Eagles Just Want to Have Fun

When we moved into our civilized island house in Sitka (civilized means there's a causeway that connects to town), one of the amenities was the view from an upstairs bedroom window of an eagle sitting at eye-level on a branch near the top of a spruce tree about twenty-five feet away, looking for fish in the water below.

Occasionally a crow would land on the branch between the eagle and the trunk. The eagle would move over, then the crow would move over, and after a few moves the end of the branch would bend and the eagle would fly off, the crow in pursuit, laughing, I swear.

But the most entertaining was watching the photographers. At least twice we told visiting friends they were welcome to take eagle pictures from the bedroom, but they preferred to stalk. The wildlife depicter would sneak around bushes and smaller trees, his camera at the ready, watched by the eagle's cold, reptilian eye as he turned his head. I have no idea if the pictures turned out, but there's nothing like watching an eagle watch a would-be photographer.

I thought of these performances from long ago when Charlie Stock from Homer came by my shop recently. As I have done so often, if the customer and I get to talking, I asked Charlie for an anecdote. The only rules are that it should be true and about Alaska. Charlie is another William Beebe in that he's not only a marine biologist but an ornithologist. He's been in Alaska seventeen years, worked in the Pribilofs, the Aleutians, and various other parts of Alaska.

Unlike ninety-percent of Alaskans who nod in approval when I ask for an anecdote and never send anything, Charlie said he had just the story. One of the oddest things he ever saw. He was atop one of the short, sharp hills at Dutch Harbor, and trained his binoculars on an eagle drifting with the wind currents while clutching something in his talons. He said the wind was exactly the right strength to carry the eagle and its cargo; the bird was barely moving its wingtips while coasting. Just as the he approached the object dropped and landed by Charlie. It was an empty Michelob beer bottle. Our hero held it towards the eagle, who paused, but decided to give up his treasure while continuing to float on the air. Then Charlie had an idea. He plucked some grass and tossed it towards the bird, who grabbed it, then dropped it. More grass tossed, more clutching. After several minutes, the eagle decided that was enough and continued on his way. Charlie is convinced the bird was simply enjoying himself; Charlie certainly was. He still has the bottle.

 

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