I was lucky enough to experience two small but powerful events during my walks last week.
The trail I walk on runs along the river and fairly high above it, but at one spot there is a small open shelter which projects out over the bank and gives a nice view from a safe vantage point. There are trees on either side, and often there are jays and geese and gulls in the vicinity.
One day, a crow flew into a tree right next to the shelter and perched there. Almost immediately I heard splashing sounds coming from below me. Looking down, I saw a second crow bathing in the shallows at the very edge of the river. It fluttered its wings in the water several times, reminding me of a person throwing water over his shoulders. Then it quickly bobbed its head into the water three times, shook the water off, and then bobbed three more times and shook.
It seemed clear that the crow in the tree was watching out for the crow in the water. I've often seen sentry crows in trees or on utility lines, watching while other crows look for food or have a drink from a puddle below. They are quick to warn their friends when a dog or cat - or a person - is approaching.
They aren't the only birds to do that, of course.
And the danger is not always on the ground.
A few days after the cold bath, while walking on the same trail, I saw a bald eagle some distance away. I hurried to follow it as it looped in lazy circles far above my head, hoping I would get a chance to take a photo or a video of it. However, it was travelling far faster than I was, following the river, looking for a meal. I slowed down as I got to the shelter, and went in for my usual look up and down the water.
Suddenly all hell seemed to break loose. Gulls and crows and geese and smaller birds of various kinds burst out of nowhere, it seemed, honking and squawking and cawing, and took cover in the vegetation and trees around me. Then everything went eerily quiet. There was not a bird sound of any kind. I watched for a minute but there was no activity and nothing to see, and so I was about to leave when I looked up ... and there was the bald eagle, swooping, looping - very close indeed. It continued to loop up the river and eventually was out of sight.
Only then did the smaller birds start to come out of hiding. The gulls and geese flew down and settled on the water. Chirping and cawing resumed.
I wonder if the birds felt the same cold chills that I did when I looked up and saw that huge bird of prey. It's fascinating to watch them in the sky, but that day was a fresh reminder of why they're up there and what they're looking for --- and what it means when they are successful.