Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Which CR Biker Thinks He Heard and Saw Eagles

I only saw the bird nearer me. Look at the other one--white head. I thought I was near an eagle on the Cedar River Trail today, but now I think I was near two. Saw more (hard to say how many) circling over the river.
Like an eager hobbit awaiting rescue, I was pretty thrilled by the sound—a high-pitched sort of a sound, a staccato keening, a bit effete for the deadly hunter that is making it, if you ask me.

I don’t know for sure that it was the eagle’s cry, but I am pretty sure I saw lots of eagles today, which was about the biggest thrill one can ask for a cool March 2 bike ride.

The snowpack is pretty deep in the grass, but it’s been days since the storm, and the city has done a decent street cleaning job. I decided to find out if that job extended to the Cedar River Trail, and indeed it has. Kudos CR.

I started out a bit after 2, and it was getting close to 4 by the time I had crossed the Cedar River. I was not biking fast (not that I ever do), and I had some business at Mount Mercy that I had to do today, so I didn’t have time to see how far out the city had plowed the trail, although I wanted to.

So I was near Mt. Trashmore when I heard the cry. I was used to listening to birds along the ride today—ravens, geese, ducks—the snow may say “winter” but the sun says “spring” and the dinosaurs are out in force. But this cry was not a raven nor a goose nor a duck. I glanced at the river, and what I saw made me stop.

I'm at maximum zoom, saw some birds at some distance
over the river. Looks like an eagle to me.
There, maybe just 30 yards from me, at the very tip top of a slumbering cottonwood, sat a bird that looked huge, like Bilbo in the top branch trying to stain to see the end of Mirkwood. She looked 3-feet tall to me, and I thought, “Jesus, that’s way too huge for a hawk. Could it be?”

I unlimbered my camera, raised it, snapped one picture and then saw the back side of a big bird  silently but swiftly slipping away over the river. I thought there was only one, but when I looked later at my photo, I think there was a boy eagle closer to the river than the girl eagle that drew my attention. (Correction:  As Dr. Joy Ochs commented on my photos on Facebook, in bald eagles the plumage is not sexually differentiated--both adult males and females have white heads. What I saw was a younger and older eagle, and the one I noticed nearer me was the brown-headed juvenile).

I’ve only had a few glimpses of eagles. They impress me two ways—they are unbelievably huge compared to birds I am used to seeing, and for such large animals, they are really stealthy. To say “I heard the eagle’s cry” is to say you heard a bird sound much more subtle than a raven’s raucous caw or the honk of an angry goose. And an animal that huge should sound like a helicopter when it takes off, but it doesn’t. It’s just suddenly in the air and it doesn’t even seem to flap much as it’s just as quickly gone—fast, stealthy, strong and nearly silent. I bet that bird can hunt. I guess it doesn’t want to startle the fish.

Anyway, I saw many, many birds today. Hawks are common in this area, so I can’t be certain what all of the large birds of prey I saw circling over the river were. But when I looked at my photos from the ride, I became more convinced. Let me know, blog fans, if you know more about birds than I do. But these seem like eagles to me.
Cedar Lake, near the Cedar River. Only a little of the lake is open water, so the birds all party in that area. Did not see eagles at the lake, but there were plenty of other feathered creatures.

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