Saturday, June 1, 2013

In the presence of the King of the Cottonwoods

I have not forgotten the first sight of an eagle in Colorado.  In the late 1980's, going north on county road to Longmont.  I said "there is a big bird" to my mom, who said "that is an eagle".   An eagle?  In Colorado?  Ever since that day my eyes have looked upward daily.

Having been a follower of the Xcel eagle cam for five years now I have see their stories.  Of eggs being laid, birds buried in snow and protecting the future of their line, of the nests of babies frozen due to spring storms that swept the parents out of the area of their nest, of pips making small cracks and the labor of emerging from eggshells, of fuzzy gray heads bobbling to and fro seeking a morsel of fish, of sibling rivalry and runts struggling to gain a foothold in the nest bowl of food competition, it has been an amazing window of the lives of eagles.

Two years ago a nest crashed to the ground in a wind storm with three eaglets, all perished.  Yet that same nest survived a tornado in Windsor not but a few miles away, in previous years.

I have found five nests this last five years.  I shan't reveal their places unless I know you, as many will infringe upon this space too closely and stress the parents to possibly abandon the nests.

This lovey guy flew right over us and landed in tree above us, was not at all worried about us, but all the prairie dogs in the meadow stopped chirping away and stood up on hind legs and stared at this bird, frozen in time.  It was quite funny.  Unless you were a prairie dog. 

But at a distance I have found some wonderful backgrounds to our eagles in Colorado, if I am willing to rise early or drive some distance.

This is a nest before eggs laid when the parents were often on the love branch.

This is a close up of the same nest, taken at dawn.  I was very pleased at the sunrise on Longs Peak area to back light this scene.

In mid-March I found an eagle "rookery" you might say.  We counted at the end of the evening, thank you daylight savings time, 22 eagles in a pond,  Many were juveniles, maybe 10 adults.  Take a look, at a distance, and adult and one juvenile and one other older maturing bird on the far right.   This was just the start of the evening.

They filled a tree with so many birds that we were just grinning ear to ear.  The parents flew with young birds, most likely last years or more offspring.  One white head stayed in the nearby nest, I am sure full of envy at the soaring, but dedication to the end that her eggs stay warm.

As we watched the sun sink and looked for a comet in the west, many birds flew away from us, seeking less company and I caught this shot of them on the wing.  What a lovely day it was in Colorado.

And then there is that wonderful time when you just are at the right spot at the right time, and a Northern Harrier Hawk flies by you as you are in the grasses...

These lovely cottonwoods will be soon green with leaves, and the view from the grasses will hide the babies who will begin to fledge and only those who skim the lake will be seen come spring time.  But for the moment they are the thorns for the King of the Grasslands, sitting on the highest limb, overseeing and protecting precious lifelines of offspring and mates.   That simple cottonwood, aging and rough to the touch, is home for our eagles...

The rough barked Cottonwood, backdrop to our lives in Colorado....


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