Friday, May 13, 2005


Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous -- blue skies, somewhere in the 70's. The day before had been quite rainy and cool. that's the way Spring is in Oregon -- it comes in fits and starts, with an unexpected mixture of dry and wet, warm and cool. Don't like the weather? Give it fifteen minutes, it'll change. TFR tells me that Minnesota Springs are not like that -- she says that in the Twin Cities, if you blink, you miss the transition from bitter winter to blazing summer.

Spring days like yesterday tend to draw Oregonians out even more than nice summer days -- the more recent the cold, the more appreciated the warmth. I couldn't get out too much yesterday afternoon because the Lad had had a fussy morning, and was finally sleeping, but I stepped into the back yard for a few minutes, passing Little Big Dog over the fence to play with the neighbor dogs (a hyper Papillon and a cowardly Golden Retriever, whom LBD has completely cowed).

All of this is just to introduce what happened next, which was one of the most interesting things I've ever witnessed. As I stood at the fence talking to our neighbor, I heard a faint, high-pitched soundcoming from what seemed to be above. I looked up to see a large bird soaring towards me. At first, I thouight it was a turkey vulture -- a very common carrion bird in these parts. But I noticed a couple of differences. This bird was much bigger, the wings didn't have the right shape, or the split finger-like feathers, and the head was white, not the hairless red of a buzzard.

It was a bald eagle.

Bald eagles aren't that rare in this part of the country, I've seen them numerous times around lakes and rivers up in the Cascades, and even on one occasion circling over the river by a county park just outside of town, but from the angle he was approaching, he had to have flown right over downtown Springfield.

And that wasn't even the oddest thing about the sight. As he flew, his course was not as straight and graceful as normal. As my eyes focused, I noticed that another bird was wheeling and circling the eagle, swooping in and trying to strike. It was obvious that the smaller bird was the aggressor, and the eagle was trying to get away as quickly as he could. And most interesting of all, the other bird was also a raptor. It was one of the Osprey that are so numerous here in the Northwest. Both the bald eagle and the osprey are fishing birds, and I live less than a mile from the Willamette River.

Now, I've seen smaller birds chase of bigger birds before. In fact, a few days ago, standing at the window at work, I watched another osprey (I work even closer to the Willamette than I live) being driven off by a pair of corvids. From a distance I couldn't tell if they were ravens or crows. I've seen crows chase ravens. I've seen sparrows chase both. Hummingbirds are absolutely vicious when it comes to this behavior. But I'd never seen a raptor-on-raptor fight like this before.

Given that they're competitors for fish, and I believe osprey are territorial, I shouldn't be surprised. But I couldn't help but be fascinated by what I saw.