Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bald Eagle Days and the Mystery Print in the Snow

Mark Burdick, a history buff who runs the Sorghum Mill with a steam engine when the sorghum crop ripens at Thresherman's Park, and I headed out for the Sauk City/ Prairie du Sak Bald Eagle Days. It's a celebration of the comeback of the Bald Eagle in Wisconsin. The state has a nesting Bald Eagle population only topped by Alaska in the U.S. and small towns near open winter water have discovered that catering to birding and their local Eagles is more lucrative than catering to hunting. Besides Eagles are pretty nifty. They've cordoned off areas historically used for hunting to safeguard the eagles from being disturbed during their overwintering and nesting in the area.

Our first stop in Sauk was the birding overlook adjacent to the Wisconsin river. Unfortunately it was about 10F, and it was snowing. Eagles just like many other birds, in this kind of weather, tend to hunker down on a perch and wait for things to improve, weatherwise, so there wasn't a single Eagle fishing and cavorting in this typical Eagle spot. While I was checking the opposite tree line. Mark struck up a conversation with a local resident who happened to be walking by.

That is how we got the news that several eagles had been observed perched in tree's by the river, near the the village's sewage treatment facility. Needless to say this was a spot not notated on the official information, so directions in hand we headed for the water treatment plant.

As we drove into the parking lot, the view from the photo above, I spied a suspiciously eagley shape way over in the trees.

To spot the Eagle, first find the little orange sign that says Eagle buffer zone mid-photo. Follow the sign directly up and it leads to a tree trunk in the distance. Follow the tree trunk up until two large perpendicular branches veer off to the left. Just above the topmost of the two is a tiny shape, that is a Bald Eagle. Hunkered down indeed.

A closer view but not terribly clear as number one it is snowing, and two, this guy isn't making it easy for us either by perching behind all those twigs. In fact the spot I was standing in was the only angle from the parking lot, the farthest one was allowed to go near the eagles as it was a buffer zone, where this crafty fellow could be seen.

A marginal increase in clarity but enough to see that this bird is mature and is at least four years old. The clues, a fully white head and tail, and no pale splotches to speak of on the body.

At the local high school, there was a cornucopia of information concerning, raptors, Eagles, invasive plants, local birding guides, wolves, programs by a nature photographer, the WDNR, the people concerned with creating the Wisconsin statewide birding trail, the Minnesota Rapter Center, and a local raptor educator who has been teaching citizens about Turkey Vultures in the company of Uncle Buzzy the Turkey Vulture. It's thought he was hit by a car as a fledgling. He was found and taken to rehab but he had an wing injury which made him unreleasable.

I've now seen 10 or 12education Turkey Vultures up close, besides watching them in the wild through magnification. And strange to say, the species seems to have one of the sweetest eye and facial expressions in the bird world. Once you get close enough to see their little emotive brown eyes, one realizes one of the reasons why vultures are held as sacred in many cultures. They give the impression of being extremely empathetic.

Here is something that just occurred to me, though Vultures are large birds, the other birds seem to have figured out that they aren't a danger to them or their young. I've never seen them being mobbed. Now sometimes in NYC if a Turkey Vulture happens to be flying across Pale Male and Lola's territory in the heat of breeding season, the hawks may usher them out but there isn't any of the screaming and hostilities that can occur when other large birds mosey into "town".

After our visit, to the center of the festivities, we hopped back into the car with another tip from a local Eagle watcher about yet another less often visited Eagle viewing spot.

After veering away from the river for a few miles the river veered back toward the highway and yes, there was still open water here.

The Canada Geese were down on the ice taking care of some preening responsibilities.

Juncos waited patiently in the falling snow for things to take a better tack.

As did this male Cardinal... we got to a spot where the water could be seen without too much vegetative interference and I started scanning the far tree line. Ta da!

There, far, far away, but present, was I'd surmise a three year old American Bald Eagle staring at us.

Finding our presence acceptable, she went back to her business of scanning a particular area.

And scanned some more.

What is she looking at?

A Crow takes off, but that 's not it. Though we have noticed that the Crows seem to perch near the Eagles, possibly to be handy should the Eagle make a kill, and the conceivable opportunity of of taking some for themselves.

Ah, what's this? A group of Common Goldeneyes napping en masse and floating with the current. Perhaps the Eagle is considering a duck lunch? And as everyone has their head tucked who's watching out for the Eagle?

Ah, ha! This fellow some yards ahead and fully awake must be the group's sentinel.

Suddenly Mark called, "He's heading for the water! The brush is in the way I can't see if he hit the water for fish or not, now he's on the ice." And in a few seconds...

The bird has taken to the air again, though I don't see any obvious prey.

She soars.

Changes direction.
Gives us a look at her as she looks at us and then off she goes, soaring down the Wisconsin River. Nearly frozen ourselves we roll off toward home as well.
On the top of a powder drift in the front yard was this single print. Apparently made while the bird was on the fly. Who would you say created the print? It was about 20 feet from the area in which I found the neatly beheaded rabbit some months ago. A Great Horned Owl? But on the other hand, today I learn that yesterday while I was out of town an Eagle was seen flying low over my house and across the park beyond. (Of course I was out of town looking for Eagles and one was flying over my house. Birding is ever amusing in that sort of way.) Therefore two rather large raptors have been seen in the area. But it could be a turkey for all I know...that's a big foot.
Any thoughts?
Donegal Browne

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