During a train trip from Albany to New York City, I was pretty grouchy since I had to wake up early and travel to renew my Brazilian passport. Then, I looked out the window and saw a crow-like bird in the wee hours of the morning over the Hudson. The bird soared closer, almost at eye level, and just as the train passed the flying animal, I saw a white head perfectly traced on its body. I only had time to think “WHAT?” when the bald eagle sadly escaped from my view. So much for my grumpy mood – I would take waking up/traveling early ANY DAY to see this majestic animal.
Osprey. © Ron Kube, AB, September 2009
I read in a North America bird guide that bald eagles are easily distinguishable thanks to their white heads, which are different than other species of hawks, vultures, and eagles. The only species that come close are ospreys, who have white markings on their heads (see picture above), and I have experience in identifying those beauties thanks to a entire spring staring at an osprey couple’s nest with binoculars. As you can see, their bodies and color markings are very different than bald eagles. So, even though I only saw the bird’s white head for a split second, I am reasonably confident that what I did see was a bald eagle. Furthermore, they can be found near lakes and rivers. It makes sense that this bird was fishing in the Hudson in the early morning.
The wonder of seeing a bald eagle for the first time sparked my interest for an old game I used to play – the “bird inventory” game, where you identify as many species you can while traveling (admittedly this is funner in Brazil where you can count species on your hands and feet within a few miles). It’s a fun way to appreciate nature, for all ages. Below is my bird inventory for the hours of 7-8 a.m. looking over the Hudson river, just North of NYC.
#1. Bald Eagle
© Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2011
#2. Brown duck. (I couldn’t correctly identify what type of brown duck I saw on the Hudson, only that it was different than a Mallard female. Below, the American Black Duck).
© Bryan Hix, IL, Carpentersville, January 2011
#3. Mallard duck (male below)
© Robinsegg, Utah, February 2005
#4. Herring gull
© Laura Erickson, Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota, June 2010
#5. Small gull (again, too far for identification. Below, “Little Gull”.)
© Chris Wood, Ithaca, New York, April 2007
#6. Crow (Again, unsure. Here I list the “Fish Crow”, which looks just like the American Crow but smaller).
© Laura Erickson, Florida, August 2005
#7. Canada goose
© Kevin Bolton, November 2008
All pictures and identification tips are from Cornell’s Ornithology Lab website.