Eagle, Gull And Two Loons
Patience rewards nature observer as wildlife drama plays out in wilderness setting
”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?”
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.