We are blessed to live on the banks of the Carbon River. In recent years the Carbon River salmon population has rebounded. Accompanying the salmon has been a dramatic increase of the bald eagle population in the Puyallup Valley. Every day we walk on the river we see eagles. It is not unusual to see 10 - 15 during the course of a hour, particularly when the salmon are spawning. The bald eagle's diet is opportunistic and varied, but most feed mainly on fish. In the Pacific Northwest spawning trout and salmon provide most of the bald eagle's diet.
Over the past year we have been watching a mature pair of eagles with several fledgling juveniles. It takes up to four years for a juvenile bald eagle to develop the white head we associate with our national symbol. Many times people mistakenly identify a juvenile/immature bald eagle as a golden eagle.
On Sunday our friend Vicki brought her dogs over for a walk on the river. As usual I was happily snapping pictures. Everyone who has ever been on a walk with me knows I am always scanning the sky, listening and looking for the eagles, always hoping to get the 'perfect' eagle shot. I have gotten many dismal and icky shots with my old point and shoot. Then there have been the many 'perfect' shots that I missed with my new camera because I didn't have it on the right settings and whatnot.
While we were walking along the levee a gentleman stopped my husband and told him that he just saw a eagle perched on a log down by the water. Being the eagle obsessed fool that I am, I bellowed at John to get the dogs into the car while I started running to where the eagle was sighted.
Much to my surprise I was greeted by this...not 20 feet in front of me.
Well hello there Young Eagle.
Young Eagle was on the ground, hopping up the side of the levee.
While I was muttering praises to the Camera God for giving me this opportunity I was secretly terrified that I was going to screw up these shots.
Wait a minute...why was he on the ground? Eagles have wings for a reason...to fly. This guy was out for a walk.
Until he saw John and Vicki sneaking up the levee...then he tried to fly. Right at my head.
That was close. It was then that I noticed he was injured. His right wing was clearly impaired. He tried to fly, but could not get more than 5 - 6 feet off the ground.
He landed a short distance away and continued walking. His right wing slightly dragging on the ground.
I was grateful the dogs were in the car. I could not imagine the scene if they had found him before we did.
This guy would not have been a match against a pack of border collies. Then again, I don't think they would have done anything beyond bark and scare him - causing him to injure himself more. Or one of those sharp talons would have taught the dogs a lesson they wouldn't soon forget.
Finally we put enough pressure on him that he tried to fly, this time he made it to a low branch, about 6 feet off the ground. He moved around, repositioning himself and tried to work with his wing.
Poor guy. You can almost hear him thinking "Why doesn't my wing work?"
At this point we knew we needed to get him some help. The levee is frequented by people with dogs, many dogs and children. Many people are not nice to injured wild animals. Not to mention the booming coyote population that could possibly get him after dark.
I realized I forgot my blackberry at the house, John didn't have his either...Vicki ran to her car and grabbed her phone.
Who do we call? I tried our vet first, they gave me the phone number for wildlife rescue organization in Arlington, WA. They were unable to help, but they offered to walk us through "How to catch the eagle yourself." and said they would be happy to come down and pick him up in a couple of days if we could contain him.
Uhhhh, WHAT? Are you kidding me? Catch the eagle ourselves? No, don't think so. Although I did have a moment there where I considered it. John told me I was out of my mind. There was no way either Vicki nor I could walk away from this eagle. No way...if we couldn't get help we were going to try and catch him. We had to do something.
As noble as that sounds, it was ill conceived. Knowing we could hurt him more than help him...I held my breath and did the only thing any other unreasonable person would do...I dialed 911.
Fully expecting the 911 dispatcher to hang up on me I was pleasantly surprised when he didn't. Instead I was transferred hither and yon through many different state & city agencies when finally we made a connection with a Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Agent. He told us if we could keep an eye on the eagle he would make haste and drive two hours and pick him up. He felt he was a good candidate for a raptor recovery center located on Bainbridge Island.
With the help of the gentleman who originally told John about the eagle we committed to staying with it until the agent arrived. While Vicki and I stayed with him (snapping pictures the whole time) John ran to the house and grabbed a chair, dog crate and blanket.
The eagle seemed somewhat content on his branch, although he was flapping his wings and anxiously wishing he could fly.
Vicki didn't want to leave the eagle, but we needed to get the dogs out of the car and into the yard.
I didn't want to leave him either, but my memory card was almost full and the dogs needed to pee.
Taking a 1014 pictures of an eagle has a way of filling up a memory card, ya think?
Like he promised the Fish and Wildlife Agent arrived sooner than he anticipated. He said he drove like the wind to arrive before dark. By this time the eagle had made a journey through our housing development, landing in back yards and gathering a following. John met a woman who told him she called Fish and Wildlife a couple of days ago about this same eagle and asked for help. She was told they couldn't do anything. I was grateful we managed to make contact with the right person today.
How do you catch a bald eagle? A big net, Fish and Wildlife Agent, and a couple of guys with a blanket.
John couldn't quite believe all of this was happening. Below is the DFW agent, John and the wonderful man who first told us about the eagle.
Wow. I wish I had something more profound to say....but WOW is all that comes to mind when I think of what could have happened to this majestic bird without all the people who worked together on a Sunday afternoon to get him to safety and recovery.
The entire time this was happening, several eagles circled above. Two mature and two immature, we assume this eagles family, or the ones who put him down on the ground.
The DFW Agent was wonderful. He spent a while talking to the neighborhood kids about the eagles in our area, showed them the talons & explained what was next for the eagle. He borrowed our large dog crate to transport the eagle to the vet and later to the West Sound Wildlife - Raptor Center for rehabilitation and eventual release back to our river, if possible.
The children were fascinated. One little girl in particular was enthralled with the eagle. He appeared to be fascinated by her as well.
She was so sweet. She wanted him to know that we cared about him.
I think he knew, somehow.
If you would like to see more pictures I shot that day please visit Juvenile Bald Eagle Rescue set on my Flickr page.