wordsfromanneli

Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.


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Bird’s Eye View

I looked out at the sunny (cold) day this morning. Someone else was also looking. Do you see him at the top of the fir tree? It’s a good place to spot potential targets for food — maybe a crippled duck, or some small creature in a field, or even a  victim of overnight road kill.

I stepped out onto the deck and took about 30 wiggly photos. I leaned against a deck post and tried 20 more. Finally I managed to get a photo that was recognizable, if not sharp. The camera has a 43X zoom so this is the best it can do without a tri-pod. I often wish for a BIG telescopic lens but then there is the weight to consider. Also, these subjects don’t often hang around long enough for me to get set up.

But we can see his “eagle eye” and the sharp tearing beak. It must be breezy up there, judging by his feathers being ruffled on the windward side.

It is a lean time of year for the eagles. They work hard to find some unsuspecting, usually sick or starving, bird to feed on. But soon, the herring will be coming close to the beach to spawn, and then the eagles will be “living off the fat of the land” (and sea).


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Eat or be Eaten

A few days ago when the snow came down hard and heavy, I felt sorry for the birds, as I always do when the weather makes their lives hard to bear. But I had forgotten that not only do some birds — the weak, the injured, and the unlucky — have a hard enough time finding food, but they have to beware of becoming food for other birds.

The forested patches near our house are home to many bald eagles. Because the ocean is nearby, it is ideal for them, especially now as herring time draws near.  But until the herring fishery begins, the eagles take advantage of the suffering of other bird species. They are especially fond of snatching seabirds from the water or the beaches.

Out in my backyard, under one of the firs that the eagles love to use as their dining room, I found, discarded, a wing that had been stripped of all meat. My guess is that it was from a loon, as these seem to be one of the eagle’s favourites. I have found several loon carcasses under the dining tree in the past. For the photo, I have put a pop can beside the wing to show the relative size.

In the animal world it still goes that you must “Eat or be eaten.”


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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.


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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?

 

 


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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.


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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.

 

 


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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.