Soaring through traffic

traffic flowsDriving to work in Southern California frequently results in more time to think. While I don’t trek through the heart of Los Angeles on the I-5, I do get the joy of sitting on another notorious freeway choke point.

The wide open spaces around the freeway make the drive bearable and offer a good view of hawks, eagles, and vultures soaring. The freeway even skirts a river, which provides a sight-line for the water fowl, like egrets and cormorants.

Watching the hawks soar while I’m sitting in traffic started the inquisition into why there seem to be so many birds of prey gilding around the freeway. Hawk watching afternoon trafficDue to the tin can like nature of the vehicles, the hawks can’t possibly be attracted by a potential food source. Vultures might show up to scavenge off those who quit before they reach their destination, but hawks prefer to hunt.

Upon arrival at home, I looked into what kept the birds soaring over the lost souls on the road for great distances. Turns out that what keeps the birds up is the same thing that helps in the creation of clouds – thermals.

Thermals, in this case, aren’t fashionable undershirts, but are movements in the air based on how the heat radiates from the ground. They are the circular movements of hot air up to the cooler air above. As the warm air rises to cool, hawks (and other birds) ride the current to give their wings a break. Once the warm air cools off, it can cause the clouds you see overhead.

Turns out the terrain explains why there are so many hawks hovering over our cars sitting on the freeway. The wide open spaces provide lots of space for the ground heat to dissipate into the atmosphere, offering numerous free rides to the beautiful predators hanging around.

So I guess traffic doesn’t have to be the bane of my existence after work. (Except for those 1 ½ hour treks).

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