Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eagle Encounters

Shell Island, Oregon coast, USA

Shell Island is a small island close to the mainland.  We often go to an overlook on the mainland to watch a wide variety of marine life on and near Shell Island.
Harbor seals resting on the rocks at Shell Island
Dreary.  Heavy fog above Roseburg.  When the weatherman say ‘sunny’ we take it with a grain of salt.  All too often with a large dose of fog.  We were forty miles from Roseburg, half way to the coast, before the sun came out. 

Now, at Shell Island overlook, the sky above is blue, the air cool, and just a slight breeze.  Clouds to the north speak of tomorrow’s prediction for 100% chance of rain. 

The tide has been on its way out for nearly five hours so Shell Island’s beach is well exposed.  The lowering tide has exposed acres of rock emerging from the cold Pacific waters.  Kelp bobs on the water’s surface.  The barking of hundreds of male sea lions mixes with gentle breakers rolling ashore.  Much harder to hear, I also detect the the deep growl of Stellar’s sea lions.  Silvery harbor seals rest on small clusters of rocks.

Suddenly a bald eagle zooms beneath us.  The eagle carries a Canada goose, clutching it by just one wing!  The goose is very much alive.  

The eagle is headed in the direction of Shell Island, but instead of flying over the rather wide expanse of water, it lands on the rocks beneath us.  A gull follows close behind and almost bops the eagle.  More gulls arrive.  The eagle lets go of the goose which quickly scrambles into a rock crevice. Lucky goose!  Even goose’s wing appears to be intact.  

The eagle takes off, heading to Shell Island without his goose.  Did the gulls chase him off?  Did the goose have too much fight left?  We suspect the goose was too heavy and too strong.

The eagle lands on a tall boulder near Shell Island and calls.  His head and tail sparkle white in the sunshine.  He waits.  We wait.  The goose peeks out of the crevice and then tucks its head out of sight again.  We wonder if the eagle will make another try at the goose.  
Before long a second mature bald eagle joins the first.  They perch together and chitter their silly eagle chatter.  Eagle singing sounds way too delicate to come from such a magnificent bird.  Most days the wind would whip their song away, but today we can hear it above the mellow waves.  

The eagles are after something, but not the goose.  They take turns stooping over frequent splashes just off the edge of Shell Island’s rocks.  

Success!  With an extra big splash one of the eagles lifts off the surface of the water carrying a wiggling bundle.  At first I think he has a large fish, but no.  The eagle clutches a western grebe.  The second eagle zooms in close; then veers off and perches.  The eagle with the grebe lands on a boulder and begins plucking.  Soon it looks as if someone cut open a down pillow and let the breeze float feathers away.  When there can’t be many feathers left on the grebe, the eagle picks up and flies to a different boulder, perhaps to eat his prey without a mouthful of feathers.  The eagle feeds for about 45 minutes, then joins the first.  A raven inspects the scraps left behind.

The pair of eagle perch next to each other.  Sun is low, now glowing gold on their white heads.  


A week later we return to Shell Island, hoping for another eagle encounter.  It is a very different day. One eagle present much of the 3 or 4 hours we stay, but it doesn’t hunt.  At least it is warm enough for me to draw and quiet enough for me to have time to sketch without interruptions.  
There is a roar in my ears that only the loudest sea lions can penetrate.  Big waves roll in from the Pacific and crash on Shell Island’s outer reef.  White plumes burst high into the sky.  A long string of pelicans fly low over choppy waves.  If the swells were a little deeper, the pelicans would disappear in and out of their troughs.  A handful of sea lions are doing their best to stay on a small rock.  They have stretches of quiet that last a minute or two, then another big breaker slams into their little island.  Most temporarily disappear into a roil of white.

High tide turns about now.  Shell Island’s beach is only large enough to hold 100 sea lions and a handful of small elephant seals.  Clusters of displaced sea lions laze about, clustered together in the choppy water.  Each has one fin in the air.  If I didn’t know better I might assume sharks had arrived.  

End of daylight fast approaches.  A golden sun, half buried in fog, glows just above the horizon.  Tall plumes of waves cast a whisper of gold.  Every few minutes another flock of brown pelicans strokes past, all heading south.  Still just a dab  of beach for the sea lions -- constant barking and jostling.  The harbor seals have given up on laying claim to any land hours ago.  Three bob beneath me, bottling.  Noes in the air, the three will just laze until beach becomes available.  One by one they briefly disappear into each breaker as it rolls in.  

The bald eagle flew back to Shell Island about an hour before sunset.  It put a swirling mass of birds into the sky -- gulls, cormorants, even the oystercatchers.  Only a great blue heron stayed put.  The eagle doesn’t appear interested in hunting.

Burr.  It’s damp, chilly and breezy.  I have to admit I’m glad we’re heading home and not camping tonight.  My fingers hardly hold my pen.


  1. What a wonderful description in words and pictures, I can almost smell the salty air and hear the crash of the waves. Thank you Elva for such a detailed post.

  2. Thanks Elva, I so enjoy your writing along with your sketches

  3. Thank you for a Thanksgiving Feast of the coastal scene.