Thursday, February 10, 2011

Looking for Eagles

Finley National Wildlife Refuge: Feb. 09, 2011

Dale and I drive north to the Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene, Oregon and on to Finley National Wildlife Refuge, near Corvallis Oregon. If we have a goal, it is to find eagles. Fortunately we aren’t very goal orientated. The mature bald eagles seem to have left the Willamette Valley. At least all we see is half a dozen immature eagles. Eagles nest early so the adults may well have gone to their nesting territories. Or perhaps they left because lambing is over and there are no delicious scraps of afterbirth to tempt them.

As we near Finley National Wildlife Refuge we see several flocks of cackling geese in the air. Also a few Canada geese, but not nearly as many. For years ‘cacklers’ were considered to be Canada geese, but recently the three smaller subspecies of Canada geese were separated into a separate species, ‘cackling geese.’ It is a good name for them. Their honking is fast and higher in pitch than Canada geese. Quite different.

We eat lunch where we can watch an immature eagle perched high in a Douglas fir. A harrier hunts in the open field in front of us. Harriers are the figure skaters of the raptor world, whereas peregrines are the speed skaters. The harrier flies low over the green meadow, swoops up and turns on a dime. After several passes and swoops he finally drops to the ground. He has something, probably a vole. I’m a little surprised the eagle doesn’t help himself to the harrier’s dinner.

A flock of cacklers fly in and land behind the far rise in the field. While I’m drawing the geese are often quiet, then a few or even a few hundred rise up and mill about, calling. From where I sit I can’t see any unless they are in the air.

We move to a new spot. I have been busy drawing the gnarly tree when I hear something and look up, thinking a car is coming up the gravel road. No. It is the cacklers calling again, this time it is the roar of hundreds, no thousands, of geese. Their calls meld into a continuous, sky-filling concert. String after string of geese are lifting up from grass fields hidden beyond the nearby ash forest that meanders with the river. Some settle back into the fields where they have been feeding. Others head to a nearby lake, open water where they will spend the night. Many of the flocks fly over me.

We’re still at Finley, but at a different spot. It is nearly sunset. The late afternoon light glows warm. The evening chill comes quickly as long shadows send fingers across a pond and small opening. A great blue heron rests at the edge of the pond. His long breast plums blow ever so gently with the barest stirring of air. Sunlight catches on the heron and on long strands of canary reed grass which rise higher than he stands.

Eight mallards and Five ring-necked ducks feed along the far edge of the pond. The mallards tip, tail up, each time they reach down into the water to grab aquatic vegetation. The ringnecks briefly slip beneath the water surface as they forage. The geese have quieted. Time for us to head home.


  1. I love your sketches, but your narrative is even more captivating.

  2. What a great day that was. Love your sketches and the story behind them.
    I wonder what flys over head here. Are they Canada geese or the cackling geese? I love seeing & hearing them almost daily here. We have that lovely field behind us where they land a lot in summer. I've gotten a great shot of a Great blue herron at the duck pond. Fun birds to see.

  3. A wonderful day out. I like your sketches. They bring it all to life.

  4. I adore your harrier/figure skating analogy.