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“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19)
The past year has been personally difficult for me. The problems are mostly age-related illnesses that are chronic. They create physical discomfort, a loss of confidence and self-efficacy, uncertainty about the future and a general malaise. This is not a situation unique to me but common to folks in the last stage of life.
But God has offered consolations. The 2017-2018 season offered the most opportunities to view and photograph eagles in general and Golden Eagles in Particular. Last year at this time, I had given up trying to get any photos of Goldens. I had done considerable hiking to this end with no good result not even sightings.
This year, I had a new model camera and telephoto lens that were not even yet available last year. This year, I had new leads on possible locations to look. My own photography skills improved also.
After discovering the Golden Eagle nest, I returned 24 times over the span of 4.5 months. It was a two-mile round-trip hike with about 800’ of gain overall. Thus, this adventure involved nearly 50 miles of hiking with 20,000’ of climbing. I also had a mile round trip on six occasions on the other side of the lake for distant photos. I wore a heart rate monitor and my cardiologist would not have been pleased had he known how far above his recommended maximum my heart rate went.
I was of necessity secretive about the nest location for I did not want hordes of folks heading up there which may have resulted in the adults abandoning the nest. Two bald eagle nests at Millerton Lake were abandoned this year for unknown reasons. These three nests formed a triangle with each leg of the triangle about a mile in length. I am sure the eagles could keep eyes on each other. Additionally, once the nest had eggs, I no longer saw crows, hawks, or buzzards in the area. I believe the Goldens enforced a "no fly zone" with extreme prejudice. When the eagles fledged it was as if the restricted air space had been lifted and I again saw crows, hawks and buzzards.
The adults only came to the nest once while I was at the view site and I tried to keep my visits short and infrequent knowing that I might be disturbing the feeding and care of the chicks while there.
I can say that I prayed often for the chicks in general and the hawk in particular. One cannot observe wildlife for any period of time without being drawn into their story and the attendant drama. Just as the hawk was an adopted member, I became ‘extended family’. While the adults were not pleased, the chicks did not seem to be bothered, only curious.
With eagles, it is impossible to observe them without them seeing you also. Even on the other side of Millerton Lake, I could see them looking at me in my Camo, as I viewed them through my telephoto lens or binoculars.
This was quite a process viewing these tiny snow-white chicks develop into huge dark raptors. During this time, I collected over 50 Gigs of photographs and video. They became the second largest wildlife quest I have ever engaged in. I put together a YouTube video called “Golden Eagles Raise A Hawk”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R_d2KGmJAs&t=160s
Photographing and filming the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep was an even bigger project which became another consolation from God. I hiked many miles across the Sierra Crest and over high passes to no avail only to walk up a trail near Lone Pine Peak one day and stand within 75’ of a group that allowed me to photograph them until I could no longer hold up my camera and lens.
One thing that I continually considered was the ethics of observation. How frequently and how close was too frequent and too close. These birds and sheep cannot fill out a consent form so it is up to the observer to exercise caution to avoid observation becoming intrusion. On one occasion, I was watching the adult on the eggs and the bird flew off. It was a cool day and I immediately left out of concern for the viability of the eggs.
I want to thank God first of all for this opportunity and privilege. I also want to thank my wife Sharon who encouraged and sometimes accompanied me to the nest view site. Finally, I want to thank Mike Smith the resident Millerton Lake eagle expert and eagle boat tour docent who gave me both guidance and cautionary advice. I am also glad we had an opportunity to hike together to the view site on one occasion.
I am also happy that I could share this experience with so many others via my Mid Sierra Musings blog, the YouTube Video and the California Fish and Wildlife Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pg/CaliforniaDFW/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1774083082671151
Two Eagle Chicks, Adult Golden and hawk perched
May God bless you.