Ea­gle, Gull And Two Loons

Pa­tience re­wards na­ture ob­server as wildlife drama plays out in wilder­ness set­ting

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATURE - PHIL BURKE

”Those who dwell among the beau­ties and mys­ter­ies of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” Rachel Car­son

As I was re­view­ing my na­ture pho­tos, I came across this pho­to­graph which was ac­com­pa­nied by such strong mem­o­ries, that I felt obliged to re­port on it again.

I was lo­cated on Ea­gle Bluff with my spot­ting scope ob­serv­ing the res­i­dent adult ea­gle nest feed her two chicks. My el­e­va­tion was such that while I could eas­ily see the chicks and the adult, I was un­able to iden­tify what the adult fe­male was tear­ing apart and feed­ing to her pa­tient (trans­late as well-fed) chicks. What­ever it was, it was fresh, not dried and stiff. I saw an oc­ca­sional downy feather drift off with the breeze. Was this proof that the ea­gle was tear­ing apart a bird? We are warned to ob­serve and re­port, not as­sume. But yes, I would as­sume that the ea­gle was tear­ing apart a bird. How­ever, the two gray ea­glets were molt­ing and de­vel­op­ing darker feathers. Is it pos­si­ble that the feathers I saw drift off the nest had fallen from the chicks?

Ev­ery so of­ten I would look away from the spot­ting scope and scan the nearby forests and wa­ter for signs of the ea­gle’s mate. I searched the hori­zon, the shore­line and saw no ea­gles un­til I re­turned to the view of the nest.

While I was looking else­where the male (smaller) adult had re­turned to the nest. (So much for my ob­ser­va­tion skills.) I have no idea whether it had dropped off a fish or some other prey but I doubt it be­cause the fe­male treated his ar­rival with dis­in­ter­est and the two chicks didn’t seem ex­cited. How­ever, if this was not a drop-off then I ex­pected that I would see the changeover whereby the adult fe­male in the nest would fly off and the newly ar­rived adult male as­sume child­care du­ties. But I was wrong. About 30 sec­onds af­ter the male ar­rived, he hopped off the nest and flew low over the wa­ter head­ing south, a di­rec- tion that took him out of my line of sight be­hind a cur­tain of trees. I heard the chit­ter of an ea­gle and tak­ing my binoc­u­lars walked to a look­out po­si­tion that al­lowed me to view the bay free of ob­struc­tion.

In the wa­ter on the far side of the small bay the ea­gle was en­tan­gled with a gull. This lasted a few sec­onds be­fore they broke apart. I saw the gull right­ing it­self in the wa­ter but it did not flee, and the ea­gle splash­ing through a few me­tres of wa­ter to gain the shore. There it stood looking at the gull. I was ob­serv­ing this through binoc­u­lars and there­fore could not see the de­tails I could have seen with the scope.

At this point a loon that had been pad­dling 30 me­tres from the ea­gle and gull be­gan swim­ming to­wards the scene of ac­tion. I have heard of a loon at­tack­ing an ea­gle that had landed on a beaver lodge near a loon nest by speed­ing un­der­wa­ter and launch­ing it­self beak-fore­most at its en­emy. While the loon did not make con­tact with the ea­gle it did suc­ceed in scar­ing the ea­gle away. Was this going to hap­pen here?

In the sec­onds it took for the loon to ap­proach, nei­ther the gull nor the ea­gle moved. When the loon was within three me­tres of the gull and still in line with the ea­gle it dove un­der.

Was I about to see the loon at­tack the ea­gle? Was this one of those rare ‘right place at the right time’ mo­ments of na­ture study?

It was not to be. As the ea­gle, the gull and I watched, the loon sur­faced some 15 me­tres away and was joined by its mate. But the story was not over.

The gull must have been wounded. It spread its wings and at­tempted to fly but failed to take off. The ea­gle fid­geted on shore. Finally the gull took off fly­ing low over the wa­ter and the ea­gle pur­sued it un­til they were lost be­hind the cursed copse of tree that lined the shore. Just as I con­cluded that the ea­gle took down its prey, the ea­gle landed on a tree along the shore near the nest. The fe­male ea­gle watched with in­ter­est but did not leave the nest. It seems that the kids in the nest didn’t care ei­ther way.

For those fa­mil­iar with aer­o­bic sports, this was the equiv­a­lent of runner’s high for a na­ture ob­server.

The ques­tion re­mains: “For whom do we cheer? The ea­gle or the gull?”

PHIL BURKE/ NATURAL AC­QUAIN­TANCES

Al­though of poor qual­ity, this photo shows the char­ac­ters in to­dayÕs col­umn; an ea­gle, a ring-billed gull and two loons. The ea­gle had forced down the gull but was un­able to make the kill.

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