This bald eagle sat for hours at the top of one of the tallest white pines on the west side of the lake. He, or maybe it was she, had a great view of Belly Button Island and the lake around it.
As we paddled out from our bay, it wasn’t long before we spotted what we originally thought was a White Castle bag stuck near the top of the tree. Geez. How did that get there? As we got closer, the White Castle bag sprouted a yellow bill and a very muscular body. It took Steve’s new lens to give us a view of the eagle’s nostrils, though.
Speaking of those nostrils, they are called nares. Air passes through them and into the bird’s entire respiratory system. Good things Eagles hunt by eyesight rather than smell, though. Because their sense of smell stinks.
At first we thought this big guy was an osprey. We watched him fly up from a tall pine in Ghost Bay, swoop fairly low over the water, and then fly up again and land near the very top of an even taller pine. But, he was no osprey. The blue jay knew before we knew. This is an immature Bald Eagle.
We are in good company in not recognizing him at first. On a trip up the Mississippi in 1814, the naturalist John James Audubon mistakenly thought that a juvenile Bald Eagle was a new species. He named it the Washington Sea Eagle. But it was really just a juvenile Bald Eagle. The typical adult plumage develops as early as 4 years and sometimes as late as 8 years.
So, this is a juvenile Haliaeecetus Leucocephalus (sea eagle, white-headed). He was sitting on the branch seeming to be minding his own business, but the blue jay thought he was up to no good (apparently). Maybe the jay was guarding a nest. He squawked, loud, in that lovely blue jay voice. And when the eagle paid him no attention and just sat,watchful, the jay started flying up at him. He sort of dive-bombed the eagle. A few times, we saw the jay actually hit the back of the eagle.
You would think that a bird of the eagle’s size would give that jay a swipe of a talon and that would be the end of that. But instead,he let it go on for about ten minutes.
Finally, the eagle had enough of it and flew off.
As you can tell from the snow on the Hillman airport, this is not yesterday’s (Father’s Day) eagle photo. Yesterday no camera captured the drama on the west shore of the big part of Long Lake, not far from the narrows. We watched from our dock on the eastern shore. “Look, that’s a bald eagle flying over the lake, isn’t it?” “Definitely, see his tail feathers?” ” Yep, and that’s definitely a white head.” As my son and our friends watched, the eagle swooped down and grabbed something from the lake. It flew off with a Canada Goose gosling in its talons. The geese started honking loud. One adult flew up and charged the eagle. Startled, apparently, the eagle dropped its prey back into the lake from a height of about 100 feet. We saw the splash. The eagle circled and seemed to be considering trying again. Continued loud honking. The eagle did not make a second snatch. The geese paddled off.
Our national bird didn’t get picked for the job as a symbol for tame. A healthy eagle killing to eat is not a newsflash. Still, this was pretty raw and Wild Kingdomish. We’d seen that bunch of geese a few times over the weekend. Four adults, five goslings already with the distinctive breed markings on their neck, and four younger goslings still decked out in their brown chick feathers. Even though the geese litter the lawn with their slimy tootsie roll droppings, I was still kind of rooting for the geese. Hard not to root for a parent fighting to protect its young. Especially on Father’s Day. The eagle seemed small for an adult.