As we were walking along the St. George River a few weeks back, my friend J suddenly stops and points.
“Look at the size of those birds!” she exclaims. “They’re HUGE.”
Following her gaze, I notice several brown-speckled birds perched on some flat rocks midstream, quite still and imposing. Hawks I thought, not coming up with any other large enough bird, except maybe a turkey vulture. Definitely raptors.
“Those are not hawks,” she says. “Hawks are not that big.”
We move down the bank for a closer view. Hmm. Too good-looking to be vultures and if they were hawks, they certainly were on the substantial side. Maybe falcons?
As we debate, the man living across the road saunters down to meet us. We introduce ourselves, and then J points out towards them, asking if he knows what kind of birds they might be. He nods, then tilts his head downstream.
“There’s an eagle’s nest down tha old trolley path through those woods,” he drawls in the local accent.
“Eagles nest? You think those are eagles?” says J, her excitement rising.
“Yep. They’ve been ’round here fah years. Just head up back behind the red bahn and follow tha trolley path. The dentist who lives there doesn’t like people walkin’ on his land, but I own tha right-a-way. Haven’t seen it this year, but it’s been there years past.”
For the next twenty minutes we are regaled with his stories, about the trolley that followed the river through town and all the way out to Owl’s Head, about how his father had ridden it all those years ago, before it was torn up in the early 1900’s, about how his grandfather used to own the land he now lives on, and what it’s like to live on it now having grown up elsewhere, about what it means to be a Mainer, or to be from away.
“People ah people, wherevah ya ah.” he says. And he’s right. There are busybodies and gossips in big cities just as much as in small towns. But there are no birds like that back in Brooklyn.
As we finally turn to leave, he offers to show us the way down the path sometime. We nod our agreement. Only later do we realize he never did tell us his name.
The next day we pack our cameras and a decent pair of binoculars and set off into the woods. We figure the birds are Golden eagles, after consulting a few bird-identification websites and we are giddy with the thrill of the chase. Once we are a good ways in, we make our way down to the shoreline and scan the treetops across the St. George searching for a nest, which we learn can weigh between one and two tons. That’s right. Up to two tons.
We pick our way even closer down the bank, breaking free of the treeline, and then there they are! One is resting again on a flat rock, looking for fish, and a couple are flying high above the flowing river. We keep poking each other. “Look! There’s another one,” we whisper back and forth. We delight in spotting them so quickly, considering that their eyesight is four times stronger than ours. It is then that I lift my head to a nearby spruce. Frantically tapping J’s arm, I point towards the peak. Right near the top, on a protected branch, an eagle is perched. But it’s not a Golden eagle – he’s got a white head!
“It’s a Bald Eagle! They’re Bald Eagles!” I can barely contain my enthusiasm, and my racket causes him to take flight. He stretches out his wings to what must be at least six feet and sails into the air.
With what can only be called true awe, we watch them glide and soar. Such elegant creatures are they; unequivocally stunning. We pass the binoculars back and forth, sharing our delight in what seems like a rare moment. It’s only been three years since they were removed from the Endangered Species List. Our eyes follow them all, but seek out the bald-headed one especially.
“Look – over there – see him?”
“Up in that tree.”
“Oh! He just turned his head. Look at that beak.”
“He’s so regal.”
“I can’t believe they live this close to me!”
Back and forth we revel in our wonderment as five of them – one adult and four juveniles – circle and dip and soar. They capture us completely. We sit watching them for a long time, until they eventually fly south around the river’s bend.
The remainder of our day is charged by our reverence.