Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Week 23: Bald Eagle Watching
I for one was glad that our recent cold snap didn’t last any longer than it did. When temperatures drop that low, I do take some consolation in knowing it’s always colder somewhere else. In fact, for lots of migratory birds from up north, Colorado is perfectly balmy this time of year. I’m no birder, but even I can identify two of the species that come here during the winter: the Canada goose and the bald eagle.
There’s no challenge to spotting a goose in Fort Collins…in fact, it’s much harder to not see one. Hundreds live here year-round, and in the winter thousands more flock to our town like retirees to Sun City. The bald eagles, however, are more a bit more elusive. But they do have a few preferred hangouts, including Fossil Creek Reservoir, off of Carpenter Road just west of I-25. On Saturday morning, my family and I trekked out to FCR to learn about eagles and, hopefully, see the majestic birds in action.
Joann, the city volunteer naturalist on hand, was full of great information for the group of 30 or so eager birdwatchers. From her we learned that there are resident bald eagles in the area, but the ones at Fossil are a migratory population. They come to Colorado for the warmer temperatures, and also because they are diurnal birds and can take advantage of the longer daylight hours. I had always pictured bald eagles snatching up live fish the size of the Sunday newspaper in their powerful talons, but they're actually opportunistic foragers. They prefer food that is already dead, or close to it. (Me, too. From now on, I’m going to refer to grocery shopping as ‘opportunistic foraging.’ It sounds so much cooler.)
Unfortunately, the eagles didn’t cooperate with our plans to spy on them. Perhaps it had something to do with the overcast conditions or the goose hunters blasting away off to the east. Or maybe the eagles are also opportunistic nappers. Regardless, after an hour, my family and I decided to move on.
But that wasn’t the end of my weekend eagle quest. On Sunday afternoon, I went back out to Fossil Creek, hoping that sunnier skies and a different time of day would change my luck. I wanted to see a tree full of eagles, darn it. And I’m happy to report that I did. (You’ll have to take my word for it, but there are eagles in the tree on the left. I swear.)
With my binoculars, I could see the birds fairly well. (I’m grateful that their white heads make them so easy to locate.) And I met a very nice woman who let me look through her scope, which was even better. It was fascinating to watch the birds as they came and went, occasionally dropping down to the ice for a drink or, presumably, some sushi take-out. We also saw four coyotes hanging out on the frozen reservoir not far from the eagles’ tree, looking like opportunists themselves.
The eagles will be at Fossil Creek for a while longer, I’m sure. But they may be heading back north sooner rather than later this year. According to Joanne, the horned owls have already begun their mating calls, which means we’re going to have an early spring.