Friday, July 3, 2015

Being an Eagle Ain't All Fun, I Guess

I had just lain down for a nap when Dael said I might want to glance out my window.

I obediently stood up again, opened the window above my desk, and saw a huge, bedraggled-looking golden eagle perched on the telephone pole.

It had already been a pretty neat day. After watching nature's light show yesterday evening, we awakened this morning to a gentle rain. Thanks, El Niño. It rained well into the morning, at times hard.

I went outdoors.  As I walked quietly to the west wall of the house with my camera, the eagle – looking surprisingly unkempt – was getting a lot of audible complaints and an occasional attack from a force of mockingbirds and western kingbird.

Ironically, Dael had spotted a roadrunner enduring a similar reaction from the locals a few days ago. Then we saw another roadrunner on the feed-block yesterday. The previous evening our neighbor Dave, who'd made us a rattlesnake-catcher years ago, suddenly needed to borrow it.  A young rattler near their garage.  Dave and Dael went off in the jeep to let the young rattler go a little further from human habitation.

Now as I started shooting I heard Joan announce that another rattler was discourteously close to their back porch. This one was older, swollen (probably from eating recently), and more mellow (possibly from having eaten recently). Dave and Dael took him to join the other one.

I concentrated on the avian drama. I wasn't going to shoot any great winners, partly because it was still largely overcast (limiting available light far more than usual, which makes it hard to shoot very fast exposures) but birds' flapping wings require a fast speed. But I was curious. I'd heard of smaller birds chasing away hawks or eagles, but this time I had a front row seat.

The birds, mostly mockingbirds, chattered at the eagle from nearby wires. Every so often they flew at him, usually one at a time but occasionally two or three. At one point there were nine or ten smaller birds ranged along the wires leading to his perch. A curved-bill thrasher, a phoebe, and a house finch egged on the mockingbirds and kingbirds.

The eagle suffered it. He was aware of them, and if someone approached from an unexpected angle he turned his neck to look. But he didn't seem particularly worried. He didn't try to harm any of his harassers. He didn't fly away, for quite awhile. (In some of the photos he looks as if he's hanging his head in shame, like an early American placed in the stocks, or the smaller birds seem particularly proud of themselves, perhaps like 19th-Century Indian youths “counting coup.” But to say so is mere anthropomorphizing. The eagle damned sure ain't ashamed of himself, although with the Fourth coming tomorrow you'd have supposed he'd neaten up his feathers a little.)

One bird pursued him awhile, then gave up.

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