Saturday, November 28, 2009

Young Eagle

We had an unexpected bonus day on the lake last week. Thinking that we had seen the last of the warm weather for awhile, we spent a "last canoe day" at the end of October, took lots of pictures, said our sad goodbyes, and prepared to put away the canoe for the winter. But the warm weather persisted, and when the day is sunny and 60 degrees or so, how can we NOT canoe?

We went to the Cutright area of the lake, and had it almost to ourselves, sharing it only with a couple of fishing folk, and, startlingly, 2 orange-clad hunters up in the trees. We headed out to the middle of the water, feeling a little safer out there. And then we spotted a very large bird up in a tree on the farther shore -- not a turkey vulture, because the length and the posture were wrong. We headed over there at an angle, so that we were not paddling straight toward the bird, trying to "fly casual," as Han Solo said. Soon we were almost underneath it, and there was no doubt that we were looking at an eagle.

We see bald eagles sometimes at Lake Monroe, usually soaring overhead, occasionally perched in trees. After a century-long absence, bald eagles were reintroduced to Indiana beginning in 1985. In 1988 the first nest was found at Lake Monroe, although the first chick was apparently not successfully raised until 1991. Today, bald eagles are thriving in the area, and they are not difficult to see if you know what to look for. Golden eagles, migrants from Canada, have also been seen in the winter. Golden eagles nest in the Western states, so they're only occasional visitors here.

We don't usually get such an up-close view of bald eagles, so we were thrilled when this one stayed put for a long time, ignoring us as we floated by the shore below. This one is a juvenile; feathers are mostly brown, with splotches of white here and there. When it is mature, about 4 years old, it will acquire the white head and tail that everyone knows so well. We studied pictures of juvenile golden eagles and bald eagles, and to our inexperienced eyes, they looked very similar. We concluded, though, that this is a bald eagle. A golden eagle has been seen at Lake Monroe recently, but in a different area,

Eventually, the eagle flew farther along the shore, scaring up a great blue heron. The light faded and we headed back home, leaving the birds to the solitude of the quiet night. It was a good day, and an unexpected pleasure to see such a beautiful bird.

Information about eagles at Lake Monroe is from the website of the "Eagle Watch Weekend." This annual event is scheduled for Feb. 5-7, 2010, and will be a great chance to learn about eagles. We're hoping to go this year, and I'll post some pictures. Can't wait!

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