Friday, February 09, 2007

quaint vignettes from my charming rural idyll

Yesterday I went out and played a little game. I would birdwatch without going over one mile away from my front step. I took my digital with me, but birds are small, so the only images that showed up were of the larger birds. Fortunately there were metric shitpiles of them.
So bear in mind, now...every single one of these pictures was taken within a ONE MILE RADIUS of my front door.
They are not fantastic pictures, but they ARE pictures of giant carniverous birds. And some cows, and a car. And a couple of nests.
Nests the size of ATV's.

(Remember, you can click on these to enlarge them. In most cases you'll have to.)

Seven town blocks from my front door, headed south, we see this young lady up a hawthorne tree on the road shoulder.

...on the lookout for Al Qaida

This isn't some backroad, either; it's the newly enlarged freight crossing. Here; I'll prove it...

I'm standing right under this Huge Killer Bird with my back to her, facing north now. There is my new tiny shitty car, beyond it a picturesque dairy farm and beyond that, Canadialand.'s a leaker.

This is three blocks straight off my front porch, on Hovel.
There were three eagles. Now only dad is left, and he is not real pleased with me. I was standing on the side of the road, making 'kiss-whistles' to try and make them turn their heads towards me. Mom and daughter got disgusted and flew off to another tree where they sat and called me really dirty eagle names at the top of their lungs.

...use the flash you ignorant peasant.

Now 'kiss-whistles' didn't impress the eagles, but they worked really well on cows, I discovered. There was not cow one in sight when I pulled over. I looked down and theres this big pile of them close enough to lick me. I never heard a thing.

...disturbingly silent. unsettlingly watchful.

That was beginning to feel like a well-rehearsed mugging set-up so I booked.

Seven blocks north of my house, on Gough. Inside city limits. This nest is about five years old now and you could park an ATV on it. One of the owners is in the background. That tiny tiny dot. That's an eagle. Yeah.

...missing any children?

Seven blocks west of my house. This nest is two blocks off Main (called Cherry Street.) The site is at least eight years old, but it blows down every winter and so it doesn't accumulate layers like most eagle nests do. The birds build it back up in the same tree every year.

...we like the neiborhood and the schools are excellent.

The nest site is less than 100 feet from this thing... asphalt shingle plant.The largest enclosed space in Whatcom County. There are a constant stream of rednecks, semi trucks, trains, and forklifts running around right underneath the nest. I know this for a fact because my husband used to be the redneck in the forklift.

Almost exactly one mile from my house, heading northeast on Hillview. I am parked right beneath this young man. It's a crappy picture and a dark day, but he still wouldn't have shown up real good because he is still in his dark-brown juvenile plumage. His distinctive profile, as well as the yellow beak and feet give him away.

His mate (also wearing brown feathers) sits out in the field beyond him, waiting. Waiting for....

...A nice duck dinner.
These mallard ducks decided not to migrate and as a consequence are living pretty thin. The eagles will wait and see who takes off last, or not at all. Eagles aren't total scavengers; they'll take live prey very neatly. I've been out fishing on Silver Lake and had them come skim right across the bow of my little rowboat and pluck a trout out of the water like music.)

In addition to the ducks, different fish are starting to run now. Every little creek, ditch and river around here is full of bright new fish and the eagles are here to take advantage.

The fact is, though, that dairy farmers around here have their milk cows bred in August so they freshen right around now. In addition to the usual giant heap of guck produced by a normal calving, the harsh weather tends to cull out the weak calfs naturally. All that goes to the eagles. I live in dairy country, and so that explains why in a one mile radius I saw OVER FIFTY BALD EAGLES. Today, in Sumas, Washington. February 9, 2007.

Supposedly Eagles only take a mate once they're out of juvenile plumage. This is not true at all; I've watched juvenile pairs in full mating display, seen them breeding, watched them engaged in nest building. This young couple have a nest back at the base of the foothills there in the background.

I've heard it said that the farmers who leave out culls are disrupting the natural breeding cycles of the eagles. Could this be an example? No. It's a case of plentiful food resources impacting the breeding cycle, but there isn't anything unnatural about it.
An eagle is primarily a scavenger. The most popular aquila nesting place in this end of the county is in Cedarville...not on the river, but in the firs that surround the dump. In wilderness areas their habit is to nest around the mouths of rivers, the bases of waterfalls and the headwaters high up in the mountains...not for the live fish so much as the bounty of dead, spawned-out salmon, and the scavenging to be had from the leavings of other predatory activity around these places. And so, in accordance with their natural tendancy, they nest here, in the alders that line the creeks, near the dairy farms. They clean up the dead calfs and birthing waste, which they do in the wild, too. What in the hell do people think happens around here when a moose or an elk births? Or dies, for that matter? Or gets hit by a logging truck?
What do they think happened to beached whales and other sealife carcasses?

Another fact that folks tend to try to ignore is that before the settlers came the local NA performed 'sky burial'(if they liked you. If not they slung you into the brush.) The dead could be seen on platforms in the trees around Ferndale, on the land my husbands' family homesteaded up until at least the 1920's. My father-in-law remembers seeing them, or at least what was left by then. And the local NA created lots of dead people. We were not nice indians. We were mean, head-taking, slave killing, settler shooting, liver eating Indians. Thanks to us, back in those days the eagles probably took cabs everywhere because they were too damn fat to fly.

It was co-existing then, and it's co-existing now.


  1. We have golden eagles in Scotland.

    As you say, they are basically scavangers, roaming the heights and swooping faster and more accurately than any device that we can devise.

    They do sometimes take lambs.

    Your writing is extraordinary.

  2. And we have nothing in Liverpool... Other than pidgeons and rain.

  3. garfy: we have them here too, out on the peninsula and up along the Vancouver BC coastline. they're huge things! and thank you *blush*
    jingo: welcome! take a look around the cornices. betcha have falcons too. they look like a slim, long hawk designed by Raymond Loewy.

  4. ...wait a minute. extraordinarily what?
    took me a sec.

  5. Anonymous3:43 PM

    So good to read Ms Nations. We have buzzards galore, but no eagles, but the most interesting bit is the way these creatures have adapated to human stuff. We know all about that, as we have very little wild land but loads of wild animals and birds.

  6. Wow, that was really educational. I didn't realize that Eagles were so closely related to...uh...ummm...those birds that eat dead things...omg I forget what they're called all of a sudden. Not albatross; that's the bar down the street.

    Too lazy to go look it up.

  7. they've got the filthiest mouths those eagles!! shockin'! love the photies ;0)

  8. FN, what a delightful post! I loved the pictures of the eagles. We have a beach house near Kingston and see the occasional eagle fly over and pluck fish from the Sound, or fight flocks of crows. They're magnificent creatures.

    Thanks for the photos. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

  9. Very interesting post, like Mutley says we get buzzards, kestrels, sparrow hawks,etc. but the biggest bird is the Barn Owl.

    NA - Narcotics Anon.? ;)

  10. hendrix3:49 AM

    Stunning writing FN, made me feel like I there.
    They've recently reintroduced Red Kites to the area where my mum lives, so you can see them flying around sometimes. Gorgeous to watch.

  11. Great post, really lovely and also, like, educational, particularly for those of us who encounter nothing more than bloody pigeons, and urban foxes fattened beyond recognition on fried chicken. They probably get cabs too.
    When I enlarged the pic of the cows they all appeared to have village-of-the-damned style glowing eyes. Gah.

  12. I have to admit to total feathered ignorance (unless its got a lemon stuffed up it parsons nose.....we could be talking food , or a date :-) )
    So I read you educational post with some interest.
    I particularly like the bodies in trees , sounds great , bet they didnt need neighbourhood watch

  13. Good piece. I wish more people understood the difference between interference and natural opportunism.
    Where I live now, the most common raptors are fork-tailed kites.
    Thanks for your interesting tour.

  14. I blame Alfred Hitcock meself.

  15. Eagles these days. Pah. Runnin' around like they own everything. Back when I was an eaglet we had to fly 50 miles to school, uphill both ways, all we got for dinner was a half a dead prairie dog and we were grateful for it! Now look at them, with their high and mighty ways, runnin' off a-courtin' before they even got their adult plumage. I wasn't allowed to date until I had my plumage, AND he had to come meet my parents AND have me back by 9:30. Pah. Eagles these days.

  16. muttley: why thankew. i envy you the multiwinged flesh-eating gulls. not the radioactive howler monkeys, so much.
    W2: the word you are looking for is 'canary.'
    pod: you, sir, are full of custard. but in a nice way. wish i had your skilz.
    pam: ah dang, kingston! that's a beautiful spot. do you cross at coupeville? thats our dream retirement place there.
    frobi: barn owls we have in abundance. freaky looking when they fly across your bow; they look headless. smartass.
    hendrix: thanky.reintroduction programs seem to work in general with the falconids. yay falconids!
    violet: i enlarged it and YOU'RE RIGHT. good thing i split when i did. damn!
    beast: this explains the basket of lemons you sent me this crimmus. thanks. *regifts frobisher*
    dinahmow: you folks have fantastic birds there...the petersons guide for aussie looks like a phone book!
    tick: he'd have a fat field day here. poor tippi hendren would need shock therapy.
    cb: be glad you weren't really an eaglet...home cookin' means regurgitated placenta. mmmmmmmm.

  17. Cool eagle pictures, FN. And you were probably right ton get away from the cows. No doubt they were mad at you for sucking up to the eagles.

    Sky burial is probably one of the most ecologically sound methods of body disposal. Too bad we modern folk are so squeamish. Couldn't do it in the city though, despite the conveniently high rooftops. The pigeons and rats are fat enough as it is.

  18. I always wanted a sky burial. Mostly because my claustrophobia is severe enough that I'll probably still have it when I'm dead.

    Great post, btw. EGAD your writing makes me so very homesick (Port Townsend).