Saturday, February 6, 2010

February 6: Eagle Visitation

As I sat down at my desk this morning and looked out the window, a bald eagle soared through my backyard. A bit startled, I heard myself exclaim, "Whoa!" as it sailed past, following the river's course. It was probably on a mission to terrorize the ducks that congregate downstream at Megunticook Market. The sighting seemed auspicious--keeping in mind that the word "auspicious" derives from the Latin word "auspice," defined by Merriam-Webster as "observation by an augur especially of the flight and feeding of birds to discover omens." An auspex translated patterns of birds. As oracles go, that seems a big step up from reading tea leaves. And as a way to start the day, having a eagle fly by seemed like a positive omen to me.

I also couldn't help but think of the trained eagle that sometimes flies around the stadium at the start of the Super Bowl. Today is the first day of the National Toboggan Championships at the Camden Snow Bowl. Maybe this is our own, wild version of that sports ritual. I confess that I'm always moved to see that eagle soaring around during the pre-game show, though I secretly root for it to keep going and head for open sky instead of back to the arm of its handler. Even though the eagle is by now a tired cliche of freedom, the sight of one flying never fails to stir me. For the eagle's own thoughts on being appropriated as a patriotic metaphor, however, read this recent article from my favorite fake news website, The Onion.

About ten minutes after it flew downriver, the eagle returned. The eagle has landed, I thought. What is it about eagles that elicits these cliches? But land it did, in a tree right in my backyard maybe 50 feet away from my window. A pair of crows gallantly harassed it for a while, forcing it to hop from branch to branch till it found a sturdy one where it could perch securely. The crows were sometimes so close their bodies actually buffeted the eagle, but their bombardment had no effect whatsoever on the larger bird, which never even registered their presence. Eventually they gave up and flew off. 

While I ran from window to window with my camera trying to figure out how to get a photo, the eagle spent several minutes wiping its bill against the dead wood of its perch. Perhaps it had recently fed? Through binoculars, I could see that the top of its head looked a little dirty. That must be a difficult spot for a bird to keep clean. When the eagle stopped its bill-wiping and simply sat there, looking dignified and, well, big, I had to laugh: its expression was exactly that of Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show. Eagles have a way of paradoxically looking both noble and slightly comical at the same time.

By holding my digital camera up to the eyepiece of my binoculars perched on a windowsill, I was able to take a few blurry shots of the eagle through the screen window. I share them here with some embarrassment:

There's today's eagle, in all its blurry, pixilated glory. It headed back downriver a few minutes ago. Happy hunting! (And if you have some time, would you flap over to the Snow Bowl and circle over my brother-in-law's toboggan team a couple of times? They could use some avian blessings this morning.)

Bird of good omens
pauses here to wipe its bill.
My yard is honored.

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