A Bald Eagle’s warning

In late June Jim and I were mapping the shoreline from our 17 foot Grumman canoe, trying to get a feel for a new area we decided to study. It was on the eastern side of Prince of Wales, SE Alaska, near Cholmondeley Sound. Called Chomley by the locals. There sure weren’t very many locals.

Giant Sitka Spruce had been clear-cut from some areas. Some of the clear cuts were well reclaimed and some were not. In many areas there was a lot of dead wood left behind. Some of that wood found its way into the sound.

This particular day was memorable because it wasn’t raining. There were high clouds but visibility was good. Otters seemed to be everywhere. Mostly river otters but I think I recall seeing some sea otters that day too. They are amazing social little creatures.

Harbor seals were stretching out on rocks protruding from the water. Many were lying on their stomachs looking like they were practicing yoga with their tails and noses both sticking high in the air.

In one little cove we came across a mother bear with three little cubs. Three. I remember counting them as they stuck their little heads above a log to look at us. Mom wasn’t very frightened by us but sent her cubs off after they got a good look. They went straight up a tree and peeked their heads back at us.

All of this may sound fantastic to you, but for us it was all in a day’s work. These kinds of things happened all the time. What was impressive this day were two bald eagles.

It was not unusual for us to run into eagles. They were everywhere. I have seen fourteen bald eagles sitting in one tree. I have seen more eagles in the sky than I could count. I have walked up behind an unsuspecting eagle perched on the top of a mountain ridge.

On this day when we canoed into a little cove we saw an eagle’s nest in a tree. The two eagles obviously did not want us near the nest.

No outdoor adventure movie scene is complete without the obligatory eagle screech sound effect. But that is not the only sound they make. At this time the eagle in the nest was making a cracking sound. “Crack-crack-crack-crack-crack.” And while we were naively sitting in the canoe watching this commotion, the other eagle had picked up an eight foot long dead top of a spruce tree and was flying overhead.

Jim pointed straight up at the eagle about thirty feet above us. He was hovering for just a moment, flapping his giant wings as if trying to position himself. Then that darn eagle dropped the dead spruce stag right at us. It didn’t have one spruce needle on it and it looked nasty with sharp broken branches pointing every which way. It landed less than ten feet from us in the water.

Back in the ’70s bald eagles were a protected species. Nevertheless I instinctively grabbed my field rifle. We got the heck out of there fast. The birds settled down and I didn’t have to use the rifle.

There are those who will say that this eagle story never happened. But it did. It may be the only recorded incident of a bald eagle attack on humans.

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