Tuesday, January 12, 2010

OHMYGOD! AN EAGLE!



Since moving to this old stone cottage, one of my foremost dreams has been to one day see an eagle here on the river. My hopes were high, but I'll admit my faith was—at best—only middlin'…and being a frugal Celt, I wouldn't have placed much of a bet against the odds.


Well, this morning—either as a belated Christmas gift, or a really, really early birthday present—that wish came true. While the photo may not rate much technical or artistic merit, it gives me a proof-positive way to share my joy! THAT'S A SURE-ENOUGH BALD EAGLE! SITTING IN THE SYCAMORES ACROSS AND DOWN FROM THE COTTAGE! OHMYGOD!

Actually, Milady saw it first. I was in the kitchen, fixing an omelet, when she suddenly began yelling: "Eagle! Eagle! I just saw an eagle!"

Seeing as how she spent a number of years living on an island in Alaska, where eagles were common, I had no doubt she knew what she'd witnessed. I dashed into the front room in time to see the big bird flapping several hundred yards upstream, where it then turned and disappeared into the woods. However, that brief glimpse cleared up an overnight puzzle.

Just at the beginning of twilight yesterday, I'd glanced out the window in time to see some large bird flying downstream. I thought I could see some white, plus whatever it was didn't seem to be flapping along like a goose or great horned owl, or even a blue heron. But seeing as how it was at some distance, and in dim light, I figured I was simply mistaken. I told Milady about it afterward, and made a mental note to keep an eye on the river today. The possibility of a bald eagle never crossed my mind.

Almost certainly, however, yesterday mystery bird was this morning's bald eagle. As I watched the eagle flap upstream, I was sure the flight rhythms were identical.

An hour after breakfast and Milady's sighting, I stepped onto the deck to take a photo of a squirrel. I had a 200mm zoom on the camera. Moon the dog ambled along the edge of the river's bank, snuffling through the snow. Suddenly a movement caught my eye…the eagle, coming my way! The bird settled in a tree about 60 yards from where I stood. Luckily, it landed on a limb visible through the tangle of trees and branches. I made a quick photo. Then I looked at the eagle another few moments and made another shot. That may have spooked the bird, or it may have simply been moving along checking out the open pools—anyway, it hopped from the limb, caught the wind beneath its wings, and flew off downstream.

Bald eagles aren't unheard of in Ohio. The south shore of Lake Erie has always had a few pairs of nesting bald eagles—though by the end of the 1970s, after DDT problems decimated the numbers of so many birds of prey, the count of Ohio's Erie eagles was down to 4-5 pairs. Now, thanks to the elimination of DDT and decades of work by the Division of Wildlife, those nesting numbers are back up and continuing to increase.

That, however, is the Lake Erie area of the state, about as far geographically as it's possible to get from where I live and still be in Ohio. Inland Ohio has never had many eagles. A few down along the Ohio River and up its major tributaries. Fewer still around some of the larger, man-made inland lakes. For all practical purposes, though, bald eagles were rare almost to the point of myth. In spite of my state-wide roaming, I never saw a bald eagle anywhere during my growing up and young adulthood, and never met anyone who did.

About thirty years ago I was tooling down a foggy Ohio road nearly a hundred miles from here, on the way to a day of partridge hunting in the southwest hill country. The fog was so thick that at times I could barely make out the edge of the blacktop. When I looked at the indistinct form of an old tumbledown barn near the roadside, I saw the unmistakable form of a bald eagle sitting atop the peak of the sagging gray structure. That was my first-ever bald eagle sighting.

It has always been possible to stumble upon a bald eagle anywhere in the state, at any time of the year. Sometimes one will show up on a Christmas bird count. You might look up on a summer's day—or during any other season—and see this huge bird with a shining white head soaring overhead. A matter of pure luck. I saw an eagle just this way a few years back—looked up, saw what I first thought was a vulture, got the binoculars on it, and realized it was a bald eagle. Even with the binoculars it was so high in the sky that if the light hadn't been just right, I'd have never spotted its form or been able to ascertain the bird's identity.

Now and then a bald eagle might decide to hang around a bit of water for a day or two, or even a few weeks—fishing, resting, and generally thrilling the bird-watching community to no end. Late last winter a bald eagle became a temporary resident of a pond not too far from here…though, alas, I learned of this only after the bird had moved on.

The good news is that Ohio's eagle population is increasing. Nesting eagles have are now reported from several inland counties throughout the state, as well as along Lake Erie and the Ohio River. This summer, for the first time in perhaps the last century, a pair of eagles nested in the county—though miles from my river. Wildlife officials rightly set up a safe parameter around the parenting birds. From a nearby roadway, it was possible to view the nest and occasionally an eagle through a spotting scope. But the setting of crowds and traffic had little appeal, didn't fit the notion I had of how I wanted to see an eagle, so I passed.

My dream was simple…I wanted to see a bald eagle with my own eyes (not through a spotting scope or even binoculars) and if I could have a perfect setting on the details, I wanted to see the eagle along "my" stretch of my beloved old river.

This morning, my dream came true.
———————

40 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

So happy for you Scribe. Your excitement is palpable!! A Bald Eagle in your 'back yard' on the river!!

My dear friend in Vancouver lives with David Hancock, a biologist who is known out there as "the eagle man". He does Eagle counts and has been instrumental in protecting their habitats in B.C.

A couple of years ago he managed to get a video camera installed near a pair of nesting eagles and had a streaming video on the web of the pair taking care of the eggs, the eggs hatching, and the baby eagles in the nest. The site had over a million hits from all over the world. And he continued to do it every year since. So you are not the only one eager to see these amazing, proud creatures.

On one drive about 7 years ago along the Fraser River in B.C. there was an area of several miles that was almost spooky. Each big tree on both sides of the highway had 5 - 10 eagles perched in it! I don't think my jaw closed the whole drive - it was simply amazing.

I hope your new friend stays in the vicinity and that you are able to enjoy his presence a bit more. I'm sure you will treasure the photos you got - the one you have shared here is great!

Debbie said...

Excuse me, but are we ga-ga? Remember me telling you my reaction to close eagles? Did you jump up and down and point too?I guess it's a common reaction after all :)
I am really happy for you. I haven't shot one this close to my house yet. Although once we were fishing on a lake in Wisconsin and I looked up to see one resting on a dead tree limb just a few feet over my head. They are pretty special!
Debbie

Bernie said...

Great photo Grizz and I am so happy for you....you got to see a beloved Bald Eagle and he is so majestic looking. I think Wanda has them down her way but then I sometimes think that Wanda has a home for every species on her land.....I'm sure you have seen her breathtaking beautiful photo's.
Stay warm my friend....:-) Hugs

madcobug said...

I can feel your excitement. That is a great shot of a beautiful bird. Watch out for you ducks though if they are still around. Helen

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I'm so happy for you! As common as they are here in Minnesota, I still squeal when I see them. They are just so magnificent. Not many people get to add a bald eagle to their yard list.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

I was indeed excited about seeing the eagle—I guess because I've always wanted to see one along one of my favorite "homeland" creeks or rivers.

I've seen a few eagles elsewhere—around the Great Lakes, in the highlands of Tennessee and the Carolinas; both bald eagles and golden eagles. And I knew I go go to where they were, even in Ohio, and put myself in view of an eagle.

But what I wanted was to encounter—however briefly—a bald eagle along one of my lifelong favorite Ohio streams. That was the dream, though really I never gave it much greater credence or chance than an improbable hope. Not in my lifetime.

So there it remained…a sort of feathered will-o'-the-wisp, a grail bird, a creature from my personal bestiary. And when that eagle flew in, landed, and sat there long enough for a good look and a few quick photos—oh, yeah, I was excited.

Your experience along the Fraser, seeing all those eagles, sounds absolutely marvelous.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Debbie…

Yes we are. And you did indeed call it right. I don't know why I've put such stock in wanting to see an eagle here along the river—but I had. And when one appeared, well I wouldn't have been nearly as impressed by puffin or condor or flamingo. (Maybe an ivory bill, though…maybe.)

I was fishing a lake in Michigan a few years back when a bald eagle sailed over my head about 10 feet above the water. I looked up and saw the eagle looking down and for a moment we made eye contact. But that eagle was where he was supposed to be, or expected. The one this morning was just an astonishing gift.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I would put it past Wanda a'tall to to have eagles. And I'm happy for her. But this eagle is MY EAGLE…at least for today. Tomorrow Wanda and I can compare eagles. I know Jain at Bankside has eagles. In fact, probably every other Ohio blogger has eagles. My eagle may not even be the prettiest eagle. But when your wish bird comes to visit, you treat them like royalty and welcome them as best you can. And so I've posted my eagle's photo and told its story.

And don't worry about me staying warm tonight—because today I saw an eagle!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Helen…

I haven't see the mallards around all day—so I'd guess they've departed for safer quarters. If the eagle decides to hang around, I'd say my portly squirrels might be in jeopardy, though.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

I can't imagine anyone ever becoming blas√© about eagles…but I'm sure there are those who do.

When I'm in the north country I'm constantly spellbound by ravens and grosbeaks, Canada jays, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans and snow geese, gray owls, etc. Of course I get about as much charge out of watching Carolina wrens, whitethroated sparrows, and juncos here every day. Fact is, I just love watching most birds.

And if a person can't look closely at birds in all their varied forms and colors and not see the miraculous in all that animated wonderfulness of life—then we probably don't have much to say to one another about anything, because there's something in their soul I find wanting and untrustworthy.

Jain said...

Ohmigod! Congratulations! I know how badly you wanted that sighting (and I never doubted you'd get your visitor ;~). It's a pretty darn good photo, too -- no mistaking the species!

giggles said...

OMG!!!!!!!! I am soooooo happy and thrilled for you!!!! (You HAD to one-up me and my piliated, din't ya??!!)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Well, I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit to having my doubts—I hoped, wished, and sorta believed. But…well, sometimes dreams do come true.

Trust me, the photo is cropped to the max, and I was lucky the bird landed with a clear sightline between us. And lucky to have had the camera on and the 200mm zoom ready.

Gosh, I'm just so astonished by it still!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Oh, yeah. ANYONE can see pileated woodpeckers. On the other hand, eagles…well!

(Actually, I get pretty excited when I see the pileateds, too, even though I see them almost every day. Let's just say this has been a good bird week all around.)

Wanda said...

Happy for you!!! Your photo is perfect, as if he posed for you.

No Bald Eagles here, I'm afraid Bernie may be remembering a photo of a turkey vulture in the front yard. Someone in Lebanon though, which is very close, had photos of an Eagle about this time last year and my son-in-law thought he saw one along the Little Miami River two summers ago.

Are you going to be glued to your window now? Hope you see him again.

KGMom said...

Waaaaayyyyyy cool.
Oh to live so near to water to be graced by a visit from a bald eagle! You are most fortunate indeed.
Christmas gift, or early birthday present, OR a wedding gift!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I almost think he did pose for me…maybe he knew.

I almost did stay glued to the front room windows today, and then I thought, no, you don't force such things, you let them happen in the fullness of time. Just as it happened this first time. And so I went about my business and simply kept a watchful eye on the river and birds.

When (if) it's time for another eagle, I'll see it. I hope you get to see one, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Hadn't thought of wedding gift—but that's most certainly the answer. I'm still learning to think outside myself. The old dog, new tricks conundrum.

Jenn Jilks said...

And I was so excited that I spotted some deer in My Muskoka ! ! This is far more exciting!

Rowan said...

How marvellous! You are so lucky to have seen the eagle so close to your house. You never know, he may be looking for a permanent home along the river. I don't know enough about bald eagles to be aware of the places that they choose to nest of course so may be talking through my hat here:) One of my ambitions is to see a golden eagle but I would have to travel to the Highlands of Scotland for that. Though I believe there are a few golden eagles in Cumbria which is a bit more accessible for me.

Scattering Lupines said...

What a stately, beautiful creature he is! And how I love stories like this.

I can't believe you actually had your camera. If something like that happened to me, I would SURELY not have my camera. Kudos, Scribe!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Hey, I get excited about a lot of almost everyday birds and animals. I get excited about sunsets and sunrises, too. Wildflowers and autumn leaves. Nature and the natural world excites me. Yesterday's eagle was special because it was a first, and not only an unexpected and unusual first, but fulfillment of a long-held dream.

That doesn't mean I wouldn't get excited by a deer…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

My guess is that the eagle might hang around for a couple of weeks or a bit longer. As long as the food supply is good (mostly fish) and it isn't disturbed too much. But it probably needs bigger water and more rural country to feel comfortable enough to stay.

Is your golden eagle the same bird we have? (By "we" I mean parts of the American West and occasionally easterward.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scattering Lupines…

Having the camera in hand, switched on, with the 200mm zoom mounted—plus the fact the eagle landed in a spot where I had a clear sightline through all the limbs and branches and tree trunks on both sides of the river—was indeed a good example of God watching over and knowing some of us need a lot of extra help. Moreover the photo I posted, which was the first one I made—even though it has been enlarged and cropped to get what you see—was the best one of the bunch.

bobbie said...

I am so very happy for you. A sighting like this, near home has to be a real thrill.

Deb said...

I'm so happy your dream came true. I hope it stays around there a while!

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Very cool and not so terrible a photo either. I'm a bit surprised to hear that eagles are still a tad uncommon in your neck of the woods. They are about to overtake the numbers of harrier and Cooper's hawks around here. It like that open water of yours!

Carolyn h

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ_

I am SO happy for you - that this dream came true. Wonderful, indeed. :-) I also SO appreciated your shared history of the bad eagle. Fascinating. :-)
Love to you
Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

I never thought I'd actually see a bald eagle on "my" river. I only wish my father, and longtime best friend Frank, who passed away last spring, were still around to tell. You think I'm excited—Dad or Frank would would just be incapable of containing their joy; I don't know what they'd do.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Deb…

I hope it stays, too, though I think that's unlikely given the nearness of the city and the size of the river. But there's lots of water—ponds, old gravel pits, several rivers and creeks—around, and upstream from here is mostly just farmland and small patches of woods. So who knows?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

As mentioned in the post, they are certainly increasing—but are still uncommon enough that seeing one is cause for celebration, or at least a phone call to the birding hotlines.

My river probably isn't big enough, or remote enough along this stretch, to interest an eagle too long. Right now it is the question of open water and ready meals. In years to come, who knows…this old river might actually harbor a pair of eagles.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Honestly, I don't know what would have pleased me more in the way of wildlife watching. This was a desire, a wish, a hope, though a dream I didn't expect to have fulfilled.

Who wudda thunk?

Rochelle said...

All I can say is WOW OH WOW OH WOW! I practically screamed for my husband to come see, much like your wife did at the window. I mean THIS IS QUITE SOMETHING TO SEE in your own trees. I am stunned! Not a bluebird a cardinal a sparrow a squirrel a heron a beaver... the magestic and elusive (do I add endangered? or are they past that now) bald eagle! Brings a tear to my eye. An excellent omen for you my friend. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank god you had your camera ready!!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rochelle…

The camera was luck. The excitement level was high and lasting (wrote everyone I knew, sent pictures, called friends), and that eagle was just plain spectacular! No kidding! A bald eagle in front of the cottage! Wow!

I'm so, so glad I had a photo to share.

Grace said...

Are bald eagles not common in your part of the world?

They're pretty common in the Valley of Nova Scotia where I grew up. I once had the good fortune to be a flag person for a bike race (the race wasn't the good fortune part), and was put near a group of trees that had eagles flying in and out and resting, keeping me entertained for hours. I absent-mindedly waved at the bikers as they peddled by, but my mind was elsewhere!

Robin said...

Oh, how awesome!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Grace…

No, bald eagles are not at all common hereabouts. This was really the best sighting I've ever had of one in Ohio. Lots of different species of hawks, and plenty of birds to see…but only a handful of eagles, statewide. Most folks—even the serious outdoor/nature types, have probably not seen a bald eagle in the wild in Ohio, unless they've gone to one of the carefully controlled "viewing sites" and saw, through a spotting scope, eagles on the nest. And that's mostly up along Lake Erie.

Your eagles in the tree sound amazing and wonderful. Quite a treat. Hey, you can see bikers any day, right?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

It was awesome. Just like an eagle should be. I think. I was properly awed, too.

Jayne said...

OMG indeed!!! Wow. Lucky you. I've never seen one.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

It was pretty much a first for me here in Ohio, other than the odd glimpse. BTW, the eagle was back yesterday, though I had to leave about the time it came down the river and didn't get home until after dark. So I'm hoping it will put in another appearance today and I'll manage another look.