Sunday, April 21, 2013

Eagles and Pugs

I took pictures of the herons in the Marymoor dog park today. The camera's battery was almost dead and I stood at my lowly angle, so it seemed like they were going to be lame pictures, but I took them anyway, hoping I'll get something I could send to my brother-in-law. He likes birds. He posts birds on his Facebook page. I have to admit that he takes very good photos. I like to bug him by making comments on his posts like, "Look, a duck!" Is that mean? In the meantime, his friends are busy analyzing the rings around the neck and the color of its tail feathers to determine if it's a 'lesser spotted ringtail spoof' or a greater one.  There may only be ten people in the state of Indiana who know as much about birds as he does. He's really not interested in a lot of other things. He's a good example of the man digging one deep hole instead of many shallow ones. If there are only two remaining birds of an endangered species nesting within a hundred mile radius of his home, he will be the man who finds them.

Despite the rain, I brought the good camera, Mike's Canon, along with his zoom lens. I imagined a muddy puppy jumping up onto it, but the dogs left me alone. It was nice that the rain stopped. Blue-gray clouds looked quite dramatic against the bright green of the new leaves. Still, I couldn't get close enough, being much shorter than the trees where the birds were nesting. I also didn't yet have my camera out the one time one of the herons came in for a landing. I'm hoping that when I crop my photos, I'll find something in the details. 

A year ago, these herons built a rookery right in the middle of the Marymoor off leash dog park. That's where I bring Teddy for his walks sometimes. It's a lovely place and a couple of weeks ago, the park managers cordoned off the area so we can't walk underneath the nests. I'm not sure if it's because the fledglings sometimes fall out of the nest and they need to be protected or because of the birds' large foul droppings. These birds are carnivores. I don't know what that stuff looks like when it falls and I hope I don't find out. I've been on the underside of a sea gull before and it wasn't pretty. The worst part was that I couldn't get it out of my hair.

The nice thing is that park management also posted signs that tell you what the birds are. Hopefully people will stop calling them eagles and cranes. In January, one lady with a big pug told me that she had to keep her dog on a leash because the eagles might carry him off. I told her I didn't think eagles could lift anything very big, but she insisted that they would probably take her dog if she weren't careful. I think the lady was in denial about the pizza crusts and Doritos she'd been giving him. That dog weighed at least eighteen pounds.

Then, I started thinking. I'd never seen an eagle near this park. A bobcat made the news by spending the afternoon in a tree there once, but I'd never seen an eagle here. There are often eagles by the Snoqualmie River and I've seen them over Lake Sammamish, but I'd never seen them near the park. I couldn't imagine eagles hunting where people were so busy walking and yelling at their dogs. Yet this lady with the pug told me with authority that eagles are here all the time. Eagles. Right. I wish I'd asked her if those big gray birds were her eagles.

I got to wondering, though, after looking at this woman's dog, how much a bald eagle can lift, really. This is what I love about the Internet. I can find the answer to this important question. It turns out that an eagle would have trouble flying with anything over five pounds. One site stated that someone once sighted an eagle carrying fifteen pounds. What, did they shoot the damn eagle and weigh it's prey? How did they know? Mike and I have watched the eagles at Rattlesnake Lake as they fished from the unpopulated side of the lake. It was taking turns with an osprey. Once, a caught fish wiggled out of the eagle's grasp about twenty feet up and the fish splashed back down into the water. Lucky fish.

"You should have seen the one that got away," Mike said, imitating the eagle. "It was this big."

I couldn't imagine the eagle getting off the ground with an eighteen pound pug. Can you picture that? Don't tell that lady I said that. I'm sure she loves her pug.

Another time, there was a man at the park with his dog and his daughter. The signs had been taken down after the baby herons had flown the nest the previous summer, but the herons were beginning to hover near the rookery again. The little girl kept dancing along the walkway, holding a stick in her hand like a wand, and talking about the eagles that were up in the trees.

"No, those birds are cranes," he told her. She stopped dancing across the gravel and dropped her stick. The magic was gone from her eyes.

Oh man, why couldn't he have let them be eagles carrying chubby pugs into the cloudy skies?

Thank you for listening, jb

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