More Summer Eagles

I talked before about the local eagles here where the north meets the west branch of the Susquehanna River, and shared a few pictures with you. But I should tell you also about the eagles of Pine Creek. Brian and I took a long day this August to retrace some of the steps from my old stomping grounds back in the mid 80’s through the 90’s when I spend a lot of time hiking trails like “The Black Forrest Trail” near Slate Run. There were others, The Mid State Trail, the Donut Hole, the Susquehannock, the Loyalsock, but the woods of north central Pennsylvania are wide and one day is not enough. But I wanted to give Brian a taste of what I was missing.

On the way up we detoured east up Little Pine to the state park of the same name. It’s got a lovely camp ground near the dam that brings back some old memories. But just above the lake, behind the parking lot Brian spotted something flying above the ridge. Sure enough it was an juvenile Bald Eagle, and in the same frame through the binoculars we spotted an adult, or at least a four year old with white head and tail. The Juvie soon dropped below the ridge on the other side, but the adult glided downward and landed in a large pine with another adult eagle just below the summit.

Of course we pulled the scope out and set up the tripod to stay a while and watch. It was late morning, near noon and they were just content to sit in their perch and preen. It occurred to me that neither of us would have noticed them had we not seen them in the sky first, so well camouflaged was their resting place among all that green. A couple of ladies were getting into their car, and being the evangelist that I am (or birdvangalist?) I smiled and pointed, hoping to invite them for a look. They just smiled back weakly and climbed into their car. Maybe they suspected something fishy, some wild ploy to entice them near enough for us to toss them into the back of the explorer and speed away. The lake was pretty much abandoned except for an old couple under the pavilion nearby grilling lunch. Who can blame them for being careful. I would think my big floppy bird hat would have made me look innocent if not downright goofy, nothing to be afraid of. Hell, I’m only five foot six, and not an imposing figure. Besides we were not the predators. We were just out looking for predators. Ah well… another moment of shared-joy and new experience with nature lost to the fears of human nature.

We watched the pair (eagles, not the ladies driving away) for a while, but the juvenile never did show his dark feathered face again. I wondered if these were the offspring of the eagles I had seen here years ago in the pine trees across the man-made lake. We packed up our gear and drove back down to route 144 and continued north toward Slate Run. I wanted to take Brian to the spot where Jim and I camped back in the summer of 85 at the begining of the Black Forrest Trail loop. There above our “watering hole” I looked up and fell in love for the first time… with a hawk. A big beautiful red tailed was doing circles, perhaps he’d found a thermal rising off the rocks above the stream on the far bank, or perhaps he was just eyeing a squirrel in the tree tops, but I was entranced with his grace and powerful beauty.

It was that experience that sent me to the library in Lock Haven to look up Hawks indidgenous to Pennsylvania. I was not quite 18 years of age, but I was shocked at what I was missing, how many birds of prey lived in my home state of Pennsylvania! They were all around me, in all kinds of habitat.  There were acciptiers and beuteos and falcons, eagles of various kinds and a couple who seemed in classes by themselves, the harrier and the osprey. I was hooked.

So Brian hiked a bit with me. We found the feathered remains of something large, perhaps a small bird of prey taken by a great horned owl? I wasn’t sure, but the feathers were too small for turkey, the wrong stripes for grouse and too large and striped for any largish bird like a crow. All that was left was wing and tallon and feathers everywhere. Just below that knoll was the stream where I told him my story, showed him the rocks Jim, Dave and I used to layout on to relax in the afternoon sun. The “watering hole” that you couldn’t drink from, but the flyfishermen loved, and the secret spots where we used the stream as our refridgerator, under the rocks, all still there after all these years. He dipped his feet in and sat with me for a while. And I was happy to see in his smile the same spell that had captured me at Slate Run. It was now something we shared.

But before all of that we had stopped at Wolf’s General Store where I had first met the owners years ago after they had moved from “the city.” Now, more than twenty years later, the store was as well kept as ever, but up for sale. I chatted with the lady who looked like she hadn’t aged more than a few years and bought a new copy of the Black Forrest Trail Map. She warned me that they were not as cheap as they were back then. No kidding! 26 dollars! Sheese, I think I still have my first paper map of black forrest with a sticker of 3.95 on it. But the new map is sleeker and will hold up better under damp conditions, pretty pictures, all that. Unfortunately one of the best (and hardest) parts of the trail, the switchback above the road that leads to some beatiful rock outcroppings and vistas has been rerouted. Private land dispute by the looks of it.

Anyway, just before Slate Run and the store as we rolled down the valley road, I was looking down at Pine Creek and saw a large adulte bald flying upstream right toward us. “Look! Did you see that?” Brian didn’t see it until we came from behind the trees along the bank. We turned, stopped on the bridge and watched her fly away, then slowly circle back as if she knew how hungry we were for a good look. At the store they said that the eagles are there all the time, nesting somewhere near the Ceder Run in upstream.

I remember being excited back in the nineties about talk of an eagle’s nest sighted up near Blackwell. Back then it was a rare thing, and and exciting prospect that the great birds were returning from their endangered state. Now, we see those magnificent creatures every week on the river here near our home and in various new haunts they have made for themselves across Penn’s Woods.

If you are from Pennsylvania and haven’t seen them, or if you are just passing through, for god’s sake look up!

PA Broad Wing Flight

Good Lord, I’m getting behind on the Bird Report already! It’s been one week and  a day since my Broad Wing watch on the ridge. I was watching the front move through the day before and checking the chances for a good wind.  I chose Thursday the 18th over Wednesday (my two days off last week) and I made the right choice, considering the Broad Wing count on Wednesday was only 35. Here’s Stone Mountain’s count from last Thursday.  471for raptors, and 445 for Broad Wings. The day after was back down to about 40 for the day and the count never rebounded past fifty after that it seems.

And hey, it looks like I was at least added to the official count as a visitor! It was seven years ago I think that I actually held the clip board myself on a Golden Eagle count. Only three of us on the ridge that day, in the cold first winds of November and watching the snow squalls start up on Tussey ridge and blow across the valley toward us. Maybe I’ll do that again this year. Now where’s that wool coat…

Better Than Red Bull

Ever look up and see one of these overhead?

From Eagles of Summer 2008

We’ve been seeing these all summer. Adults and Juveniles, at least two if not three different juvies from different years by their plummage. We have been told there is a nest near us, maybe two. We keep searching the river and haven’t found any.

Seeing such sights overhead (at least one per week it seems, sometimes two per day, not to mention the osprey, the great blue herons, the egrets, wood ducks… god, I love the river), truly gives wings to the soul. It’s indescribably poetic. Here’s a close up…

From Eagles of Summer 2008

And one of the juvies:

From Eagles of Summer 2008
From Eagles of Summer 2008

This juvenile is definitely younger than one of the other we saw that had much more white streaking, particularly on the tail, as well as a very yellowish beak like their adult counterparts.