One For The Birds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is a quick update in an attempt to get back on track. I’m, once again, at Woodward Reservoir. When I’m in this part of California I enjoy staying here. Not so much because of the water, or the large crowds on the weekends, but because it is so peaceful when the crowds are not here. That, and the wildlife.

Let me tell you about the bald eagle that hangs around. A bald eagle in the Central Valley of California? Yeah, right. Oh, young foolish one. It is true. I saw this beautiful bird for the first time last week, overhead, flying eastward. It was later in the day, and me without my camera.

This morning the magnificent creature returned to say hi. On the other side of this small inlet where I’m camped there was a gathering of vultures. They were discussing, with great intent, something they had on their mind. From where I was seated in my motorhome I could not see what it was they were snacking on while conducting their meeting. Out of the east the great boss of all bosses dropped in to see how the convention attendees were making out. The eagle dropped from the sky—the eagle has landed.

When that bald eagle touched down every creature in the area took a step backward. Some of them, like the squirrels, ran for cover. The geese squawked up a storm and made way for open water. The vultures formed a protective ring and stood watching the king of birds saunter up to the banquet laid out on the beach. That bird commanded respect.

I’m sure you’ve seen the same thing with men or women that have walked into a room. They may not have been the largest, the smartest, or the richest. But everyone gave way to the greatness that they were sharing space with. It was the same with the eagle.

Bald eagles are a rather skittish bunch. I remember hiking up the North Kaibab trail a few years ago when I came across an eagle perched on a dead limb below me. Not more than 20 yards from me this bird sat, staring off into the Grand Canyon. Picture that. Me, standing on a trail looking down on a bald eagle looking down into a magnificent canyon. That was a picture screaming to be taken.

I always carry a camera when I hike. This time my little Olympus was in the right thigh pocket of my cargo pants. It was easily accessible. So, I accessed it. The problem was that the pocket flap was held in place by a strip of velcro. Ah, you’re sharp today. You’ve already figured out that the bird took flight the moment it heard me slowly opening the pocket so I could get to my camera. It’s a photo I will always carry with me, but one I cannot share. I now carry my camera in a pocket without velcro.

Today I had the camera out. I got a few photos, but they aren’t very good. I could not get close enough to my new feathered friend. As I attempted to better my position, the king took flight. I followed on foot hoping that it would land in one of the trees nearby. He must have heard my thoughts. He landed not far away. I approached slowly. He was hard to see because of all the leaves, and as I was attempting to position myself for the photo the great bird took to the air, this time westward, out over the water. He’ll return. I just hope it’s before I leave the area.

Since the title of this particular entry is One For The Birds I suppose I should tell you about the owls. Yes, each evening a pair of beautiful owls come to hunt in the grassy marsh that line this inlet where I am parked. I don’t know what kind of owls they are. I just know that they’re large, tan, and have round flat faces. After last night I can honestly say I know why their faces are flat.

Usually there are two owls, but last night only one showed up. Maybe he was the only one that was hungry. I didn’t ask. When this very large bird saw something that looked appetizing he would drop from the sky like a lead balloon.

I’ve watched falcons hunt in the wild. They will fold their wings in and drop at such speeds that you would never believe that they would be able to pull out of their dive. You can actually hear them as they speed through the air. Just before they smash into the ground they spread their wings, extend their sharp talons, grab their prey, and pull up. All in one synchronized motion. The G-forces have to be tremendous.

Owls are not falcons. Last night, this bird would drop out of the sky to land on something in the marsh. A couple of times I think dinner got away, because there was a lot of thrashing around and then the owl would take off with nothing to show for his fight. However, the last time I saw him he was heading south with a small rodent clutched tightly in his claws.

Well, anyway, I think after many generations of these rather large birds leading with their face when they hunt evolution figured out that they didn’t need the good looks of the eagle or the sleekness of the falcon. A round flat face would do just fine. If only we could get them to wear helmets.

Good night, Mrs. Jackson, wherever you are.

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