“Eagles: When they walk, they stumble. They are not what one would call graceful. They were not designed to walk. They fly. And when they fly, oh, how they fly, so free, so graceful. They see from the sky what we never see.” – Unknown
My ranger/friend invited me to join in a raptor nest search. Of course I said yes. This meant that one day this past week, I had to actually get up and move at a much quicker pace than normal. It was worth it.
Our task: To monitor previously discovered nests in an area 2 hours north from where I live. A ranger from another park joined the party and the three of us went hunting. Our main goal was to scour the area looking for “whitewash”. This is a polite name for bird poop on the cliff walls. A lot of whitewash means there is probably a nest there, but there are tricky spots with less poop that they deemed were “perches” instead of probable nest sites. The actual nests are rare. In the 20 mile area we searched, we only found a couple dozen potential spots. Luckily, we drove from one cliff area to another so I did not have to walk the whole twenty miles, but at each spot we did a lot of hiking.
While we did not see many birds, we did find a rabbit warren, a prairie dog town, paw prints from a large cat (young mountain lion? large bobcat?) and the remains of a trash pile near the remains of a long-gone house. Among the debris, we found a bunch of rusted tin cans. They had the old church key holes on either side of the top. I had to explain to the younger ranger that the weird holes meant that they were beer cans. We all learned something that day. (Okay, some knowledge will come in handier than others.)
We decided to head back but wanted to check out one last place. Lo and behold, one of the rangers spotted a huge nest on a cliff. Could it be a golden eagle’s home? Sure enough, he was perched on a nearby cliff! Far enough away that I had to use binoculars to see him, he still looked regal up there, surveying the valley. He stayed there a long time, but we were patient. Suddenly, the eagle swooped off his perch and flew! Circling the valley, he found his prey. We watched as he dove towards the ground with his talons out. He missed! (Aw. For once I was rooting for the predator.) Finding a spot to perch, he recovered a bit before soaring back up to his distant perch. Our raptor nest search had come to a rewarding close.
This raptor nest search program requires that the nesting areas remain secret to protect the wildlife. My camera phone could not capture any of the action anyway. The eagle was too far away and difficult to photograph. Naturally I am now considering upgrading my equipment, but today I am still basking in the joy of watching the eagle in action. In a way, it was nice to just watch, knowing I could not take the ideal picture; I had permission to just enjoy the experience.