Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The Eagles of Wiley Slough
I have an endless fascination for Bald Eagles. I grew up in the era of DDT, Silent Spring and the near-extinction of these great birds. When I spot one now, it is a thrill beyond description. I feel like I am witnessing a miracle. I am privileged to actually have them regularly hanging out in the trees in my yard.
Like other predators, eagles spend a lot of time resting. Even while hunting, they may often sit still, perched where they can spot their prey. This habit makes them great photography subjects. The little birds, on the other hand, are always foraging on the move making photos more difficult.
All of the photos here were shot along the Spur Dike Trail at Wiley Slough in the Skagit State Wildlife Recreation Area. This preserve is in the heart of the Skagit River delta wetlands and is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Visitors should remember to bring their Discover Pass.
This first year juvenile is already sporting a regal bearing. As you hike along the dike, find the duck blind and look to the south. You will be able to see a nest across the large pond. I believe this youngster could be one of the offspring I spotted in that nest this past summer. I have seen this bird with a smaller companion which is possibly a nestmate.
Even in December, the parents are still occupying the nest or aerie as it is called. Eagles may use the same nest year after year. New materials will be added each season and some nests can weigh more than two tons. Note that the name "bald" does not mean hairless. It comes from the Middle English word balled and refers to the white on the head. Piebald is a related word.
Along the grassy outer dike, it is common to come upon kill sites. I am guessing this is where one of the eagles has consumed its prey. The victims appear to be large ducks with black feathers, possibly Scoters. Besides feathers, the carpal joint and distal parts of the wing are sometimes left behind. On this last hike, I counted five fresh kill sites along the trail. Somebody is eating well
This area is open for public duck hunting from September 1 to March 1. As I was walking back out on this last visit, I met a hunter who was on the way in. I told him, there were a lot of eagles today, but no ducks. His eyes lit up and he said, "Oh, I haven't been up here in a while, where did you see them?" That's when I realized that a love of wildlife, and eagles in particular, was something we had in common.