Bald Eagles

I can imagine that for younger people seeing a bald eagle does not seem like such a big deal. Eagle populations have recovered well with protection and the elimination of DDT over the past 40 years. But for me at age 60 something, I remember when it was rare to see an eagle. We have both bald and golden eagles in our area and see bald eagles at our house fairly often: our trout hatchery is the only drive-through window service in the area.

We had a beautiful snow last Sunday; about 8 inches. There has been melt off reaching the river each afternoon and it has turned the water cloudy and raised the river level. Not good fishing conditions for an eagle or for me. We start to see bald eagles return this time of year to ready last year’s nest for egg laying in March.

When the river is cloudy, the eagles come to my trout pond where the water is always crystal clear and a couple hundred trout are on display. A big female was sitting in a poplar tree yesterday reading the menu below while waiting for service. I didn’t see her dive and there was no sign of a kill on the white snow around the pond when I came home yesterday.

This morning she was in the same spot again at dawn as the rising sun lit the top of the mountain to the west.

I went out to the barn and when I came back she was standing on a kill at the side of the pond. I assumed it was a trout and took a couple pictures careful not to spook her: I wanted her to have a good meal.

When I looked more closely I realized it was not a trout. It was a muskrat.

I fight with the hordes of otters that kill hundreds of trout at my house each year, but I’ve always welcomed muskrats, minks and beavers; herbivores welcome. We’ve always had muskrats in the pond which is fed by a spring on the side of the pond. Spring water comes out of the ground here at about 51 degrees, so the pond never freezes, even when it drops to -15. There’s an old spring house with a hole in the wall where the muskrats can get in.

It’s a perfect house for them and every winter they try to block up the spring house window with pond weed to keep the spring warmth inside. We see little muskrats swimming around by summer.

Looks like Mrs. Eagle chose muskrat on a salad of pond greens over the trout special. Everyone needs to eat and meals are hard to come by on a 15 degree February morning in the mountains.