The Glorious Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, Sacramento NWR

A pair of bald eagles were spending the day at the refuge last week, perfect timing for our visit. A mother and her immature. America’s national bird hasn’t always been visiting the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, nor has the population always been successfully reproducing.

 

Before venturing onto the refuge, I had asked the ranger about the bald eagles recently observed, as I had not seen any notes on the “Sightings” clipboard. She was happy to tell about the bald eagles.

 

“The mother perches on the outskirts, while the immature circles over the water.”

 

Soon after we started the tour, I spotted the mature adult, the mother. Just seeing her perched in this distant tree lifted my heart. The bird was nearing extinction in the 1950s with less than 500 pairs in the lower 48 states; today the population is close to 10,000. Bald eagle statistics. 

Raptor Tree

A flock of swifts were upset by her presence. I’m sure the merlin, with whom the eagle shared the treetop, was no great comfort either.

Merlin, Sacramento NWR

 

It’s an auto tour, the one I wrote about earlier this month. So getting closer to the tree was not possible. But it was the perfect time for tea; I parked and we pulled out the thermos. We waited for her to take off, hoping to catch the impressive six-foot wingspan (1.82 m).

 

About 15 minutes had passed and tea-time was over, and still she had not moved. So we moved on.

 

An hour later we spotted the immature bald eagle circling high over the water, just like the ranger had predicted.

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature bald eagles have different coloring than the mature adults–they do not have the white head or white tail, not until their fourth or fifth year. But size-wise, the immature is as large as the adult.

 

All at once we heard the rumble of thousands of snow geese taking off. They were upset by the bald eagle. This sound fills me with awe. It reminds me of an avalanche or a calving glacier. Snow geese are big birds, they weigh about five pounds each (2.26 kg). Imagine three hundred of these heavy birds all lifting at once.

 

The immature bald eagle circled repeatedly, and stirred up the huge flocks of white geese sufficiently. The geese were squawking and honking and taking off, filling the sky, while the cool raptor continued circling, threatening. The eagle didn’t seem intent on hunting, I think he or she was just practicing fierceness.

Snow Geese, Sacramento NWR; they were all on the ground the minute before

The bald eagle’s diet includes fish and waterfowl, also small mammals, small birds, and even carrion. Wikipedia overview.

 

Throughout the day we saw ground squirrels and jackrabbits, and even a ‘possum sleeping in a tree hole. All of these would be tasty meals for the bald eagles.

 

But I was happy to just watch the mammals living through another beautiful day.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Ground Squirrel

 

Jackrabbit

Opossum in tree hole

 

76 thoughts on “The Glorious Bald Eagle

  1. Bald eagles are one of my favorite creatures. They seem to bring me luck when I see one. May sound strange, but it’s something I’ve noticed over the years. Didn’t know you had opossum out your way.

    • I do love bald eagles, too, Craig; and I can easily see how they are a talisman of luck for you. We have plenty of ‘possums here in CA. In fact, once when I was living in the center of San Francisco, it was a hot night, I had the back apt. door opened for air. Hot nights are most unusual in SF, so no one has screens. A little while later I came into the bedroom and saw something disappear into my closet…you guessed it…a ‘possum.

  2. These pictures are amazing! I saw a bald eagle for the first time recently (and I was absolutely giddy! 🙂 ). My husband and I were in the middle of a long drive home from visiting family, so didn’t have a camera out. Glad you were able to get these fantastic pictures!

    • It is a great thing that bald eagles have the white head, for they are easier to spot and identify than most raptors. They make me giddy too, my friend. I saw my first bald eagle nearly 20 years ago and I still remember the sighting, you will too. Glad you enjoyed the bald eagles today.

  3. Hello dear Jet. What fantastic news that conservation for the Bald Eagle has paid off in a big way. I remember when I first went to the States in 1966, they were still scarce…and so it really is wonderful to know that this majestic bird is thriving.
    As always wonderful photographs….I love the idea of the geese took off while you were observing, and I can imagine the sound…..
    Thinking of you as you move your life forward and hoping that all is well. Janet 🙂

    • I like hearing your experience of the bald eagle in 1966, Janet. It was about that time that environmentalists were able to finally wake up authorities and get things moving on conservation, or we wouldn’t have any of these birds left. Over-hunting had started the decline, then DDT curtailed reproduction and it was a serious catastrophe for America’s national bird. Thanks for your warm comments. I wrote you an email, things are moving forward ever so slowly. Hope you’re surviving the winter and troubling Brexit rollercoaster.

      • Good morning dear Jet. I have received your lovely email and plan to respond soon. Thank you for keeping me up to speed. As you are aware I am totally against Brexit and can only hope that the Government comes to its senses before it’s too late! Speaking of Europe, I am off to France on the 24th to Caramany in the South West a small village where I plan to paint the people and landscape over a series of visits, and then I will move up to Lorient, Brittany to stay with another very good friend who has organised exhibitions for me in France over the past 25 years. I am really looking forward to being with my friends and of course there will be much discussion about Brexit. I think of you daily and know that you are moving in the right direction…on all fronts. Janet 🙂

      • You trip to France sounds joyful, and your painting excursion, lovely. You inspire me, Janet, with your verve for life, your fluid art-making, and the beauties you surround yourself with. Thank you for your encouraging comment, too. Bon voyage dear friend–

  4. Great post Jet. I also remember seeing my first eagle (in the mountains of Colorado while camping) and it was such a feeling of pure happiness. But this is my favorite line from your post: “The eagle didn’t seem intent on hunting, I think he or she was just practicing fierceness.” We must all practice our own fierceness. A worthwhile endeavor. 🙂

    • Definitely a worthwhile endeavor to practice our own fierceness, Sylvia. Always a joy to learn from the bald eagle, isn’t it? My thanks for your visit and words today, a real treat.

  5. Great pics. I think when the eagles fly over and get the flocks of ducks or geese or whatevers agitated and flying up, they can then see who doesn’t get up so quickly (or at all) and that’s who they zoom in on. They often go for the weak or crippled birds and put them out of their misery.

    • It was a really fun day, as it always is. There were so many snow geese this year, so the adventure was primarily about them. Glad you liked it, Amy, thanks for your visit…always a pleasure.

  6. What a wonderful day of exploration and bird watching. Athena’s photography is beautiful. I’m so happy to hear about the Bald Eagle’s increased population. Thanks so much for taking this trip and sharing it with us.

  7. Pingback: Bald Eagles… | huggers.ca

    • We have so many, many individuals and organizations to thank for that effort. And what a joy for me to have the honor to share a small piece of the story. Thanks so much, Cathy.

    • It certainly helped that the bald eagle is America’s national symbol, it would’ve been pretty pathetic for Americans to have extinguished their national bird. As you know, Indah, nature conservation is an ongoing effort. Great to “see” you, my friend.

    • Alaska is the best place for spotting bald eagles, because they are most abundant there. I am delighted to know you have seen one in the wild, Jan. But fortunately they are coming further south now. Occasionally I hear of irregular sightings in the Bay Area, but that’s an anomaly. But you’re right, Williams Calif. is not far away. Many thanks–

  8. Great post Jet, I so LOVE the Bald Eagle. As we drove to school yesterday there was a Bald Eagle zig zagging across the road in front of us as we drove. Sadly the poor thing had three Ravens dive-bombing it, grrrrr!

    • Oh how wonderful to see a bald eagle on your drive to school, Joanne. There are often lots of birds that have a problem with them, because they are so threatening. The bald eagle can hold its own always, even in the face of three angry ravens. What a sight that must’ve been, thanks for sharing it, I enjoyed it.

  9. It’s amazing to think the numbers of Bald Eagles got so low in a country so big. I love your expression “practicing fierceness”. I also love the shot of the Jack Rabbit, Athena – well shot! The Hares we have here are, I suppose, the equivalent and you’ve got to be quick to shoot it, photographically speaking of course.

    • I am happy you liked the bald eagle writings and photos, Alastair. And you definitely have to be quick to “catch” a jackrabbit. Glad to hear about the hares there. Always a pleasure to have our visit, Alastair, thank you.

  10. Thank you, Jet. It’s a wonderful thing to be watching bald eagles again. We have several nesting pairs in my neighborhood in NY. I, too, have seen them “practicing fierceness,” in this case while chasing wild turkeys back and forth across the snow without any apparent intent to seize them. B/t/w/, I read your response to another blog today in which you mentioned the recent purchase of the 19th-century book, Two Years Before the Mast, by R.H. Dana. That reminded me of my own hard-cover copy awarded during my elementary years by the teacher, Anne Wever, who wrote… “detur digniori cum privilegio… reading champion” (your truly) “1961-1962… Congratulations!”. A book I still cherish. For eagles and R. H. Dana fly and sail together.

    • Great to hear from you, Walt. Thanks so much for the bald eagle contribution, I like the image of the bald eagles stirring up the wild turkeys in the snow. And I absolutely LOVE the story of your reading champion prize being “Two Yrs Before the Mast.” What a fantastic book, and a great one to reward a child. Isn’t it something what a teacher’s encouragement can do for us? We all fly better with the wind at our back. My warmest thanks, Walt.

  11. Bald eagle sightings are always glorious, yes? I remember fondly the time when we observed one together near Seattle. Mahalo and Aloha to you and Athena, dear Jet.

    • That was my first sighting, and one I, too, will never forget. Mahalo and aloha to you, dear Nan. No bald eagles in Hawaii, but plenty of whales and sea turtles and sea mammals to make up for it.

  12. so glad the bald eagle is making a come back and we even have them in our yard. Maybe we can get you and Alexander to come write story and take pictures at our house:)

    • Wow, how cool they come to your property, Bill. There is a bald eagle refuge a few hours drive north, so it doesn’t surprise me. We got photos of the American robin nesting at your house, would love another visit there..but not ’til summer. heh heh

  13. So glorious! I was out and about today, when I saw the title of this post, and made myself wait and “save” it for later to read on a bigger screen (practicing fierceness?!) and it was worth the wait! Every bald eagle sighting is such a thrill, and your description of the juvenile and the snow geese made me so happy for you and Athena – what sights and sounds, how wonderful you experienced that.
    Our first sighting of a bald eagle was over ten years ago, when we were novice paddlers trying to steer our canoe rather erratically across a small lake near Revelstoke. We stopped in an attempt to figure out why we were going in circles, and our canoe drifted past a bald eagle in a tree – so exciting, and I found it hard to accept it was real, having only seen them in pictures or on television.
    Thank you for sharing this, Jet, and have a great weekend!
    (You might get this comment twice – can’t seem to get WP working just now…)

    • It’s hard to imagine you and Mrs. PC as novice canoers, pc, because you are both so intrepid in the outdoors now. My first bald eagle sighting was from a canoe too. Fortunately that white head makes spotting easier. Thanks so much for sharing this story, pc, I really enjoyed it. Especially the part about drifting backwards past the bald eagle. Weekend is going well so far. Tomorrow Athena and I are going for a birding boat tour on the SF Bay, and I hope hope hope the water is not rocky…boating is so much more fun when you can hold onto your breakfast. lol. Have a fun weekend yourself, my friend, and as always, thanks so very much for this visit today.

  14. Looks like we’ve put our visit to the Sacramento NWR on hold because of the storms that have been blowing in one after the other. Hopefully there will still be some birds left whenever we get some milder weather. I remember seeing quite a number of bald eagles out in the desert in Utah back in the 80s. I used to commute out past a small lake out in the middle of the scrub brush. The eagles used to sit in a clump of trees near the road, especially when an inversion had thick fog hovering pretty close to the ground. I suspect that even their keen eyesight wouldn’t have penetrated that fog.

    Then there was the bald eagle’s nest I discovered back at the old house. I enjoyed watching over the nest for at least three seasons of youngsters. I’ll have to make it a point of making the detour to check on the nest someday soon. Hopefully my timing will be good so I can see if the pair are still there. We have seen juveniles not far from the nest. Guessing they might have been from a previous batch.

    Loved your description of the youngster “just practicing fierceness”. Thanks for the chuckle. Hopefully, he/she is learning to do more than practice fierceness by now. I don’t remember how long they depend on the parents.

    • Enjoyed your visit here, Gunta, thank you. I liked hearing about the bald eagles in the desert, and your wonderful commute that included this delightful raptor. And how very fortunate for you to have had the experience of watching over the development of bald eagle chicks for three seasons, I remember some of your posts from that. Thanks so much for sharing your bald eagle fortunes. You’ll enjoy the Sacramento NWR whenever you get there. cheers, my friend–

  15. I love that the ranger whispered the possum’s location to you. That kind of tender regard for a creature many people consider only an irritation is wonderful.

    And the eagles — well, who ever gets over the sight of one? We have both breeding and migratory populations of them here, although I rarely see one out on the prairies. I need to go farther east, across the bay into more wooded territory, where the Audubon society has established preserves and rookeries. Your post is a reminder of how wonderful seeing them can be, and a bit of a reminder that going east instead of west could yield some new experiences!

    • Thanks for your insights, Linda, I enjoyed your comments. I was tickled that the ranger whispered. We had gotten into a conversation when she asked us where we were from, and we got to talking about our county and the recent fires, her daughter lives there, etc. We said we were refugees still, and she felt sorry for us I think, because it was after that that she whispered to us about the secret ‘possum. It was a gift she was giving us, this tidbit of insider information, and we regarded it as such, and took time to find the path she had described, and we found the possum. I am glad my post inspired you to explore east and enjoy some new experiences. Have fun!

  16. I have not seen an eagle since late fall and it was difficult when weather forced me to put the kayak up for the year and know he was across the lake watching everything. It was wonderful to read about them here and I loved how Athena captured the Raptor Tree and the Immature Bald Eagle in the clouds. The beauty of the day was captured wonderfully through the photos and the joy conveyed by your words of the appreciation and enjoyment of nature and a wonderful cup of tea.

    • Oh my friend, always a joy to have you visit. Thanks so much for your eagle info, how delightful for you to know the eagle was across the lake, watching. I appreciate your careful reading of the post with our tea-time and enjoyment, and your wonderful observation of the photos. Always a pleasure, ACI. I’m off right now to see your week in review.

    • I appreciate that people want to keep wildlife findings from being discovered and have done the same, for protective reasons, but what a joy it is when you get a private peek. Glad to hear you’re seeing more bald eagles in Connecticut, too. Thank you, Barbara, for your visit and comment.

    • haha, fun comment, Val. I watched the recent playoff game where a bald eagle soared across the field. I thought to myself, well this might be the only way some people get to see a bald eagle. I heard that because the Eagles are the underdog, Philly vendors are selling pretzels in the shape of a dog bone. Crazy Philly fans. Have a fun week, Val, and fun times on Super Bowl Sunday.

  17. Getting up close to nature and our neighbors as you do must be such a thrill for you Jet. I can not believe
    that it could ever get old! Presented here are fabulous photos and such marvelous material that it must leave most people dreaming of the day when they are out there doing just what you are doing.
    carry on dear friend, Eddie

    • It is a constant thrill, Eddie, to get involved with the wildlife in one way or another; and you’re right, it never gets old. Just now I was drafting up Friday’s post about Pacific herring, and I learned so much, and look forward to sharing it. Your support, encouragement, interest, and kindness are so very much appreciated, dear Eddie. Have a wonderful week.

  18. The sightings of bald eagles stirs the soul. As you likely know Canada’s west coast sees many of the majestic birds. Last spring while staying in the Discovery Islands we had the chance to watch a hundred or so hovering and diving into an ocean’s whirlpool caused by tides and currents. They plucked out fish left, right and center. One of the most incredible things we have ever seen. Your day sounds serene and a wonderful way to connect with nature not so far from home.

    • Dear Sue, kind of you to visit the bald eagles here in California from your cycling perch in Asia. And a delight to hear about your Discovery Islands day with the busy flock of bald eagles. It sounds glorious. I have experienced a large flock only once before, in Klamath (near the Calif./Ore. border) and it was astounding to watch. I am so glad you had that memorable frolic with the bald eagles. Warm greetings to you across the globe.

  19. You were lucky to spot so much wildlife on your tour! Great pictures too. I am always a bit nervous when the Bald Eagle couple nesting on the other side of the bay come and fly over the salt marsh, particularly at the time when our Osprey couple has nestlings. Last year two of the chicks disappeared, but I have no idea whom to ‘blame’.

  20. We’ve had a pair of bald eagles nesting in our part of Contra Costa County as well – in an urban area near a school! I’ve become very fond of raptors and they seem to be doing very well – I rarely go out without seeing one (mostly red-tailed hawks). I’ve read bird populations in general are rebounding from the days of DDT.

    • We are the fortunate recipients of years of fights by intrepid environmentalists, and biologists like Rachel Carson, who fought to ban DDT, something I’m certain you’re aware of, Cinda. What a glorious thing for us. Thank you for your visit and comment…a pleasure.

  21. The bald eagle is such an icon of perseverance! It’s nice that they have a presence near you enough that you get to take photos. We had a nice treat on the last day of 2017: a pair of bald eagles visited our yard. An adult and juvenile apparently were fighting over food (looked like a low altitude mating ritual .. talon grabbing, tumbling, repeat) over the open space of our yard, and when the kill fell to the ground, the juvenile lit in a tree long enough for me to shoot him. He is featured on the January 1st post. They never did ‘find’ what they dropped and later the turkey vultures consumed the carp instead. I may love eagles, but I love the vultures more. 😀

    Hoping you two are seeing life get back to normalcy by now. I think of you and Athena often.

    • Yes, we’re lucky that the bald eagles have extended farther south these days. Such a mighty bird. I enjoyed hearing about the bald eagle squabble, Shannon. Thanks, too, for your thoughts and concern on our post-fire status. Not one thing has been repaired yet. We, like most other residents, are paralyzed particularly by insurance companies who fight hard and dirty for every penny. It is however looking as though, after 4 mos. and 2.5 wks, that the first repair person (an electrician) will be hired in the next month. Thanks for all your visits to various posts today, my friend.

      • Sorry to read about your insurance woes. Hopefully the first visit goes well! My mom’s house is still not finished … and they had practically ZERO insurance issues. Just a shortage of contractors in a disaster zone. Best to you both.

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