It was an eagle

What at long distance looked like a hawk became a Bald Eagle on the nest.L ast week I reported finding a hawk’s nest. Or maybe an eagle’s nest; I had not been close enough with the camera I had in hand to get a good enough look.

But I went back with a longer lens. It was a Bald Eagle on the nest. What had at first been simply a moving, shadowed, bump over the rim of the sticks, turned out to be the white head and hooked beak of our national bird.

That’s quite a catch for me. I have seen some eagles in the wild, but never on a nest.

My closest association with Bald Eagles was when I was stationed on Adak Island in the mid-1970s with the U.S. Navy. Adak is a small island about three hours ride from the mainland in a four-engine turboprop aircraft operated at the time by Reeve Aleutian Airways.

Adak was a fantastic place for a guy who fancied himself a bit of an outdoorsman. There was a resident and healthy herd of caribou that needed thinning every year to prevent them overrunning the island and fostering disease. Control of the herd worked from two directions.

On the one hand, it was a captive population requiring human hunters to control the numbers. On the other, the caribou hung out on the opposite side of the island from the human houses and industrial center, where motor vehicles were forbidden. Not every hunter was willing to make the hike – out with a gun and back with a couple hundred pounds of caribou meat. There were penalties for people who left the meat on the tundra.

A Japanese fishing fleet arrived once a year to supply and staff an Alaskan King Crab processing plant in a small, narrow bay called, appropriately, Finger Bay. Some of the sailors had boats they used to fish for halibut.

And every spring hump-backed salmon made the bi-annual trip into a stream that fed Finger Bay, returning to their birthplace to spawn and die. Fishing was pretty great, and smoked salmon a treat for human fishermen – provided, of course, a successful angler could keep the fish to get it home for smoking. Bald Eagles were stiff competition.

If there was a shortage of eagles in the Lower Forty-eight, we knew where they’d gone. Clouds of the majestic thieves gathered during the salmon run to steal fish set on shore by the aforementioned fishermen. The birds knew they were protected, and they ate very well.

Watching a nest on the Internet, under the attentive sensor of an Eagle-cam, is fun, but not quite the same as finding one, so I was excited to discover that nest a few miles from my home. I have seen an odd eagle here and there since returning to the Lower Forty-eight, but never a nest unattended by humans. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile, a pair of bluebirds seem to be taking over the birdhouse we have bolted to the kids’ play structure. House sparrows appear to be setting up in the house nearest mine, but they are not, yet, bothering the bluebirds on the opposite side of the garden.

House sparrows are invasive to the United States, brought here in the 19th Century. Starlings drop by my backyard in spring to feed and make life uncomfortable for nearly every other species that wings its way through my domain – except House Sparrows. I have pictures of the little guys doing battle with starlings. It is truly impressive to watch. Except when they chase the bluebirds away.

I wonder whether I might convince that eagle to do a weekly fly-by.

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