring, but the great joy of travel, migration, mating season, life is about to begin.