I read somewhere-- but for the life of me I can't remember where-- that there is an eagle's nest at the Kennedy Space Center that served as an omen for the shuttle's safe return. Something like, if the mother eagle was in the nest on the day the shuttle was scheduled to land they'd have a safe return, and if not it was a bad tiding. Can someone please confirm if I have the details correct?
Since it looks like user "Not a Spaceman" may not be returning to us, I will expand their comment into an answer.
With everything set into motion, once the burn took place, [Columbia] landing would be less than an hour away. That the process could not be reversed implied things must be looking very good from the perspective of the ground team, and they believed the weather was going to be fine.
Lani still wasn't convinced.
The drive continued, and I was thinking that my words may have helped Lani. She did seem more calm--at least until we passed a famous KSC landmark.
Standing tall and straight above the low brush is a Norfolk pine that is home to a bald eagle's nest. Easily spotted by its massive size and conical shape, the nest is consistently a highlight of daily KSC tour buses. Viewers are encouraged to be on the lookout for the "mama" eagle, and much excitment ensues when she is spotted perched on her fortress. (KSC is a National Bird Sanctuary and home to a tremendous number of wildlife, none more majestic than our national symbol.)
Lani, knowing the story as well as anyone, was the first to note that the nest was empty. She also knew the tradition--to see the mama eagle seated proudly atop her nest on launch or landing day is a very good omen. With the eagle not there, more uncertainty flooded into Lani's consciousness, further adding to her already high stress level.
It seems your memory corresponds with Anderson's account pretty well.