Spying on the New Neighbors
My friend Rose and I were spying on our newest neighbor the other day. We were standing in front of my big living room windows where I was setting up the spotting scope so I could get a good look at her when suddenly Rose said, “Look! There she is!”
I looked out and, sure enough, there she was. She was far enough away that I knew it would be hard to find her in the 60 power lens on the scope, so I focused on her home instead. That way I could keep an eye on her all summer. Her offspring, too.
I got the scope on her home, sharpened the focus, and let Rose have a look.
“Yes, you’re right on it,” Rose said. Then she told me about watching her the day before. “She was scratching around in some dead grass. I couldn’t figure out what she was doing and then she took off and had a bunch of grass in her claws. She took it back to her nest.”
Oh, our new neighbor is a golden eagle, by the way, and she’s building a nest on a ledge in a vertical rock face on the mountain across the highway. She’s far enough away that she doesn’t know we’re watching her, but close enough for us to see her well with binoculars. Rose and I watched as she soared across the face of the mountain, climbing higher and higher without moving a wing. Her wingspan could be anywhere from six to eight feet, and twenty inch long flight feathers capture every breath of air movement.
When I first moved to this valley 31 years ago, a pair of golden eagles nested in the same rock crevice. Many years there were no golden eagles, and I began watching out the back of my home where bald eagles nested. One year I watched a pair of bald eagles sitting on a nest. They took turns sitting on the eggs. I watched them roll the eggs, tending them carefully. Then one day I spotted a little gray fuzzy head peek over the side of the sticks and grass.
Eventually three little fuzzy eaglets showed themselves. Every day, all summer long, I looked through the scope to watch their progress. One eagle stayed with the young at all times while the other hunted for food to bring back. I saw the young the day they climbed up to sit on the edge of the nest, watched as their feathers grew in. They got braver and braver, venturing out on the stout branches of the cottonwood tree. Farther and farther out they would go, then flap their wings while holding on tightly to the branch.
And then I saw them fly. I’m sure it was their first flying lesson. They didn’t go far. That went on for several days, and then they were gone. Occasionally I would see one or two in the nearby trees, and then no more. By this time fall was in air, and eagles had places to go and things to do.
It is common to see eagles every day in this valley. The day we set the ridge pole on the new house we were building, I watched an eagle fly straight towards the house. I saw it cock its head as it swept no more than ten feet above the carpenters setting the beam. Then it circled a couple times, checking out the possibilities of this new aerie. I’ve also seen eagles diving on the young loons at Tern Lake while Arctic terns and sea gulls and even swallows chase the hunting bird.
Late one dusky spring evening, I looked through binoculars to see if the eagles were back on their nest. I saw movement, but couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. I set up the scope and saw a head with two points on it, and briefly wondered what a cat was doing up in the eagle’s nest. Then the “cat” turned its head and I was looking directly into the eyes of a large Great Horned owl.
I did some research and learned that Great Horned owls nest much earlier than eagles, and take over old eagles’ nests rather than build their own. Again I was privileged to watch the owlets for months, until they, too, fledged and departed on owl business.
So spring comes to Tern Lake valley. It’s time to distribute binoculars to all the appropriate windows. I haven’t seen any signs of activity at the bald eagles’ nest yet. I’ve heard the owls hooting, but the nest they used years ago has blown down.
Now comes the summer of the golden eagles. Welcome to the neighborhood, guys. Here's lookin' at ya.