Boundary Waters Birds

Bald Eagles photo by Rob Scott 

The following trip remembrance is reprinted with permission. The location is somewhere in the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Crane Lake has easy access to the BWCA via the Loon River. You can also access the BWCA by hiking the Herriman Lake Trail – it’s that close!

Wow! I spent a glorious week in the Boundary Waters and between the fishing, camping, funning, cooking, hiking, adventuring, and general wilderness frolic, I didn’t have to bird – it seemed the birds were “humaning” me. Several times I got to sit alone by the cooking area beneath a tarp tied high in the trees. As I sat to enjoy the solitude the intensity of bird calls and flitting feather balls multiplied and I realized that birds were everywhere.

Of greatest note however was the near lack of seagulls (not an unpleasant lack to me) for in their stead were an abundance of beautiful and intense Bald Eagles. They were all over the place! They practically hung out with us. They were fishing with us in the shallows of a bay, they sat 30 feet up in pine trees (two at a time) and let us fish immediately below them, they swooped within feet of our heads on their way to a stone’s throw branch, and they out fished us several times while we fished the wood for smallies. Several times I felt the wind from their wings as they swooped over us (can I say ‘goose bumps’).

I placed fish remains out the first few days in an obscure spot and while we were fishing an eagle carrying the carrion would swoop over us and land in a tree 15 feet over our heads as if to show it’s appreciation. I challenged them to be bolder by placing the remains in a very close and open spot on a fallen log along the shore just 20 feet from our cooking area. One by one they came and noisily alit on a pine bough that protruded over the shore. Sometimes their ‘alits’ were more like clumsy stumbles as dead limbs snapped and splashed the water.

One by one they would study us until they thought we weren’t looking. If we sat as a peanut gallery awaiting their appearance, they would sit until they thought we were sufficiently distracted with life to make their move. They easily out-patienced us. Seeing (I am positive that the word would be “seeing” based on the intensity of their eyes) our distractions, they would swoop majestically down and with both sets of talons snag the head of the fish carrion. We had made sure to fillet out the portions we wanted and left the other fish parts connected so each prize was basically an entire fish sans human select portions.

They are so exacting with their talons that they would not even scratch the log as they swooped by in the microsecond of their catch. Then another would come and alight on another branch and more quickly acquire sufficient comfort to snag our offerings. At one time three in a row came through. There is no way to relate the way I felt observing such magnificence and that delightful feeling of contribution to something greater than myself.

In addition to the eye-candy the eagles offered, we were equally rewarded with morning wake up calls of eagles loudly emitting what I heard as laughing calls for they filled the morning with joy and an excitement that loons alone do not quite produce. There were the familiar and signature loon calls both day and night but the eagle cries poured gold from the skies in the richness they added to the entire week.

Every time we floated beneath one while fishing, we would observe them fluffing their tail feathers and preen, dropping white puff balls that floated on the wind and settled atop the water. When we examined the feathers they practivally disintegrated at our touch. I reveled in experiencing eagle ‘powder down’ that I have read so much about. I am no eagle expert but according to several texts and web sites, (para-phrased) these unique veinless feathers are scattered across the eagles bodies and are somewhat matted. They grow continully with small particles regularly breaking off from the ends of the barbules producing a fine almost talc-like powder. The fine powder is reported to help absorb the grime and debris that raptors contact but primarily, perhaps, the powder serves as a waterproofing agent and a feather conditioner.

I noticed that the rumps and tails are the main contributors to the down fall I experienced – logical given that eagles feed with visits to the water through plunges where they immerse only their feet and lower bodies. I guess if they used their beaks to help with the catch they would have more unique coifs than the dramatic sleek white domes we identify as ‘bald’. Perhaps we would be able to see the American Afro Eagle, or White-ee-locks and the 3 Pikes, or maybe the Marilyn Eagle or perhaps the Justice Eagles of England. Oops, I digress (and those are wigs the English Parlimentarians wear, aren’t they?).

Anyway, a delightful week of chumming with the eagles. Can this life get any better? Who says we have to die to get to heaven?

Spring Lake Park

p.s. Inside confidential scoop for fellow birders and fishers – every Small-mouth Bass was at 1-1/2# and up (one at around 5#), several 2# Large-mouth Bass, dozens of pike in all sizes up to 6 pounds, and sufficient 1 to 1-1/2 # Walleye to sate our appetites. Got our Pike and Walleye dinners within 15 minutes just before we cooked (now that is reliable fishing resources) – all the rest were released and are waiting for you – please let the smallies return so I can visit them next year.


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