At the height of Bald Eagle season in Rockport and Marblemount, along the Skagit River, you’ll see dozens of eagles, lumbering across the sand bars, dragging and pillaging salmon carcasses. I like to say that birds like pigeons have jodhpurs — with flared plumes tapering into claws. Eagles, on the other hand, look like they’re wearing Wookiee pants, a vision more amusing when these huge raptors cluster together in one spot.
We saw such a cluster last month when we took our first trip to the Skagit River salmon-spawning grounds. Unfortunately, what began as a reasonable day in Seattle, became torrential and dim, the closer we drove into the moss kingdom that butts up against the North Cascade mountains. Weather turns, lickety split, as precipitation hits the foothills and ranges.
We hiked out to a point where we could better photograph the salmon feast, without disturbing the eagles. My life-long memory, if I never get to repeat this scene, will be the damp silence, punctuated by the calls … from tree to tree … haunting and lovely all at once … sending me backward in time, wondering what this place must have been like when these were the only normal noises. Imagine this call, multiplied at least ten times over, and resonating against the backdrop of forest mist:
My gear shows its shortcomings in low light + distance. I hesitated to even post these shots, given the dark, grainy and blurry outcome. But, I figured it was worth showing what we saw, as we plodded, ankle deep in Skagit County mud.
These images were shot at ISO1250, in the rain, at the full extension of my 70-300mm lens, and then cropped significantly.
We missed an entire month’s worth of possibilities due to strange viruses, work trips to Vegas and then, consistently dreary days. When the sun emerged on Friday, we jumped in the car for our last chance at the Bald Eagles of Rockport. The weather was stunning, but there were precious few eagles. The Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center winds up its activities this weekend, and all but a few stalwarts of the eagle kind are moving elsewhere toward new hunting grounds. Spawning is over, there wasn’t one trace of a salmon carcass along the shore.
As we were giving up our search for the eagle folk, we heard that characteristic call above us. In this tree, catching the afternoon rays was a juvie Balde, calling out to another juvenile across the river. We waited for a while to see if he or she would offer a photo op free of branches, but that young eagle was preening, settled and happy where it was. So, this was my parting shot of Rockport’s 2011/2012 Bald Eagle crew. Travel safely, my friends with furry boots. I’ll be looking for you a little farther westward.
More information here on Bald Eagles — from The American Bald Eagle site, which has a great fact sheet and some historical notes.