Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bald Eagle, Muskego

          On the 4th of July I thought it would be appropriate to find an American Bald Eagle to photograph.

Randy Jacques is friend of mine from my working-life in television. He recently emailed me about a pair of Bald Eagles with two chicks, near Big Muskego Lake.  Big Muskego Lake is in southeastern Wisconsin.  Randy lives nearby and heard of the eagles.  He thought I would be interested in seeing them…I was!  

(Click to enlarge)

I was hoping to find them before they fledged, but I was delayed for days by rain and fog. Not knowing the nest’s precise location was another problem.  It's in a remote area of a large lake.  When the weather cleared and the nest’s location was verified I set out.  After a mile long hike, through a mosquito infested marsh, I got to the nest site. Through the six-foot tall grasses I saw a fledgling Bald Eagle perched on the edge of a nest.  The adults and the other sibling were gone. 

Still well out of range for decent pictures, I had little chance of going further without being noticed.

I tried anyway. 

As expected, the small buff brown fledgling flew away, leaving an empty nest.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

I knew I was in for a long wait, but I was dressed in a mosquito suit and armed with a bottle of 98% DEET insect repellent for added insurance.

I set up my cameras as a choir of mosquitoes sang in my ears. They rose from the marsh grasses, thick as pepper on a fried egg. My view was filled with tiny drones.  The only thing that saved me from donating a million drops of blood was the mosquito netting over my head.

                                Surprisingly, I didn’t have to wait long for an adult Bald Eagle to fly in.
Landing in a tree and immediately eyeing me, he came out screaming.  

He flew directly overhead at treetop levels. Uncertain of what he saw on the first pass, he repeated the same circle to satisfy his curiosity. 

I must not have been the threat he expected because unconcerned he returned to his tree to rest.

But, rest was NOT his to enjoy.

As big and powerful as Bald Eagles are, it’s surprising how often they get challenged. A bird one-tenth the size of an eagle will harass and attack them from above and behind. 

The harassment is understandable, but the combatants are confused. 

Who exactly is the intruder and who is being intruded upon?  

Is it all a matter of taking sides? 

On the fourth of July you could side with the Bald Eagle for his tenacity, but then again you could admire the Red-winged Blackbird's courage.  

The blackbird was defending his territory against a goliath of an enemy.  

Spectators gather in a nearby tree to watch the battles.  It’s doubtful these birds had anything to fear from the eagle...still they were troubled by his presence.  

They watched the skirmish from a safe distance…showing support, but risking nothing.

A half-hour standoff developed.  

Vocal insults were being exchanged, but aggression subsided as they slowly accepted the other's claim on the tree. It became more of a staring game with dirty looks than combat.

The reddening sky may have been a contributing factor as the hissing and screaming subsided with the setting sun.
A juvenile returned to the comfort of a parent.  The other adult and fledgling’s whereabouts are still unknown to me.

The mosquitoes, on the other hand, had no intentions of giving up.  The setting sun had no affect on their desire to inflict pain upon me. I discovered a few had found their way up under the netting.  I dispatched them with a pinch.

Surprisingly, when I got back to my
car and took off my gear, I counted 45 empty, mangled, dead mosquito bodies inside my headgear. They lost their lives attacking me…fine. 

All except one. She had some of my blood. She won her battle with me, but wasn't exactly victorious in the end!