Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where Eagles Swim

Really enjoying the quiet and lack of traffic up here beyond Rudyerd. I see maybe one boat per day moving out on the water.

The highlight of this day has been watching a bald eagle swim 200 yards to shore. I thought I saw some movement on the water ahead of me, and at first I couldn't tell if the movement was just the result of water fluctuations. It was flat calm, but there was still some gentle swell. Then I thought it was a float for a crab trap. I think the eagle was resting then. Then it looked like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke, but there was something wrong with the dimensions--the head seemed too high out of the water.

Finally, when I got close enough to see it was a bald eagle, I couldn't believe it. I had heard eagles sometimes misjudge the surface of the water and get too wet to lift out again, or they clutch a fish too big to lift, but their talons can't let loose so they drop in the water. And I thought the result was the eagle drowning. But I sat in my kayak and watched as this bird flapped its waterlogged wings and slowly moved toward shore. It would swim for a few minutes, then stop and rest for a minute, then start again. When it rested, its head was well above water, and when it started up again, it was strong enough to lift part of its wings out of the water, but soon the range of wing movement lessened, but it kept flapping. There was nothing in its movements or looks that indicated panic to me. I thought I would be seeing this bird drown, but I wonder if it could have swum for another 200 yards or more.

I couldn't tell how old the bird was, but its head and tail were solid white and there was no mottled color to the wings so it wasn't an adolescent, though I don't know at what age they develop their solid coloring. And would it have been good eating for a seal? One surfaced between the eagle and me near shore, then disappeared again.

When this eagle finally made shore and shook and flapped its wings to dry off, another eagle that I had noticed high in a tree some 100 yards off, swooped down and with its talons outstretched, knocked the wet bird down and continued flying to a low branch in a nearby tree. There was lots of squawking and screeching between the 2 birds. The wet bird got to its feet right away, and a minute later, the second bird attacked it again. Same result, but the attacker flew further away this time. Soon it flew off around the bend and out of sight as a third eagle appeared soaring above the trees. It landed in the top of a tree some distance off, and that's how I left them. The swimmer had hopped up rocks about 10 feet above the water and stood there drying and preening.

So what was going on? Was the eagle knocked out of the air by the other one? Was it a youngster that misjudged in trying to catch a fish? No idea really, but I like to think it was a teenager making some risky, flamboyant move too near the surface of the water, and when it finally emerged from the water, its mom came down and gave it a couple knocks upside the head for being so foolhardy. Any other guesses?

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