Friday, February 1, 2013

A Cure for Winter Doldrums

Cabin fever, winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and temporary insanity are terms that describe the blahs most of us experience this time of year.  Symptoms include paleness, sluggishness, restlessness, and downright irritability.  Fortunately, a cure exists, and it doesn’t require a Caribbean or Aegean Cruise (although those sound enchanting as I strain my brain to write.)

The good news is  Kansans don’t have to travel to experience the exotic.  It comes to our backyard. We only have to know where to find it in order to spice up dreary January and February days.  Google Kansas eagle migrations to start your exploration.  On a lake near you,  a few of  the approximately 1000 eagles that migrate here each winter have taken up temporary residence.   After arriving sometime in October, they spend their days soaring over open water or perching on ice floes or in high trees to search for dinner prior to returning to summer residences in March.

Once you’ve identified a locale that hosts visiting eagles, prepare yourself to  spend hours spying on them.  A good pair of binoculars or spotting scope will increase your viewing pleasure.  It’s more fun to see distinctive features rather than huge, dark blobs cruising over blue-white water or ice.   A camera with a telescopic lens isn’t essential.  However, looking at photos you took of birds perching and in flight allows you to discover details you didn’t spot during your initial investigation.

Anyone who’s spent much time out of doors in Kansas knows you need to keep warm while you scan sky and horizon.  Heavy parka, gloves, a hat or facemask, and insulated boots make this a more enjoyable experience.  If you’re warm, you can spend your time counting eagles, geese, and ducks as well as identifying species.  If you’re cold, well, it’s hard to keep binoculars still when you’re shivering.

A thermos of hot cocoa, coffee, or tea provides a nice break in this mini-vacation.  Add a sandwich or bag of cookies, and you can add an hour or two to your get-away.  While the goal is to watch eagles, you’ll see other birds as well, so take an identification guide to help you recognize other travelers to wintry Kansas water holes. 

Bird watching, especially cold weather bird watching is one of those Zen things.  Being still enough to watch eagles congregate either in a stark, towering cottonwood, or far out on a lake near an open pool of water without disturbing them requires intentional tranquility.  Those moments of purposeful attention are part of the rejuvenation you’ll experience on this little break from winter boredom. 

Ironically, your pulse will race upon seeing these majestic national icons snag a fish swimming too close to the surface or using knife-sharp talons to capture a slow duck.  It’s a thrill you’ll never forget.

Because it takes effort to enjoy winter eagle watching, it’s essentially a solitary endeavor.  Since you don’t have much human or mechanical sound competing with nature, the honking or quacking of a flock of geese or ducks rising from the lake or a nearby field drowns out all other noises.  It’s so loud you become part of the racket.
Very few places in Kansas are more than couple hours from a lake accommodating winter eagles.  Put your coat on, grab your binocs, and head for a few hours of winter blues blasting bird watching. 

You’ll find yourself smiling all the way home and at odd times for the next week or two.  Let folks wonder what you did to conquer the blahs.

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