Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Golden Bald Eagle

One of my greatest joys in photographing wildlife is when I encounter an animal that I recognize.  Usually it is a color deviation that sets a bird apart but some times it is wing or foot injury or bill deformity.  With the smaller birds it’s attitude and location. This is an encounter with one of my favorite birds.  

Young Bald Eagles do not obtain the classic white head over dark brown body until their fourth or fifth year.  Until then each time they molt out old feathers the new ones  change their appearance.   So much so they could be confused for a totally different bird each year.  As they reach their third year they start to look dirty adults.  I have a few dozen photographs of one eagle in particular that had a golden hue that set it apart from the other eagles around the dam this week. 

Here is a encounter with her one sunny morning.

I spotted this adult feeding below the dam from a half mile away and quickly moved in it's direction.

As I approached still unseen the eagle finished up and took off with a carcass in it's mouth. As it flies she pulls off this neat mouth to talon transfer. This is the female that rules this strip of waterway.

I took this moment to see what she had been eating.  As you can see there was not much left to identify. Best guess... a male Common Merganser.  The mergansers had been feeding heavily on recently release  salmon.  Tired and overloaded this duck was an easy target for the adult eagle. A two for one deal for the eagle, duck with a side of yearling salmon. 

I was not alone. I felt a presents, a pressure a wave and for a fleeting moment I regressed to timid little monkey looking up in shock.  The golden bald eagle pasted within feet of my head as she floated by silently. 

I moved off the mud flat and sat at the base of a tree.

She made a several orbits sizing up my position, the adult eagle that had just left and how much of a risk the food was worth.  She did not seem to want to land on the mud and took a couple more orbits looking for just the right spot to set down.  The lesser of evils was to land on the wet rocks at the water line.   Ever so gently.

Each foot set was placed carefully.  An eagle tip toeing with a distain for mud.   

The ever present crows dropped in for a quick look. She looked at every square inch of the duck debris and saw nothing worth walking in the mud over.

She hunched and looked upward  just as I caught a shadow moving out of the corner of my right eye.

We were not the only ones looking at the feathers on the mud.

The second eagle is older. third or fourth year. I had seen these two sitting on the fresh water side of the dam the day before. I believe they are siblings from different years. 

Apparently the older bird decided the scattered feathers were hers.

Goldie took issue with that decision and expressed her feelings with it.  They traded a few half hearted swipes at each other and agreed there was nothing here worth getting hurt over. 

Winner.  Look, a wishbone.

Wish you had a duck?

On to better hunting. These photos were taken in April. You can see the wear and tear on the feathers. They molted out over the summer and she took on a golden "shield" on her back as her wings darkened. I followed her for two more years each spring and then she was gone. The thing is that I might still see her from time to time but I couldn't tell you if it was her, the gold is gone.
The adult that was feeding on the duck at the start I believe was a parent to both of these young birds. I had seen both of the adults flying and sitting with these two as well as two other young birds.  Adult eagles entering the area during this time were not treated so kindly.

Below is a short film strip of all of the pictures taken during this encounter. The fight was short but exciting.

Calling her "her". 

  I have read and through personal observation understand that female bald eagles are a little larger then a male.  Unfortunately  young eagles have larger feathers then adults. Think of them as training wheels for birds.  That works fine if you have to eagles sitting side by side and don’t fluff out the feathers.  So for the most part it's hard to tell them apart without experience and optics.  Another diagnostic key is that females have larger bills.  Some people have big noses.  ?   She has a big bill.  The adult eagle in the first photos is the female from the nest. Look at how big her bill is.

 Maybe it's time for an eagle head shot quiz...I'll pull that together for later.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Asphalt clams

Visit any parking lot around the Puget Sound when the moon and the sun aline just right and you may get to see this.

Fragments of tiny clam the size of a quarter along with and barnacle pieces

 The is an enormous  number of piles of broken shell shards. They look just like sunflower seed husks littering the parking lots, sidewalks near the waters edge.  Then the thought emerges where are all these little things coming from? and why are they there? 

When the low tide coincides with daylight during good weather, the local crows rush in for a rare delicacy.  The true definition of a delicacy, requires a huge amount of energy to grasp that tine morsel of goodness. The hard earned  elusive prize that may be more of a status symbol then an end to a dietary need.  

So it plagues me how does a crow go about extracting this prize?
I know how he physically does it.
I just can not fathom why. 

First these little treasures have to be found. 

Not all of the crows know how to do this. Younger crows learn from their elders.  Feeding baby crows this way would be very labor intensive but there are only a couple hours until the tide returns. 

Seeing an adult crow share with another adult crow is moving.

Transported to  suitable location.

Position for the best aero dynamic characteristics , calculate angle of impact and began your approach.

Lifted to a given height above a hard surface that is the balance point between the expended energy to do it while  maximizing the amount of damage our nemesis gravity could inflict upon the clam upon impact.


Repeat as nessesary

 It is hard work and there are many who don't want to expend the energy but want the reward.  Remind you of anyone in your flock?

Finding refuge to relish your hard won reward is to often short lived

Again in their world as well as ours, if anything is worth having is worth working for. Or stealing.

Once the shell of the hapless clam is shattered the crow uses it's body as a lever and tears off tinniest of morsels.

Down the hatch.

I can't imagine the crow is doing this to appease a refined taste. The tidbit just goes straight down. I have always wondered how much or if crows could taste their food.   I have eaten clams. I am not a fan but I cannot imagine expending that much energy for the reward to gain equation.  

This technique the crow are using is not just limited to clams.

Discarded peach pits and sometimes items that are not edible get the same treatment.  The crows here are not all that different then any other crow. This behavior is common to their who family around the world.  

Crows are not alone with this skill. Heavy bombers have found their own delicacies.

Here is a local gull with a Moon Snail. Moon Snails prey on other mollusks in the Puget Sound and are hated by many humans but loved by the gulls.  They can reach the size of a baseball or larger so most of the time they are too heavy for a crow to lift to a sufficient height to damage the shell.

So the next time the tide is low and the and he weather permits see if you can find a show.  There is always squabbling and jockeying and stealing.  I don't think they do it for the food. I thing they do it because they can, it is difficult and expends way more energy then returned.  They do it to show the other crows that they are accomplished, skilled and a survivors.  

Not to mention show offs.