Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Fish Hawks (Ospreys), Red Tail Hawks, Northern Harriers, Swainsons Hawks, Great Grey Owls, Great Horned Owls, Burrowing Owls - Just about any raptor found in the Northwest can be found in the Centennial Valley. For this reason, many consider the valley to be the best place to view raptors in the lower 48. Certainly at Elk Lake we enjoy many visits from various beautiful large winged friends.
By late fall, many have moved to better hunting grounds. Not so the eagle pair who nest nearby. While we rarely see their fledglings this late in the season, the parents can be spotted perched atop tall trees or riding the wind current above the lake.
This year, however, the ice came early. An ice drill and a warm constitution are all the extra winter gear needed by human ice fishermen. Lacking these accoutrements, the eagle must leave or find another food source.
This particular pair seemed to have no problem taking the second option. One day they were dining of fish and muskrat, the next they were feeding on their cousins - feathered fowl.
It just so happened we caught a Bald Eagle and a Western Grebe on the freshly formed lake ice late one morning. At that point the Grebe was still very much alive. The eagle was hovering over it. Based on the distance to the nearest open water and the birds' actions, we assumed the eagle had frightened some ducks into flight (we have seen them do this numerous times by swooping low over a group of waterfowl) then taken this one out in the air.
This is certainly possible because nearly 28% of an eagle's diet can consist of birds (more on that to come) - and 7-8 % of the birds consumed are waterfowl. However, when you consider an adult grebe weighs in at about 30% of a Bald Eagle's weight, that is still amazing (until you realize Bald Eagles have been known to take GEESE)!
Unfortunately I did not have my big lens with me. So, we hurried back to the house, grabbed the lens, and returned to watch the action.
By the time we returned, the deed was done - the grebe was feeling no pain, and the eagle was enjoying his dinner. However, the action had moved a few hundred yards north which made it clear the Mr. Eagle had 'carried' the grebe (in flight) at least this far.
Always an opportunist, a bold Magpie, who had obviously been watching the action from a safe distance, invited himself to dinner. The next few shots catch their interaction!
After harassing the Mr. Eagle awhile, the Magpie decided a little caution might be the wisest course of action. So, as the eagle screamed his resentment, the Magpie flew to yonder tree to await the scraps.
Now for the punchline: A couple days later, I spotted a dark spot on the ice out in the bay. With the help of binoculars I could identify it was likely another dead duck - with an eagle perched on top. Thus this story had the same players - dead duck, feeding eagle, and pesky Magpies (I could see two hanging around not far from the eagle), but it had a TOTALLY different ending!
As I watched, a Magpie boldly landed a few feet behind the feeding eagle and began looking for scraps. Okay, repeat of a few days ago, I'm thinking. NOT! For, as I watched, suddenly a second eagle appears on the scene, snatches (and kills) the Magpie, then lands to consume her appetizer while awaiting lunch!
Just goes to show: In the wild you *could* be the eater - OR - you *could* be an appetizer! And, of course, it also goes to show you never know what you'll see next at Elk Lake!
Lady of the Lake