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My close encounter with the most majestic of raptors

Like so many other days when I walked my food-obsessed lab retriever “Barney” through the forest trails, he made a quick and sudden foray into the woods alone. No doubt he had picked up the scent of another deer kill, the cougar and wolves having littered the whole island with them now.

Barney was gone but one minute and I decided to look back over my shoulder to see if I could catch a glance of his yellow coat disappearing into the depths of the forest. It would be futile to call him but at least I might get a bearing on his whereabouts so that I could go looking for him if he gone was too long.

This time though, I was startled to see Barney just one hundred yards away. And as he approached the “kill”, he flinched as the “kill” fought back. I ran up and chased Barney away and came upon his intended victim, at very close quarters. It was a magnificent bald-headed eagle, lying in a very prone position on its back amongst the ferns and the brush. It was huge. Its talons were too impressive for description. The beak of this bird as it looked at me would have inflicted enough damage alone. The concept of Labrador retriever thrusting his muzzle at this lethal specimen is just too absurd to contemplate.

I rushed home as soon as I could to contact Wildlife Rescue. Their over-worked volunteer staff did not return my call for three hours, and could not spare the staff time to send anyone out until I could confirm the bird was still there. When I returned it was with the assistance of the woodlot owner, who spotted the eagle two hundred yards on the ground from where it had been when I found it. Alarmed by the two of us, it rose up and flew about five feet off the ground a couple hundred feet into the woods. Obviously it was injured. We searched for it, and finally found it. This time, it was perched about twenty feet off the ground in a tree. There was nothing more we could do. While injured it could not be captured for recuperation.

When I reported the incident to Wildlife Rescue, I was told that the eagle very possibly had a fight with another eagle, was injured, and may just recover. Getting off the ground was a good sign. But the lady on the phone said that you can’t win them all. A lot of eagles perish, even though they have the weaponry to be at the top of the food chain.

It is an odd thing. I see dozens fly by the house at close range most every day, and many in the forest as well. And many islanders see them in great numbers too. Yet, despite their relative abundance, there is something about them that makes them so very special to us. The man who helped me, for example, was the owner of a logging business with a crew that he was responsible for. Yet when I told him of the injured eagle on his woodlot, he had his crew stop their work assignment and go looking for it, and he himself guided me through his forest as a passenger in my car so that I could find a shortcut to the scene.

It seems that even the almighty profit motive will bow down to the spiritual, if it is pursued on a community scale by people rooted in that community.

Tim Murray,
Quadra Island, BC
Canada March 24/08