just another day for the birds in tofino visit the photographer's website

Just another day for the birds

by Jacqueline Windh, Tofino

the letter 'E'Eagle watches from the tall spruce at the far end of the beach. Osprey hovers above the shallows where the beach curves into the Frank Island spit. The afternoon light is low and slanted, the sky above a murky sapphire. The water is dark and glassy, and beneath the undulating mirrored surface a fleeting flash of gold catches Osprey's eye. He curls his wingtips forward. They flutter like tiny paddles moving in unison, backward strokes that stop his forward glide. He tilts his head, one black eye shining downward, then hangs motionless, watching for another sign -- ready to assess depth, motion, direction.

Another metallic flash -- and in an instant his wings tuck in tight. He hurtles vertically downward. His eyes fix on the prey below; the air streaming past his cheeks whistles. As his own mirrored reflection rises to meet him, Osprey extends his talons forward, at the same time raising his wings to curve his body up and out of the dive.

As Osprey hits the water, Eagle stretches his neck. What he sees next will decide his ensuing action.

The fish wriggles and tries to escape, but Osprey's talons have punctured the silvery skin. They curl into cold flesh. Osprey struggles with great slow beats of his wings, the weight of the catch and the added weight of the water adhering to his legs and belly and tail all combining to fight his efforts. The fish jostles and thrashes and throws him off balance, but the thread of water streaming from Osprey's belly sheds some of the weight. Slowly, Osprey starts to rise above the glassy ocean surface. With heavy wingbeats he begins to gain altitude above the rolling waves.

Eagle observes Osprey's ponderous wingbeats; he watches as Osprey appears weighted down to the surface of the sea. Eagle launches himself from his perch. Stretching his neck out long and flat, his wings work rapidly like the oars on a racing scull. Eagle hurtles towards Osprey.

Osprey, rising steeply but laboriously, has gained a safe degree of altitude. To shed more weight he pauses, wings held high above his back, frozen for an instant in an angled V-shape as he shakes his tail rapidly. A spray of silver droplets scatters. He drops in height for a moment, then uses this momentum to continue his ascent, carving a J-shape in the sky. Now lighter and able to rise more quickly, still he flaps forcefully to continue ascending as swiftly as possible. Although he has not yet seen Eagle, he knows that Eagle is always watching, and that mere seconds can change the outcome of a successful hunt.

Eagle, halfway down the beach now, pays no attention to what is below. Eyes fixed forward, he does not see the driftwood logs slipping rapidly behind him, or the long curving spirals of bull kelp that mark the tideline, or the beach-goers with their heads suddenly turned upward as they search for the source of the airy whuff whuff whuff sounds from above. Another eagle, out on Frank Island, is also watching. He is curious, lifts off from his perch and flaps lazily towards where he expects Osprey and Eagle to converge.

And the crows have been watching too. They have a nest in the old cedar tree at the back of the beach, directly in front of the spit. They see Eagle coming and launch themselves together, out towards the spit. The second eagle knows these crows, knows what is coming. He cannot be bothered with this; he was only coming to have a look anyway. He slants his body and carves a wide halfcircle, gliding back towards his perch on Frank Island. His wings are motionless, and his head tilts and turns in little jerks as he scans the water below, just in case.

Osprey is high enough now, so he starts the gentle curve towards land -- marking the familiar treetops on the horizon that will guide him to the old cedar snag where his mate waits on the nest. He shakes his tail one last time, then works his talons to position the fish to face forward. Now he sees Eagle. He pulls hard with each wingbeat as he propels himself inland, over the beach and towards his nest.

Eagle is almost on top of Osprey, but so are the crows. One crow chases Eagle from the side while the other dives at him from above. Eagle backs off, eases his vigorous flapping into a glide, and turns out towards the open horizon. The crows regroup and retreat back to their tree: mission accomplished. Osprey, knowing that Eagle has more speed and that the crows may not come back for a second round, does not slow. His wings pump as he looks ahead for the snag that marks his own nest-tree, ready to start his descent.

Eagle is not done with this, though. He continues his arc over the ocean, curving around full circle and back over the beach. He lands on the old snag beside the crows' cedar, folds his wings precisely together, and cocks his yellow eye at them. The crows, of course, are always up for more action -- especially when the challenge is flaunted so brazenly. They join together in a chorus of cawing, and launch themselves into the air once more.

Osprey lands on the lichen-crusted branch beside the nest and lays the fish down in front of his mate. It is quiet here, sheltered from the ever-murmuring surf. From Frank Island, the second eagle watches as the crows carve vertical ellipses above Eagle's head.

Jacqueline Windh is a Tofino naturalist and community crusader. You can find her at her website
and make sure you check her blog at tofinoresidents.wordpress.com

Tofino Time January 2010

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Tofino writer Jacqueline Windh's piece on an epic rivalry between Eagle and Osprey and crows over Frank Island in Tofino.

tofino time january 2010