Tag Archives: eagles

Plant Porn, Owl Wars and Other Signs


Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Spring is here! Well, not really. It’s only Feb. 8.

But unlike last year, when February was a bitter month followed by a second bitter month, this year’s February seems a bit more normal. Still winter, to be sure, but not as deep in winter as January—it’s not that odd to see some first signs that spring is coming as the weather turns lighter and the sun gains altitude.

Now, I will concede before I go further that February definitely means winter in Iowa. Frankly, March is usually more a winter than a spring month, in this climate. But things change in February.

Consider:

The war of the eagles and owls. The Gazette today reported, although I could not find a link on their site, a story about this topic, the war between the famous Decorah eagles and a pair of great horned owls, who are trying to horn in on the eagle’s nest. Owls, it seems, are very mean beasts, and even though the eagles are much larger, the owls can put up quite a fight. It appears the nest will go to the mom that lays the first egg. Lots of people want to cheer for the eagles: “Push it out, push it out, waaaay out!” Me, I do like mom and dad eagle, but recognize I’m showing some anthropomorphism. The biologists are right. Let nature takes its course. It’s a tough life out there for dinosaurs.

The way in which 10 inches of snow is finally receding. Streams are running with water now. We had temperatures in the upper 30s or even, gasp, low 40s in recent days, and the snow pack is looking tired. We’re still socked in with snow—which honestly is a good thing because without it the ground could warm up too early. We don’t want little green things trying to sprout now. But even though there will still be bone chilling cold this season, and more snow, we’re at the point where cold snaps should be a bit shorter and sunny days in the 40s a bit more common. A normal February feels long just because it’s at the end of our cold, dead season—it’s not usually another January, and it feels a bit more normal this year.

How the urge to plant is taking hold. Several seed and plant catalogs, what I call “plant porn,” have arrived. I’m seeing tempting seeds packages in stores and thinking of starting flowers for spring gardens, but trying to hold myself back (I have a terrible track record with starting flowers indoors, it’s just not a good idea for me). My desires this year are pretty typical—I want toad lilies and irises, but don’t have much luck with those plants. Anyway, I’m hoping some monarch butterfly flowers, aka milkweed, put in an appearance in my gardens. I’m been planting free seeds gleaned from wild plants, but we’ll see. Maybe my wife will let me order a few plants. She’s almost as crazy for gardens as I am.

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up--but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. "Hey pinky," he seems to be saying, "you looking for me?"

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up–but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. “Hey pinky,” he seems to be saying, “you looking for me?”

And the birds are getting craaaaazy. Squawking, fighting, carrying on—on a warmish sunny day you hear them a lot more now. They know in their little dinosaur brains another season is coming and they want to marry, make eggs and raise babies. It’s not just the eagles and owls getting a bit nuts—it seems like the birds that visit my feeders these days are in a hurry, distracted, thinking about something.

Spring. Has to be.

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Walking With Eagles Near Cedar Lake


Eagle in the late afternoon sky over Cedar Lake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Feb. 21, 2014.

Eagle in the late afternoon sky over Cedar Lake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Feb. 21, 2014.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, as I noted on my biking blog, I rode my bicycle down to Cedar Lake.

As it turned out, many eagles were congregating, along with other birds, at open water where a creek runs into the lake. Today was breezy and cool in Iowa, but I still suggested to my wife as we left work at Mount Mercy University late in the afternoon that we could stroll on the trail by the lake.

She wasn’t hot on the idea. She doesn’t like cold. But, she agreed, if we could go home first so she could put on warmer clothes.

It was probably getting close to 5 by the time we made it to the little city park on the east shore of the lake. The eagle-used water was several hundred yards away—maybe a ¼ mile hike or so to the north end of the lake.

We started walking. “I don’t see any eagles,” my wife observed.

Me, I was more confident. I am more used to watching eagles lately, and spotted across the lake the telltale white heads and tails on some of the birds flying over the lake. As we began to get closer to the north end, we spotted a tall old cottonwood nearby on the shores of the lake. The tree had four or five bald eagles sitting in it.

Eagle in a tree by the lake.

Eagle in a tree by the lake.

Most of them took to the air as we neared, but not all of them. Some of the eagles allowed us to get quite close to the tree in which they roosted.

For a while, the chill was forgotten. I’ve seen eagles up close recently, but I don’t think my wife has. The first time you do get close to bald eagles, if it’s been a while, it’s startling how huge these birds, which look like normal bird-sized creatures at a distance, are. The adults stand about 3 feet tall, with wing spans that top 6 feet. Although they can call, they are usually silent, and just look totally made up—leaping powerfully, but quietly, into the air.

They call, now and then, an odd, high call, but are relatively quiet compared to the crows, ducks, geese and crows with whom they share this patch of open water.

Another mature couple passed us, headed the other way. “Who needs to go to Guttenberg?” the man asked, naming an Iowa Mississippi River town famed for eagle viewing.

After the couple had passed, my wife noted that clearly we were on an old person date. That was fine with me.

After hanging around for a bit, and after I snapped a few photos, we headed back to the van and off to a restaurant to finish our old person date with a restaurant feast.

Pair of eagles eye us as we pass.

Pair of eagles eye us as we pass.

The wife noted that our grandchildren would really enjoy seeing these birds. I think so, too—although it would require a warmer afternoon. When the weather gets really nice, the eagles will fly away—but perhaps there will be a warm weekend in March where the ice on the rivers hasn’t yet broken up and the eagles are still in town. Then it will be nice to bring the kids to the lake.

If you have not been down to Cedar Lake for a walk on any of these winter afternoons, you should go. The trail is cleared of snow. It’s fun to go just to watch the geese and ducks.

Looking back from the east, setting sun turns Cedar Lake golden.

Looking back from the east, setting sun turns Cedar Lake golden.

But it’s super cool to see the eagles.

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