A Bald Eagle’s Day at the Beach

This is not my first Bald Eagle post, but I had an encounter the other day that I think justifies another installment. I was out in my kayak on Charles Pond, a lovely quiet corner of Western Maine much of whose shoreline is now protected by the Greater Lovell Land Trust. An eagle lives there, and is often seen in a tall pine tree:

He was there when we put in, but he then moved over to a sandbar, and settled in. We stayed some way off, but slowly drifted closer. It was flat calm, not a breath of wind. There were three crows lurking nearby, which made us think the eagle had a kill, but we couldn’t make it out. The eagle bent down to the water as if to drink, , and came up with something in its beak that looked like a crayfish, or a salamander, or a small dead fish:

From this angle, he is remarkably unimposing, more like a fuzzy chocolate brownie than the lord of the skies.

So was he hunting, or scavenging? Eagles scavenge a lot, but when they hunt it is normally fish they go for, and from the air or from a perch, not on foot. Stalmaster however states that they will wade in right up to their bellies, submerge their heads, and strike with their beak. This one did indeed get his neck wet, as you can see here, but not his whole head.

Then it wandered around a bit, posing nicely,

and bent again to the water fixing its gaze on something in a way that looks like hunting to me.

Another drink, ending with a plume of water:

A short burst of speed,

and a little more posing.

After a while, it flew up into a nearby snag, and apparently ventured into the nesting territory of a pair of Eastern Kingbirds.

They dive-bombed this enormous eagle, quite fearlessly, for several minutes, getting pretty aggressive, flaring their tails out in a territorial display:

and the eagle clearly didn’t like it one bit, rather the way I react to being buzzed by deer flies:

A female Bald Eagle weighs up to 12lbs, and an Eastern Kingbird weighs 1.3oz, so it’s hardly an equal match.

Eventually the eagle flew off to find a more peaceful perch.

PS: Some extra detail on bald eagle hunting methods: “Another less common technique is wading in shallow water where smaller fish are available.  According to Stalmaster, an eagle will wade up to its belly, submerge its head, and strike with its beak….

Bald eagles have a tendency towards species of fish that inhabit shallow water or are surface feeders and therefore vulnerable.  Young eagles are much more likely to “catch” fish that have washed up on shore or fish that are floating rather than swimming.” ( from : raptorresource.org)

Stalmaster, Mark. 1987. The Bald Eagle.

Insect origami

Who hasn’t looked at a bird’s nest and admired the skills of its avian architect? Now I ask you to turn your attention to what lowly insects can do. A variety of insects and spiders use leaves to manufacture a shelter for their young. This nest, more properly called a nidus, is the work of a Leaf-rolling Weevil:

She is 1/8″-1/4″ long, and her Latin name is longer than she is: Synolabus bipustulatus (or should I say Synolaba bipustulata?):

She lays a single egg then rolls the leaf up around it. When her larva hatches, it eats the leaf material from the inside.

Every year, the hydrangea outside my door hosts a colony of shelters made by the Hydrangea Leaf-tier Moth, Olethreutes ferriferiana, a species of tortricid moth. This one is made of two leaves. The caterpillar lays down a line of silk cement on the inside of the outer leaf edge, and then somehow brings the edges together, enclosing a bud, which provides it with food..

If you cut one open and look carefully, you find the caterpillar,

or, in an older one, a pupa. (You can see the marks where the caterpillar ate the inside of the leaf.)

My hydrangea thrives every year, so I don’t worry about the leaf packages, I just admire the handiwork.

Sometimes in the woods I find elegantly folded leaf nests, like this fortune cookie shape:

or this one with a strip of leaf like an obi wrapped around it.

You can see the silk strands that sew it together.

These might also have been made by caterpillars, or perhaps by nursery web spiders to hide their egg sacs. I didn’t have the heart to destroy one to find out.

PS If you find this sort of thing fascinating, as I do, I highly recommend Tracks and signs of insects and other invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species, by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney.

A Fawn

A few years ago we bought the abandoned house and barn next door. Our old neighbors had a lovely garden, now completely overgrown. In the middle of the field is a clump of peonies, now in bloom, so off I went, with the dog , to cut some for the house.

I bent down, secateurs in hand, and froze:

Right in the middle of the clump was a tiny exquisite fawn:

Our only species of deer here is the White-tailed Deer, and they are giving birth right now. A new-born fawn is around 8lbs, and can’t really stand at first. So the mother takes it to a sheltered spot called a “form”, and leaves it there while she goes off to forage, returning several times a day to feed it. For the first few weeks it stays quite motionless if a threat approaches, and this one didn’t move a muscle as it looked straight at me:

The small dark marks between its eyes and its ears tell me it is a male: those are the spots where the antlers will emerge when it gets older.

My dog, a beagle with a nose like a missile homing device for squirrels, never noticed this fawn (I dragged her away rather fast, of course). There are two reasons for this. First, the young fawn’s scent glands are not yet producing much scent. And secondly, the mother licks it clean after birth to remove any smells that might attract predators, like me and my beagle.

Does often have twins or even triplets. and they then stash them in different places, presumably to decrease the odds of a single predator killing all of them. So this one may have had siblings nearby, but I didn’t go hunting for them.

One was enough to delight me beyond all measure.

The Fawn

by Edna St Vincent Millay (1956)

There it was I saw what I shall never forget 
And never retrieve. 
Monstrous and beautiful to human eyes, hard to 
He lay, yet there he lay, 
Asleep on the moss, his head on his polished cleft 
small ebony hoves, 
The child of the doe, the dappled child of the deer. 

Surely his mother had never said, “Lie here

Till I return,” so spotty and plain to see 
On the green moss lay he. 
His eyes had opened; he considered me. 

I would have given more than I care to say 
To thrifty ears, might I have had him for my friend 
One moment only of that forest day: 

Might I have had the acceptance, not the love

Of those clear eyes; 
Might I have been for him in the bough above 
Or the root beneath his forest bed, 
A part of the forest, seen without surprise. 

Was it alarm, or was it the wind of my fear lest he 
That jerked him to his jointy knees, 
And sent him crashing off, leaping and stumbling 
On his new legs, between the stems of the white 

Vantage points

A pond is home to many creatures who live in it, on it, or around it. But sometimes, no matter where you live, you really want a better view. In my pond there is a biggish flat rock, completely surrounded by water. It is a long way from shore, but it is always worth a look through my binoculars. In the last ten days I have seen five different visitors using it to rest on, sunbathe on, seek refuge on, or hunt from. Here they are. Not the world’s best photos, because of the distance, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

The first thing I saw was a big snapping turtle. It swam past me the other day:

and a day or two later there it was on The Rock:

Snapping Turtle

This one obviously hasn’t read the books claiming that they mostly sun themselves by floating around in the water. And I have seen it there on three different occasions now.

Next, I saw a Canada Goose. There were seven or eight on my pond in early spring, now down to two or three, and no goslings.

Canada Geese

The one on the pinnacle of The Rock was apparently sleeping on one leg. Why do birds do that, I wonder?

Goose on the rock

(This really is the same rock, just taken from a slightly different vantage point on the opposite shore.)

I have a Hooded Merganser:

with eight ducklings on the pond:

and one day there they were, all up there on The Rock.

This was a bit worrying, since I now knew that the Snapping Turtle liked The Rock, and snapping turtles love a tasty duckling for dinner. Indeed, the next hooded merganser I saw had only four ducklings. Was it the same one, with only half her family left, or a different one? I may never know.

They weren’t the only ducks that liked The Rock. This delicate wood duck with six ducklings (three hiding behind her) had been frequenting one end of the pond.

And with all six ducklings she climbed up on The Rock to enjoy the view:

For all these ducks and their families, the appeal of The Rock is twofold. Firstly, it is land, so water predators like otters or mink can’t reach them. But it is also an accessible piece of dry land. Most of the shoreline is overgrown with reeds, bushes, and a wide variety of undergrowth, so getting out of the water isn’t easy. The Rock is different. Secondly and most importantly, it is an island, so they are also safe from land predators like foxes and coyotes.

The final occupant (so far) is a Great Blue Heron. A single one is hanging around this summer.

Great Blue Heron

Here he is in the distance on The Rock:

Heron on The Rock

For him, it is a an excellent perch from which to hunt. Most of the time he was looking fixedly down at the water waiting for a passing fish:

Heron on The Rock

Beaver lodges can also be used as perches, but more often by birds or mammals. They present too much of an obstacle course for animals with short legs that can’t fly, like turtles or ducklings. Maybe I’ll talk about them another time. For now The Rock reigns supreme.

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