Benny and I were on our morning walk, following our usual a.m. route which is northwards from the house, along the creek. You old-timers have seen pics from time to time.
On the homeward part of the journey, I often veer off the main path and take another, slightly less-traveled one through a wooded area. There’s a mammoth old willow tree in there I like to pay homage to. I don’t think it’s going to be standing a whole lot longer. Ben likes this detour too because there’s usually a squirrel or three he can startle.
Now, I forget whether or not I’ve told you folks that in the last few months I’ve taken something of an interest in birds. I’ve gone so far as to buy a field guide and Son #1 treated me to a pair of pretty decent binoculars. Thing is, I’m normally outside these days - you know, where the birds are - when I’m out walking with Benny.
Benny, being a hyperactive Jack Russell Terror pup, takes at least one hand to control. That leaves me one hand with which I can do other stuff, like untangle him. You may recall, a few posts ago, how using my free hand to wield a camera worked out. In any event, I don’t usually take either my binoculars or my field guide out with me when I know my attention is often going to be focused on unwrapping Benny’s leash from a tree trunk. Or my legs.
I didn’t miss the field guide or binocs along the wooded path yesterday. I wished I had my camera though, when a Downy woodpecker picked a tree only a few feet away to drill for bugs. I managed to watch her for a minute and memorized her peeping call before Benny had to be extricated from nearby brush.
A few minutes later, back on the stream-side path, I saw a large, somewhat hunched silhouette on a tall tree branch overhanging the creek. It was facing southeast and although cloudy out, the morning sun was still bright enough to make me squint and shield my eyes. At first I thought maybe it was a raven. It was much too big to be a crow.
I slowed as I got closer. Ben seemed to understand that stealth was called for and actually slowed with me. As we neared it, I got increasingly excited. Even seen from behind and in silhouette, it was very large.
We got within 50 or 60 feet of it before it noticed us and took off - straight into the weakened sun’s glare. I’m knowledgeable enough to know it was a raptor - the wingtips told me that - and it was bigger than any hawk I’d ever seen. I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile eagle, probably a bald eagle, like the one that was born near our cottage this summer.
I don’t think in this particular instance, because of the glare, that binocs would have helped me identify the bird. But again, I wished I’d taken the camera. Even a silhouetted photo might have told an experienced birder (Hi cousin Karl!) what it was.
Yep, am packing my camera in my pocket from now on.
A few minutes later, only a hundred yards from home, Benny began to act strangely. Normally, because I use one of those retractable leashes, he’s at its limit, about 15 feet ahead, straining to get to two places at once.
We were on back on the street again at this point and he’d been doing his usual ranging from side to side, snuffling.
Suddenly, I realized my arm was not perpendicular to the ground and doing its impression of a divining rod gone berserk. It was hanging down at my side. Benny was trotting along beside me, like one of those trained dogs, head and tail proudly erect, beige tongue protruding slightly.
Hmmm. Pretty sure his tongue used to be pink.
Uh-huh. He’d found a rib bone that some scavenger had left behind. I think he didn’t want me to notice so he was being well-behaved. Ha! And he thinks he’s so smart! I’m smarter! So far.
On our evening walk, we take the southward path along the creek. At roughly the mid-point, the creek angles away from the path and to reconnect with it, one needs to walk through a small wooded glen. We usually do so because that bend of the creek offers a nice trough-like run in which I’ve often watched salmon and trout working their way upstream.
The salmon run is pretty much done, has been for about 10 days, and there hasn’t been enough recent rain to call up many steelhead. So I didn’t really expect to see any fish. It’s just a pleasant place to be. I was standing at the top of the bank while Ben explored below, drinking at the water’s edge and snapping at drifting leaves.
A slight surface disturbance a few yards upstream caught my eye and I wandered closer.
It was a dying salmon, on its side, feebly trying to right himself against the weak current, and failing.
Three or four weeks ago, this fish was 20 pounds of bronzed muscle, sleek and healthy from three-plus years of gorging on Lake Ontario’s forage fish. He would have fairly stampeded upstream, eager to spawn.
Now he was a blackened hulk of perhaps 13-14 pounds, too weak to fight a current that wouldn’t tumble a toddler.
I watched as he was slowly tugged downstream. He got caught up on some shallow rocks below me for a moment and I studied him. He was too far gone to even gape. I don’t think it was my imagination that glazed that fierce, predator’s eye.
I felt sad but privileged, for being allowed to bear witness to a noble warrior’s death.
I thought I’d have to clamber down and get wet in order to ease him back into the main current. But he found enough energy to twitch his tail feebly, once. It was just enough. The current took him back into its arms and gently bore him away.