When I was a young girl I remember going to the airport with my dad on occasion to watch planes take off. We’d wave to the people leaving and I sometimes daydreamed about who they were and their destination. We also lived close to the Pittsburgh airport and C130’s, which we called ‘whale planes’ often flew so low over our property that trees would sway and we could wave at the pilots. Where were they coming from?
Now, with a significant other as a pilot, I’m humbled to say that I am often one of those people taking off and landing in an airplane. Small children and families often wave to us as we leave and I am swept back each time to being a daydreaming child. I pump my arm as we go to make sure they see us waving back.
Now, I know that flying is a gift and although I fully know what’s on the other side of the child’s daydream, I am still caught up in the emotion of flight. I am blessed and feel rich to be the person on the other side. I don’t feel exhilaration when I leave the ground. I simply feel in awe. I am able to see the countless ways in which humans are connected. I visually trace riparian zones, roadways, train tracks, tree lines, fence rows and waterways. I typically just stare trying to take in as much as possible.
We usually cruise around 3,000 feet and typically travel around 100 knots. (I had to ask for a conversion. This is approximately 115 mph). The land is a checkerboard of color depending on the season and crops grown. Waters run from blues to greens to browns. I sometimes spot birds soaring below us but try to be a good copilot and keep my eyes open for things at our altitude too.
The Birder’s Handbook states that most birds fly around10 to 40 mph and stay under 500 feet except during migration. Long distance migrating birds typically start off at 5,000 feet and can climb as high as 20,000 feet as their journey progresses. The Handbook also says that there is little correlation between the size of a bird and how fast it flies. The record for highest recorded flight is by a Ruppell’s Griffon, a type of vulture. One was sucked into a jet engine at 37,900 feet. The plane did land safely. Bar-headed Geese fly over 30,000 feet to fly over Mt. Everest. Wow.
Many migrant birds have returned and there are more to come. Warblers will be singing their songs along the Scioto River soon and Hummingbirds will be visiting feeders. There are many websites that provide great information on migration. I follow Ebird and Journey North.
I wonder what birds feel when they break free of Earth. I like to think I catch a glimpse of their world.
Tell us what you birds you’re seeing!