Regal Eagle at the Deli

Sometimes when I drive by this tree at the side of the estuary, it is loaded with bald eagles, decorating it like so many Christmas tree ornaments.

Today there was only one eagle — an immature one at that. The rest were busy foraging below the tree  and up the river mouth at the Regal Eagle Deli. The last putrefied chum salmon lie like wet paper towels on the banks, exposed by the dropping tide.

Perhaps this one had eaten his fill and couldn’t stomach one more mouthful of rotten fish.

“Oh rats!” he says. “Another bird watcher.”

“I’ll give her my Exorcist pose – body facing one way, head looking the other. That’ll confuse her so she won’t know which is front or back.”



“Now, where was I? Oh yeah … urp … trying to digest that disgusting fermenting fish.”

Regal eagle looks for food, 

Fish again? Not in the mood.

Chilly air, he shivers high

In the tree so he can spy

Rotten fish washed up below.

Better eat in case of snow.

Leaner times around the bend,

Need to eat or life could end.

Though he’d like fish still alive

Choosy eagles don’t survive.

Large Flakes?

Looking out the window this afternoon, I saw huge snowflakes. Or were they leaves? But they were floating so easily, like snow. More and more flakes came down, and yet, not enough to say, “It’s snowing,” and besides, it was just a tad too warm. Something didn’t feel right. I went to investigate.

I picked up some of the “snowflakes” and saw that they were feathers. They kept falling from the sky. I thought of the German folk tale about Frau Holle who shakes the featherbeds (goosedown duvets, in our modern western world) in the sky and makes it snow.

I traced the path of the feathers to their origin and strained my eyes to study the top reaches of a fir tree. For a few minutes I saw nothing, but at last I made the culprit nervous.

A huge eagle took off from the tree with its dinner in its talons.

I knew from the feathers that the eagle’s meal was a duck. The harsh reality of  life and death in the animal food chain always leaves me with mixed feelings. Both are beautiful birds, but why does one have to eat the other? Couldn’t they just eat pancakes instead?

 

 

Eagles Have to Eat too

When my friend Gladys and I went for a walk along the roads near Camp Homewood, she spotted this eagle. I was admiring the water on the other side of the road and would have missed this sight completely if she hadn’t spoken up. I grabbed for my camera and hoped that the battery was still good.

The eagle sat fairly still for quite a while, intent on eating his lunch, so I had time to study him. Notice the feathers on his legs? They’re fluffy and make his legs look bigger than they are, but even so, I think they are quite strong.

I must have interrupted his meal. He hasn’t swallowed that morsel in his beak.

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Gulp! Down the hatch it goes!

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Hmm…. Now let’s see …. What other parts are the tenderest?

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I was curious to see what the eagle was eating. I suspected a small deer, or a sea bird, but the ringtail told the story. A raccoon. Not a particularly big one, but a raccoon nonetheless.

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By coming closer and closer, we finally made the eagle too uncomfortable. He flew up into a stand of trees. He’s not taking his eye off his dinner though.

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When we walked by later in the day, the whole carcass was gone. Gladys said she had seen the eagle trying to lift it earlier but I suppose we interfered with his supper plans. Up in these trees for safety, he would still have a good view of his meal. Maybe we convinced him it would be wiser to take the rest of his dinner to a safer place to eat it.

Eagle Eyes

Today the sun was out for a short time, perfect for a walk through the fields with our dogs, Emma and Ruby. In the cornfield below, some bits of corn might still be left, but by now they would be hard to find. Almost all the corn and new shoots of grass have been eaten. The odd bird still flies in to see if anything was missed. The Canada geese flying over this field will probably land in the one to the left, behind the trees, and glean the last grain seeds they can find.

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Watching and waiting are the bald eagles. They keep their eagle eyes open for any bird that can’t keep up with the flock, a bird that is weak or hurt and would be easier to take down.

Four eagles (and a lump that looks like an eagle but isn’t one) have taken up positions in these trees. Great place to sit and survey the whole area. Eagles have excellent eyesight for this kind of  hunting.

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Here is one of the adults in this group. Notice his sharp hooked beak, perfect for tearing meat. He’s keeping a close eye on Emma, but so are we.

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The immature bald eagle below may be the chick of one the adult eagles in this group, but they weren’t telling me. His head is not white yet, nor is his beak completely yellow.

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The ducks that spent a lot of time in this field over the past weeks have left very little to eat. The kernels of corns that were left in the cobs of corn missed by the harvester, are all gone.You may be able to see that the blades of grass are clipped off. That was probably the work of large groups of widgeons. You can see widgeons in an earlier post. The link is https://wordsfromanneli.com/2016/01/11/the-estuary/

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I also saw evidence of crippled or sick birds that the eagles finished off. Just the feathers were left. I could have taken a picture of that evidence, but my camera’s battery died just then and you’ve been spared.

 

 

Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t it be nice if all birds could be friends? But that’s not how it is in nature. Crows rob the nests of songbirds, cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other birds and then fly off, knowing the surrogate mother will bring up the cowbird baby that will crowd out the original nestlings. Owls and hawks will kill other smaller birds. “World bird peace” is pretty much hopeless.

Two of the larger birds, great blue herons and bald eagles, live side by side on the west coast of British Columbia. You rarely see bald eagles killing a heron, but it does happen. Turkey vultures, crows, ravens, black bears, and raccoons are all nest robbers that will clean out a heron’s nest. Eagles will do the same but they also predate on great blue herons in every stage of the heron’s life. The eagle has great grasping talons and a beak made for tearing flesh, so what chance does a heron have?

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Photo, courtesy of Ken Thorne.

Many years ago, I saw how herons escape from eagles. While living on the Queen Charlotte Islands, I was standing in my backyard one day when I heard the croaking call of a heron in a tall tree nearby. An eagle flew in and the heron lifted off. I thought the heron would fly away as the eagle went after him, but instead, the heron reached up with both of his wide-spread wings and pumped air downwards. He flew higher and higher in a tight circle going almost straight up.

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The eagle also pumped his wings and pursued the heron, circling higher and higher after him. The heron went so high that he was a mere speck in the sky. Many meters below him, the eagle soared in circles but was no longer gaining in altitude. I think he had gone as high as he was able. The two birds circled at their respective heights for several minutes, and at last the eagle gave up and flew away. The heron came down after a while, to go about his business for another day.

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The great blue heron is the ultimate stalker. He is patient beyond belief, and will stand absolutely still for so long that you might wonder if he is alive. Then he moves one leg up out of the water and hesitates. After a moment he puts the leg down, just a little closer to the fish or frog he is stalking. His folded up neck reminds me of a boxer holding his fist close to his chest, ready to fling out his arm to throw a punch at the right second. The heron’s sharp grabbing beak is his weapon for securing his dinner. His patience usually pays off and he scores a snack for his dinner.

I saw this fellow today at the shore below my house. I also took the picture of the eagle soaring over the trees beside my house today.  I sure hope these two can keep out of each other’s way and both settle for a meal of fish instead.

The Estuary

Between  Comox and Courtenay, the road runs along the estuary. I always see at least one interesting thing when I pass by there.  It is a place where many species thrive, and a refuge for them when the weather is extreme. 124

From Comox Bay, boats sometimes (not often) come partway up the river. In old times they might have been going to the ways to be hauled out, or they might be going to the small government wharf in Courtenay. The Town of Comox has the much bigger facility, with easier access from the Strait of Georgia. Markers and pilings in the river mouth help to guide boats along the deeper river channels. Many a boat has run aground here, for lack of better navigation aids.

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Birdlife is everywhere. Here are two kinds of ducks.  I’m ashamed to admit that a long time ago, I thought all ducks were brown and their ducklings were always yellow.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. Duck plumage is as varied as that of other bird species.

Drake mallards are immediately identified by their green heads, but look more closely and you’ll see other markers. Yellow bills, chestnut breast feathers, a hint of a white collar on the neck, beige sides, darker brown on top, dark blue wing speculum outlined by white bars. Flashy little devils, aren’t they? Their wives are dull for camouflaged safety when nesting, but in spite of the boring mottled brown, they do have the same dark blue wing speculum bordered in white. Oh, and notice the bright orange of the feet. Both male and female have these cool boots.

Beyond the mallards a flock of widgeons are milling around. Again, the drakes are the flashy ones with their white head stripe and black and white rump feathers. A slash of white under the wing takes the boredom out of the brown body colour. The hen widgeons, again, are dull, dull, dull. And in this case, neither drakes nor hens have those cool booties like the mallards have. The widgeon boots are a more modest greeny-gray.

I find it interesting that the two kinds of ducks are together here and yet they are keeping to their own groupings by species.

Most likely they are here in the estuary because there is snow on the fields just now. Usually, the widgeons visit grain fields where they are like lawnmowers when a group of them get together, nipping the tops of the grass. A new planting of grain can be devastated by a huge flock of widgeon grazing for a few hours.

The mallards, on the other hand, will forage for other things. They don’t mind eating rotten potatoes left in the field, or kernels of corn left behind. If they are hungry enough, you might see mallards snacking on a rotten salmon on the shore, something that is beneath the dignity of the widgeon.116

But see (below) who has moved in from the frozen fields and the mist of the last blog post. The Canada geese!

And if you look closely, in the distance, you’ll see another visitor, sitting on a branch on the island in the estuary (maybe click to enlarge the photo). He’s watching for anything edible, be it fish or fowl. The bald eagle seems to sit a lot, but his “eagle eye” is watching for any sick or crippled ducks that would be easy pickings. Barring that, there may be a careless fish in the shallows. You never know what might wash up. Just now it is a hard time for eagles. The spawned out salmon  are almost gone and it is a bit early for the herring to show up. But they are always on the lookout for an easy meal.

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The estuary is full of life.You never know what you’ll see but there is always something of interest.

 

Eaglet

These noble birds are the reason I have to keep a close watch on my new puppy. Bald eagles have been known to swoop down and pick up small pets and bring them to their nests to feed to their young. Everything has to live, but I don’t want my puppy to become eagle food, so I watch out for her diligently.

This eaglet is from last year, but the nest is active again this year. I can tell by the constant shrieking of the eagles and the ongoing cawing of the crows who pester them. One day I’d like to see the eagles get fed up them (literally). We watched the eagles as they built the nest. For many days they landed hard on dead branches of the tall firs, breaking them off. When they fell, the eagles picked them up and flew to their building site. What a lot of work to make a nest of that size.

The finished work of art is just next to my neighbour’s house, so she took this photo and sent it to me.

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Courtesy of Begonia Duran

Yes, eagles have to eat too, so I was thinking of making up a sign for them, “Rabbit Restaurant, This Way,” and then have the arrow point to the copse of trees and shrubs in my backyard where I know they like to hide. The eagles are beautiful to see, except when you have a small dog or cat.