Burton on the Bay:
Behold this Eagle
The eagle suffers little birds to sing,
And it is not careful what they mean thereby.
-Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare
Behold this eagle. Behold also the little birds that traffic to and from the many bird feeders and birdhouses on my east lawn overlooking Stoney Creek in North County.
A bald eagle has taken up at least temporary residence nearby, and the birds don't like it, though for the time being the big bird suffers the songs of the smaller birds.
The smallest of the birds aren't involved in the shenanigans; presumably they know better. They wouldn't even make a snack beyond the bill of the eagle. But the larger birds are more brazen.
They don't want the eagle around, so in flocks - a mix of gulls and crows - they boldly harass the eagle. Carefully. Their bravado comes in their numbers, and the eagle ignores them on his perch on a dead tree on the steep slope dropping down towards the creek.
Of late, that same tree has held a hawk or two in the past couple years, and I've seen an occasional osprey on it. Now the eagle wants this barren old tree from which it can survey Stoney Creek, the open waters of the Patapsco and a half dozen houses nearby.
Who's Looking at Whom?
When I first saw it was last week, there was a light drizzle following a steady rain, and a woman from a few blocks away with her large dog in tow beat on the picture window of the living room. "Got a camera?" she asked.
I grabbed my 35mm, dashed outside and she beckoned me along the thin strip of land running alongside the creek though far above it. There beyond a holly tree a bit over a hundred yards perched the eagle.
I've lived here since December of 1971 and had yet to see an eagle on the shores of, or above Stoney Creek.
Visibility was marginal, so I tried sneaking closer for a picture with my telephoto lens.
The eagle, in its traditional stooped-shoulder posture when perched, didn't move. There was me on the ground and perhaps 15 crows and gulls screeching "be gone," but the big bird was unconcerned.
I tried to make out whether it was mature or immature; it was big, but I couldn't determine in the sloppy weather (combined with my aging eyesight) whether there was enough white prominent in head or tail to verify its age.
The distinctive white comes when a bird reaches four or five years. The few times I have seen this one since, weather and light conditions were marginal at best, but there is no way one can't recognize a bald eagle. Its size and configuration give it away.
As I raised the camera for a shot, this large bird bolted into the sky. Big birds such as the eagle or wild turkey appear cumbersome, but believe me "bolt" is the right word. They take off like a sleek jet fighter, not a lumbering old transport plane.
I managed one click on the camera and the bird was sailing across the creek towards the Patapsco. I watched.
There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not.
The way of the eagle in the air; the way of the serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
-Book of Proverbs
Of late, I have been obsessed with the protection of the songbirds that come to the backyard feeders, where occasionally one is done in by a hawk or two that visit from time to time. But something within me welcomed this eagle.
Perhaps its presence will discourage the hawks; as for the cardinals, doves, finches, song sparrows, robins, flickers, woodpeckers and whatever, the spread of food intended for them will be pushed back further into the safety and cover of the brush at the edge of the slope.
What impact an eagle would have on songbirds, I am unsure. Undoubtedly, it would prefer the fish of Stoney Creek, but a hungry predator is not always discriminating - as I warned OJ, the family cat that sometimes escapes the house to meander along the edge of the slope. My cat Frieda need not worry; she is content to remain indoors forever.
Way of the American Eagle
It has been 18 years ago to the week of my first eagle sighting hereabouts. Since then, the status of these magnificent birds has improved considerably.
Back then - President Reagan designated 1982 as the Bicentennial Year of the American Bald Eagle - for the most part the species was either threatened or endangered in all states. It was rare to see one fly anywhere along the East Coast. There were doubts that the bird could make a comeback.
Loss of habitat, illegal shooting and reckless use of pesticides that made the shells of their eggs too thin and brittle were blamed for the decline. The eagle, our national symbol, was feared to be on the way out, which probably wouldn't have upset old Benjamin Franklin too much.
Ben promoted the wild turkey for our national symbol, but he lost his case though, like the eagle, the gobbler had much in its favor as a national emblem. But it was deemed not aggressive enough back in those days when the fledgling country was flexing its muscles.
To catch a glimpse of this regal bird in flight is to understand why the founding fathers chose it to represent the strength and courage of our nation. Its grace is breathtaking, the power of flight awesome, then there's its vigilance and loyalty in protecting its nest and family group, but most of all its courage. Nothing messes with an eagle in a protective mode.
It took a lot of doing to get eagle numbers back on track. Pesticides went, cutting of habitat was curbed in sensitive areas, and across the nation, some who shot them went to jail or paid huge fines. A few Marylanders ended up on the wrong side of federal and state agents after shooting eagles, but finally the message was loud and clear. Leave eagles alone.
One reason - other than unfounded fear they would eat anything smaller than a sheep - that the eagle became a target of slob hunters was the big lead shot controversy of more than 20 years ago. Some eagles were found suffering from lead poisoning attributed to lead shot pellets in waterfowl they consumed.
Such evidence was among the arguments for the long and eventual successful drive to ban lead shot in waterfowl hunting, substitute it with steel, which many hunters didn't think was a effective. Disgruntled, some screwy hunters took revenge on eagles. You know, get rid of the evidence.
All that's history, and practically in the back yard we have an eagle, hopefully looking us over for long term residence and not just passing through. I share the sentiments of the American Indian, for whom the bird ranked up there with the buffalo. Consider the "Invitation Song of the Iroquois":
Screaming the night away
With its great wing feathers
Swooping the darkness up;
I hear the eagle bird
Pulling the blanket back
Off from the eastern sky.
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Volume VI Number 12
March 26 - April 1, 1998
New Bay Times
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