This summer, we have more young birds in the backyard than usual. Occasionally, we’ll have between 30 and 40 feathered nutcases fighting it out around the feeder. Just like humans, no one wants to wait for their turn.
This year was a bit different than past years as usually our strong spring winds eliminate about half of the hatchlings early in the game, but this year we’ve only found two fledgling sparrows that didn’t make it. Ordinarily the robins take a hit while still in the egg and the hen robins have to re-nest. We did not notice that this year and I may be wrong, but evidence points to maybe three successful hatches this year – two for certain.
The other day I counted 10 juvenile robins wrestling in the bird bath and arguing over choice areas of the backyard to hunt for worms. I’ve never had that before. It was reminiscent of a bunch of preteen boys during recess in grade school, each jockeying for position in the existing social order, sometimes violently. We also had a flight, or family, of six goldfinches visit for a few days and enliven the area with their theatrics and bold coloring. I think it was two adults and four juveniles, but the little rascals never stay still long enough to positively identify gender or age. Since they’re only thumb-sized, they easily hide behind leaves, even small leaves.
One morning, about the middle of August, while I was enjoying my morning coffee in the backyard, reading a magazine and contemplating the infinite, all of the little birds disappeared. Like, just boogied out of town. I couldn’t figure it out until something large flew over and I looked up into the sky above the trees.
Directly above where I sat, coffee cup in hand, I watched a huge, feathered apparition glide past at barely tree-top level. At first glance, simply because of its large size I guess, I thought it was just a vulture. A very big one, but a common vulture nonetheless. It stuck around for several seconds, making a couple of more passes over where I sat until it caught a thermal and took off, still in full sight. All of which gave me enough time to identify it as an eagle.
Understand that I enjoy watching eagles and am fairly well versed on their taxonomy. They are a favorite of mine and I’ve studied them ever since I was a younger man. This was not a bald eagle nor was it a golden eagle. I’m well acquainted with both varieties.
Fact is, I’ve never seen an eagle this large or colored like this one. We had a pair of huge goldens when we lived on Line Creek. They nested in the bad-lands canyon behind our home and I’ve watched them kill everything from sage grouse to yearling antelope. We also had a nesting site for a pair of bald eagles in the tall cottonwoods down by the creek. So yeah, I know what a golden or a bald eagle looks like.
Best I could tell, this critter had a wingspan of at least 15 feet. Maybe more? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Real good coffee, ya think? Honestly, this humongous bird was the biggest eagle I’ve ever seen and it was colored with a light underside speckled like a hen Cassin’s finch, with intermittent brown feathers, but growing in a linear pattern, front to back or throat to butt, whatever. The underside of the wings were a light beige color with a spackling of brown and a leading edge of brown. Never saw the top side. Initially, I thought it had to be an immature golden. Except, it was huge.
Further reflection and observation indicated to me that this feathered critter was something I’d never seen. Could it have been a misplaced Steller’s sea eagle? How about an Andean condor? Maybe a displaced monkey eagle from Asia or South America, all larger than our domestic variety. But I’ve seen most of those and studied the color plates of the ones I haven’t actually seen. But in the color plates they were all perched, not flying. Best I can come up with is now I know where the grandfather people came up with the Thunder Bird idea.
I watched it climb high into the overcast and then join a second supersized bird riding the thermals way up there. So there are two of them. From what I could tell, there was no disparity in size, but they were so high they were little more than dark specks in the sky, so that’s just conjecture. Eventually they both disappeared into the clouds. Later that day we had a real frog-strangler of a rain, accompanied by prodigious amounts of lightning and heavy thunder. It was magnificent.
I’m not going to say this bird was as big as a piper cub, but that dude that flies his little V-wing experimental aircraft around on Sunday mornings had better watch out if this thing sticks around.
By the way, has anyone from around here seen a Bigfoot lately?