Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle and the Raven were in a standoff.

I was looking for birds in Madera Canyon in Southeastern Arizona when I came upon these two.

I had spent the better part of the daylight hours photographing hummingbirds, wrens and woodpeckers…all interesting birds, but none of these were new to me.  I was looking for new birds.

I even searched for a bird I’d seen here two years ago, the beautiful Elegant Trogon, but I had no luck finding that one either.

As I hiked up Mt. Wrightson, the cool air called for a sweatshirt.   I thought about my friends in the Midwest suffering through the record breaking cold winter of 2013-14.  I took no pleasure in their misery…only warm comfort in not experiencing any of it.

It was late afternoon now and clouds covered the sun.  It was getting too cool on the mountain…time to leave.

I packed my cameras to leave Mt. Wrightson and head down Madera Canyon Road. At Mile Marker-4, almost at the bottom, two big birds suddenly appeared around a curve. I stopped quickly.  I recognized the smaller one as a Raven. The big bird was new to me and I wasn’t sure of an ID until I checked the bird book.  It was a Golden Eagle. 

A Golden Eagle will impress you immediately, even before you’re aware it’s a Golden Eagle. 

Balancing on the thin wire with only inches separating the two birds, they alternately glared at or ignored each other. Neither one advanced nor retreated, but the Raven appeared to be most annoyed by the presence of another bird.

Although grossly mismatched against the Golden Eagle, the Raven stubbornly defended his rights to a dead rabbit lying in the roadway below.  

Golden Eagles are large, powerful birds, but cautious of humans.  They prefer true wilderness or lightly encroached upon areas of the western United States. The Golden Eagle's habitat forms a wide band around the world. They are not rare or endangered. 

Canyons and mountain cliffs with wide expanses of open grassland provide good homes for them.   Places where rabbits, hares, prairie dogs and other small mammals are found...all manageable prey for the Golden Eagle. 

Finding a Golden Eagle on a utility pole was lucky in the extreme…a notable experience for me.

Golden Eagles have some tolerance for a vehicle, but a human outside of a vehicle is more than they will allow. I had to wait until the Golden Eagle was engaged in a stare down with the Raven to quietly exit the truck.  Hugging the truck’s side to camouflage my profile, I slipped behind unnoticed. Using the truck as a blind I enjoyed his company for several minutes while he and the Raven continued to exchange visual insults.

Eventually they became bored giving each other dirty looks and the Golden Eagle took to the air. Stretching his six-foot, some inch wings, he circled  to survey from above.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Making two wide passes overhead he could have seen me or possibly something else that displeased him, whichever, he gave up his rights to the rabbit and departed.  

I waited a half hour for him to reclaim the disputed prize, but he chose not to return and I never saw him again. 

Nothing goes to waste in nature, not even a dead rabbit.  

As the Raven rejoiced in his victory at the top of the power pole, I celebrated my good fortune, too.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Link: Elegant Trogon