All I wanted was to see an eagle on our winter trip to Florida. Instead, I came home with a fuzzy picture of a Crested Caracara and a cuddly plush eagle I couldn’t pass up at a state park office in Georgia.
Some birder, I am. Last winter I thought for sure we’d see eagles on the Florida island where we were camping, since it was known for eagles. No sightings this winter, either; so I must be content with my up-close-and-personal, beyond- the-fence encounter last winter with Liberty, resident eagle at the Howell Conference and Nature Center.
The eagle quest continues. It became a real mission January 2010, when our neighbors spotted a pair in their yard and called me. Eagles aren’t usually around these parts. I’d been reflecting on eagles as a personal theme; and naturally I was intrigued. I wrote a blog about it all for LivingstonTalk.com. When Editor Maria Stuart totally revamped the site a few months later, all former blogs disappeared. Below, I’m reprising that blog: “Where Eagle’s Fly”.
The sentiments and quest haven’t changed. The eagle cam mentioned is online again with new eaglets, for your enjoyment. Now, in addition to our American national bird, I’m hot on the trail of the Crested Caracara, having this winter discovered this colorful raptor, sometimes known as the “Mexican Eagle.” This bird has been known as the national bird of Mexico and resides in southwestern United States, southern Florida, Central and South America.
The fuzzy photo was taken at dusk, through the truck window. I got out, trying to catch a better shot. I wasn’t fast enough, and the Caracara, which had found a dead snake on the road, flew off with it – an amazing sight within Kissimmee Prairie Preserve in southern Florida. As was the American Bald Eagle, the Crested Caracara is on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and is classified as threatened in Florida. I’ve added a couple of links to help raise awareness about this bird that thrives in wide open spaces.
Check the links below for brilliant photos of this beautiful bird. Meanwhile, my cuddly plush eagle sits in perfect repose, peeking over my laptop, reminding me to focus on the writing projects before me.
Two excellent nature photographer sites:
Where Eagles Fly
(first published March 2010 at LivingstonTalk.com)
“Love lift us up where we belong…where eagles fly…on the mountain high…”
(From — UP WHERE WE BELONG Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes)
For weeks that tune’s been playing in my head. I’ve had eagles on my mind since mid-January when our neighbors, Beth and Gary Scharf, phoned after spotting a pair of bald eagles in a tree in their yard.
The Scharfs thought an eagle sighting here in southwestern Livingston County was a rare occurrence, and might be of community interest. Thinking I was still at the local paper, they called; I said I’m not in the office anymore, but I could blog about it.
About a week earlier, I’d been out walking and had noticed a pair of high flying birds over the treetops. I couldn’t be sure, but I’d wondered if they might be eagles. So, I went to check out the story, intrigued. Maybe I’d seen eagles after all. A few residents around the local countryside had told the Scharfs of recent sightings, so we all began wondering about the status of the birds in Michigan.
The Scharfs, both wildlife enthusiasts, had grabbed their camera and snapped photos of the birds, as best they could, through the dining room window – the window overlooking their front yard, and where the cats love to warm themselves. Always observing the wildlife on their property, they love photographing the wonderful creatures that call their place home. Having lived in the area for 30 years, eagles stopping by was a phenomenon to them. Naturally, they were excited; and I promised to go home and look into the eagle situation in Michigan.
Their sighting, as it turns out, provoked a personal reflection for me…about the powerful symbolism of our national bird.
Eagles as Symbols
What’s up with the eagle and our psyche? Why do they fascinate us so much?
Amazingly, the Scharfs’ eagle event fit right in my own eagle quest that’s been going on quietly with me, albeit under the radar, for the past three years. It began when I was looking for a Christmas gift for a friend at a local eatery/gift shop. I love refrigerator magnets. I found the perfect one, for a person who loves eagles: a soaring eagle above the mountain tops, with the words,“May our visions soar on eagles’ wings.”
Tuning in to the symbolism of eagles, I found the magnet comforting during some difficult emotional times that followed. I noticed that I would save quotes about eagles, and artwork. I’d note the eagle references in popular songs and hymns.
I noticed that more often I’d been selecting a certain coffee mug from the cupboard. The beautiful mug, given to my husband by a sister-in-law, is enjoyed to this day. It shows an eagle soaring skyward. It bears this quote by William Blake:“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.”
Sometimes I’ll get it out deliberately, when I’m having a drab, down-in-the-dumps kind of day. Since I don’t want to remain stuck in that mode, I can hold the image of the eagle as I’m warming my hands and heart with a hot cup of tea. It helps me lift up my wings, so to speak, and get on with life.
The eagle is the symbol of the Marine Corps’ semper fi, and I think of our son-in-law the Marine when I see them. It’s the name for the highest order of boy scouting…a rank earned by my husband, my dad, my brother and several friends. And, of course it’s the symbol of our country, so we Americans are naturally tuned in to eagles.
But, the power of the eagle as a symbol belongs to all ages and all cultures. An internet forum friend from Turkey thought about it when I mentioned the symbolism of the bird. Ufuk thought that if she were to pick a favorite animal, the eagle would be high on her list:
“Eagles, even though I am a Leo, are the animals I would pick for myself to be if asked. I don’t know so much about them, except what I see. Sometimes I think I should not choose them because they are predators, but at the end I do choose them, because they can fly, which gives me the sense of freedom and they are also strong…and I find them beautiful.”
Ufuk’s idea of freedom, that the image of the eagle seems to represent to us, appeals to our desire to fly above our earthly concerns. When we feel tethered to the earth as human beings, to our obligations, to our fears, visions of an eagle soaring can lift us up in our minds eye…up where we belong.
Even in scripture, a constant favorite verse over my lifetime has been Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31, NKJV
Are there any words more powerful to energize the spirit?
Author Alberto Villoldo, author and medical anthropologist, expresses the power of the eagle to our spirit in these words: “Eagle allows us to rise above the mundane battles that occupy our lives and consume our energy and attention. Eagle gives us wings to soar above trivial day-to-day struggles into the high peaks close to Heaven.”
He talks about them representing the self-transcendent principle of nature. Native Americans remind themselves of this aspect with their totems: seeing the highest truth, living in balance between earth and sky, being strong, free, and of good courage.
My eagle quest didn’t necessarily provoke me to go see an eagle. It was more an internal state of “eagle-ness” I was searching for — until I visited the Scharfs and saw their photo of the magnificent birds, right in my own backyard. Then I wanted to see one up close. I knew that eagles inhabited the major wildlife refuges in Michigan, such as Shiawassee and Seney. But around here, I decided, the best bet was the Howell Nature Center. So, on a snowdrift Saturday in late February, my husband and I trekked up the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park roadways, where we happened upon Kathy Frantz, one of the wildlife rehabilitation staff. She explained that some of the critters were off to the Outdoorama exhibit that weekend, including Kili, the bald eagle that is used for that program. But the wild eagle Liberty was there in the Nature Center aerie.
Happy Endings – New Beginnings
In Michigan, it turns out that Howell Nature Center is probably the only wildlife refuge that can rehabilitate an eagle from the wild. Wildife director Dana DeBenham said in an interview, that the Center had ahappy endings story of a young eagle that was found, rehabilitated and returned to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs is no longer doing wildlife programs. The Howell center inherited their program animals, including Kili, the program eagle found 11 years ago near Saginaw Bay with a permanent wing injury. Kili is bonded now with humans.
Liberty is a 7-year old male found in the Monroe area, near I-75 – probably hit by a vehicle. With a fracture close to the elbow, the bird cannot be set free. Because of the human bonding, Kili and Liberty would not get along, explained DeBeham. “We discourage people from raising baby birds,” she said, “as they will have trouble in the wild.” She also cautioned that baby birds must never be raised by themselves, but must be bonded with another bird they recognize.
As for Liberty, his injury prevents him from being able to survive in the wild, so he perches a bit warily in the nature center eyrie.
The story of the comeback of the Bald Eagle in America is astounding. I recall the days of the outcry over the use of the pesticide DDT. As DeBenham tells it, the problems it caused were recognized in 1972 and the substance was banned. It affected the eggshell of the eagles, endangering the entire species. The Bald Eagle was removed at last from the endangered list to the threatened list in the 1990s, DeBenham said. The bird was finally taken off the list completely in June 0f 2007.
The eagle population in Michigan went from 50 to 482 pairs, she added. There are just under 10,000 pairs in the United States. Generally they will nest near rivers and lakes in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula, but will move south in winter to find food.
Ironically, now, said DeBenham, the Pergrine Falcon is more endangered here. It’s not making the comeback so well, due to its preference for being a cliff nester. The barn owl is also endangered, in fact almost extinct. “I would love to see them come back,” she said.
As wildlife director for the Nature Center, DeBenham invites anyone interested to find out about volunteer work available. The center is 95 volunteer and much fundraising must be done to keep it operational.
From the Eagle’s Nest: Wonders of a Wildlife Webcam
After the Scharfs called, eagle information began appearing in front of me. The PBS series was announced right then. My hometown paper, the Gratiot County Herald, featured a photo of a pair of eagles in the Ithaca area. Could our pair have been passing through to there?
While vacationing in Florida in February, we traipsed around several areas known for eagles. However, only an Osprey nest found its way before my camera lens, along with the sign for an Eagle Refuge and a cool telephone pole totem. Yes, my eagle sighting, for the time being, will have to remain seeing Liberty at the Howell Nature Center. But that’s good enough for me. Liberty is aloof but inspiring.
Before I’d talked with DeBenham, I’d been looking for eagle links. Online I discovered the wonderful webcam from Blackwater Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. I’ve loved keeping track of the eagle pair and eaglets since they were born Feb. 27.You’re in the eagle’s nest, up close and personal with two tiny eaglets, born Feb. 27. They’re monitored around the clock. The photos, changing every 30 seconds, are fascinating. You can also view video clips and find out sundry eagle facts, and listen to an eagle cry.
I mentioned it to DeBenham, who said the Howell Nature Center has wanted a webcam. However, there’d need to be fundraising for such a project. So, I’m tossing in the thought here, and hope that their dream of a webcam will come true.
It’s been a joy : watching the Maryland eaglets grow, sleep, day, night, parents coming and going bringing fish…thinking of the polarity of the scene…the fragility of the baby eaglets, the challenges they must overcome for full-out flying — yet the powerful potential that resides within them, once they leave the nest and truly soar.
It’s good to feel the power of the eagle, in a sense. Where Eagles fly: getting the big picture, feeling free, distancing yourself from the mundane worries of everyday living, getting a new perspective. I’ve been sharing the eagle cam link with family and friends. It’s been fun knowing they’re all keeping an eye on it with me.
The Scharfs seeing eagles, it turns out, has sparked a wave of eagle appreciation and awareness of these magnificent birds once again in our midst. As another friend put it, “I will check out the webcam. I love to think of flying like an eagle. The view must be nothing short of fabulous.”
For more information about the Howell Nature Center, volunteering or helping to fundraise, perhaps, for a webcam, visit the links below.
PBS Nature Special on Bald Eagle behind-the-scenes. This remarkable clip shows great footage, camera info and states the case for the educational value of wildlife documentaries
Photos of parent eagle’s protective instinct, covering eaglets with grass
You eagle questions answered at Journey North
“Eagle Girl” gets another chance to fly at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. The story of the young eagle rehabilitated at the Howell nature Center
Happy Endings – New Beginnings Howell Nature Center story of eagle release to Shiawassee refuge
Fish and Wildlife Journal story on Bald Eagle rescue and release to Shiawassee
Where bald eagles are in the U.S. National Wildlife Refuges
Howell Nature Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Program
Howell Nature Center Wild Wonders Wildlife Park