Where Eagles Soar

A mature "baldie" hangs out in the tree top . . . .

A mature “baldie” hangs out in the tree top . . . .

January 10 is the official day to count bald eagles, America’s national bird.  We had such a great time last year, we volunteered to do it again.  We left at daybreak to cover our assigned routes from Kaycee to Mayoworth, across the mesa, along Greub Road to Trabing Road and old U. S. 87 to I-25.  We sighted over a dozen eagles, including a number of golden eagles, which are my favorite.

"Too close for comfort!" . . . .

“Too close for comfort!” . . . .

This beautiful creature was sitting on a telephone pole until we came too close and he took off in flight.  They are amazing to watch and I had to grab a hurried shot as he departed.  This is a mature golden eagle and our closest encounter of the day.

A juvenile bald eagle? . . . .

A juvenile bald eagle? . . . .

This eagle had what looked like a growth of light-colored feathers around his crown, which would indicate he was an immature bald eagle.  As it turns out what we saw was a wash of gold around the crown of a young golden eagle.  This majestic bird has a wing spread of about 7 feet and in flight is readily identified by the white flash in the wings and tail mottled with white at the base.

oops.  Immature golden? . . . .

oops. Immature golden? . . . .

Making a positive identification is somewhat difficult, as these birds are on the move.  We also sighted some hawks, lots of deer, antelope and a rooster pheasant.

Rough legged hawk . . . .

Rough legged hawk . . . .

This big hawk lives in open country.  He is larger than most other hawks in the area, with somewhat longer wings and a white tail with black band toward the tip.

"Where's lunch?" . . . .

“Where’s lunch?” . . . .

High ridge lines are a good vantage point to watch the prairie for movement of rabbits, voles or prairie dogs.  We studied this eagle for awhile and decided he was probably a golden, but it was at too great a distance to be certain.

The breakfast club  . . . .

The breakfast club . . . .

Antelope grazing on a windswept hill, as forage is easier to obtain where the wind blows the snow away.  They seem to be enjoying the early morning sunshine too.

Eagle Spotting

"Any signs of lunch?" . . . .

“Any signs of lunch?” . . . .

Eagles are a common sight during the winter months, and a recent outing for the annual eagle count turned up quite a few within a short distance from home.  The stately looking pair of mature bald eagles in the photo above were near the highway watching for roadkill. Their traditional food source of fish is unavailable due to frozen streams, so they must improvise.

"There goes the neighborhood, look what blew in!" . . . .

“There goes the neighborhood, look what blew in!” . . . .

I had just finished photographing the two eagles sitting on fence posts, when a third bald eagle floated in on the gusty winds, accompanied by two large ravens.  All this avian excitement must have been due to a dead antelope or deer carcass on the hillside.  There was nothing along the highway to draw such interest.

"Prairie dog town in my sights" . . . .

“Prairie dog town in my sights” . . . .

This golden eagle was floating along on the wind near a prairie dog town.  The pronounced white markings on his wings indicate he was an immature golden and he was the only one we spotted in the two hours that we searched.  We tend to see fewer golden eagles, who are a bit more reclusive.

Prairie dogs out for a bit of fresh air keep an eye out for raptors in the sky . . . .

Prairie dogs out for a bit of fresh air keep an eye out for raptors up above . . . .

The prairie was teeming with life in a prairie dog town covering several acres.  Each mound was occupied by a pair who were hovering near the opening just in case they had to make a dive for safety.  Sharp warning barks announce the arrival of danger.

Abandoned ranch buildings bear witness to better days . . . .

Abandoned ranch buildings bear witness to better days . . . .

What was once home to a pioneer ranching family, this old place sits deserted and lonely on the prairie.  The fan on the windmill blows in the wind, making the only sound.

The Thinker . . . .

The Thinker . . . .

Another mature bald eagle rests on the brace posts of the fence.  It’s a good level spot to watch the action on the ground.

"From up here, I can see forever" . . . .

“From up here, I can see forever” . . . .

This bald eagle and a raven (lower left) have chosen a tree top to scan the horizon for a meal.

To the east, the Pumpkin Buttes . . . .

To the east, the Pumpkin Buttes . . . .

To the west, the Big Horn Mountains . . . .

To the west, the Big Horn Mountains . . . .

Log remnants of  homestead cottage . . . .

Log remnants of homestead cottage . . . .

As our journey took us back toward home, we stopped to pay a visit.  An old homestead cabin where my parents spent the early years of their marriage now lays on the ground, moldering into dust.  The cabin was taken down and the logs laid out and numbered with the goal of rebuilding at ranch headquarters about five miles away. Too many years swept by and the logs stayed put.

A black horse hangs back . . . .

A black horse hangs back . . . .

We came upon a small band of horses running across the prairie.  By the time we could come to a stop and get the camera ready, they were out of sight except for this black horse, who hung back and watched us for a few minutes.  It tossed its head and took off after the others, apparently satisfied we were not carrying a bale of hay in the back of the jeep.

Which is it? . . . .

Which is it? . . . .

We had a hard time deciding whether this was an immature bald eagle or a golden.  The shape of the head looks like a golden, but it is difficult to gauge the length of neck or tail feathers in flight from this angle.  The wing fingers are more pronounced, and we ended up deciding it was a young bald eagle whose head feathers had not yet turned white.  In all, we counted eight eagles in about two hours of driving which was about an average number to be seen in the immediate area.  We will wait for the Bureau of Land Management report from other “eagle spotters” and hope these majestic birds are maintaining a healthy population.