Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bald Eagles

I received a email from an acquaintance containing a “bird alert” which spoke of bald eagle sightings in China, TX a small rice farming town with a population not much over 1100. When I arrived in China I took a left onto South Broadway Rd (which eventually turns into South China Rd) and as I approached the intersection at Lawhon Rd where the eagles had been sighted I spotted a large bird flying low over an open field to my right. I immediately stopped and glassed the bird seeing a pure white broad tail which got my instant attention. Its flight directed it towards a string of pine trees that lined one edge of Lawhon Rd where it swooped up and landed. I slowly crept up on the road’s edge, shut off my engine and glassed the spot seeing what I had hoped for- an adult bald eagle. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Had I arrived 5 minutes later I probably would’ve missed it. Hastily I grabbed my camera and got a decent photo (click on photo and look right above the telephone pole) before it took flight. I watched as it climbed higher and higher taking full advantage of the thermals. A hawk spotted the eagle as it ascended and decided to mob it. What is this bird thinking? With a wingspan of close to nine feet, a large hooked bill and fierce talons the bald eagle is a force to be reckoned with. The eagle ignores the hawk's haphazard advances and continues soaring fully knowing, I’m sure, that if it so desired it could rip the impolite hawk to shreds. I turned around and then headed east on Lawhon Rd took a left onto Green Pond Gully Road and drove until I reached the flooded rice fields that reside on the left side of the road and stopped. Out in the field were 1000’s of geese and pintails along with small groups of northern shovelers preening and feeding on waste grain, weed seeds and aquatic insects. As I set up my spotting scope the geese began to honk loudly and rise into the air. Seeing this many geese react in such a way pointed to only one conclusion- a predator in their midst. I immediately grab my binoculars and search through the airborne flock until I find the source of the disruption- a juvenile bald eagle. Juveniles are mottled in brown and white with a dark beak and will not obtain the adult eagle plumage until they’re around five years old. Bald eagles mostly feed on fish, but will take ducks and geese if the opportunity arises, which of course, I hoped to witness. It was easy to pick out among the many geese due to its sheer size and darker color. It swooped above the geese and then landed on a small levee in the distance prompting the geese to settle back down onto the field. Seconds later another juvenile bald eagle comes into view and then a third. Two of the tree approached one another and began jumping up and down beating their wings against one another. Ever so often though one of them would fly over the geese and stir them up. I watched for another hour or so hoping to glimpse a kill but unfortunately never witnessed one.

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