Sunday a week ago, just after dawn, I was at my desk and had just begun writing a post for this blog, when I glanced out the window toward the river and woods on the island across from the cottage. Suddenly a large bird flashed into view. Whatever it was lit momentarily in a sycamore which leans over the water. The bird hopped down to a lower limb, flapped over to another tree a dozen yards downstream, paused there only a second or two, tried another branch, then flew to a third tree which didn't seem to suite it all that much, either. The bird shifted about and never appeared to get settled—maybe because the limbs were all top-layered with a thick coating of snow, or possibly because the low-angled light from the barely risen sun required the perfect sight angle to see into the pools below.
Even glimpsed between the trees while on the move, I saw the bird was large, dark, and massive in build—too massive to be a heron, though the wingspan was plenty wide enough. But I see great blue herons almost every minute of every day; there are almost always three our four scattered at favorite fishing sites within sight of the cottage, and they're forever flapping up or down stream, rattling, chasing one another, trying their luck here and there. While herons do rest in the nearby trees quite often—sitting on limbs close to the water or branches 80 feet high, in the very tops of some of the biggest sycamores—I see them regularly enough to know that whatever the bird was, it wasn't a heron.
My first thought was turkey vulture. As most of you who read these posts know, there's a seasonal buzzard roost directly across from the cottage, used nightly by well over 100 birds. When they're in residence, I see turkey vultures daily. But the vultures don't typically show up hereabout until mid-March—another month away. Moreover, the bird in question wasn't flying or acting like a vulture, either; besides looked plainly bigger.
When I scrambled to the front room for a better view and managed to get the binoculars on it, what I'd suspected, but hadn't quite dared hope or believe, came into clear, sharp focus…eagle! Another eagle! And on Valentine's Day, to boot! What a delightful, awesome, unexpected gift!
I was so excited I almost hustled into the bedroom and shook Myladylove, still-blissfully-sleeping, awake. She'd be as excited about another eagle along the river as I was, even though she lived on an Alaskan island for several years and saw eagles by the dozens regularly. But she'd also been really tired the evening before, and of course we had plans for the day ahead; I wanted her to be rested.
While I was considering, the eagle flapped on downstream and disappeared around the bend. I retrieved my cup of coffee from the writing room, along with several bird guides, and sat at the dinning room table. Just in case the bird returned, the table has the best view of the entire stretch of stream visible below the cottage.
The eagle had been dark—almost black—though with a few irregular lighter feathers scattered about. The beak had been dark, too. I quickly decided it had to be an immature bald eagle, though given the light mottling, probably a bird in the two-year-old range. Certainly not the white-headed, mature bird I'd gotten so excited over [see here] a month ago, which was the first bald eagle I've ever seen along the river and one of the few bald eagles I've seen in my lifetime. Not that this second bald eagle was any less exciting.
Fifteen minutes after disappearing around the downstream bend, the eagle suddenly reappeared. Again it did a series of stop-and-go pauses in the trees alongside the river, steadily working in my direction. I had my camera at the ready. The huge bird found a limb almost a hundred yards below the cottage and stopped—except this time it stayed…and stayed…and stayed. For the next hour I watched it through the binoculars. Myladylove got up on her own. I told her about the eagle and almost got bowled over as she snatched the binoculars and demanded I point out the distant bird. I finally got her lined up. "Ooooooh," she exclaimed. "What's the matter with you—how come you didn't wake me up!"
The eagle stayed on that limb another hour. Unfortunately, it was way too far away for much of a shot with even my longest lens, though I tried. There was no question about sneaking closer. When the bird finally did move, it flew through the timber along the river. No shot there, either. In mid-afternoon, it reappeared—sailing quickly into view, and just as quickly swooping to the river's surface where it snatched a fish from a shallow pool and hurriedly flapped into the woods of the island across from the cottage. Both Myladylove and I lost sight of the bird in the maze of timber. That whole sequence—reappearance, feeding swoop and catch, and disappearance among the trees—might have taken 15 seconds. No photo-op whatsoever.
I've waited a week to mention any of this because I hoped I could come up with a better photo. However, the young eagle has disappeared, though I've searched a bit upstream and down, watching as best I could from various vantage points along several miles of river. So, you'll have to make do with this admittedly poor photo and my tale. Still, good photo or not, I thought our Valentine's Day bald eagle was just too special an event not to share.