Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Finding Your Place

During the last few weeks this eagle has been seen multiple times around Union Bay.

On Monday, this young eagle was sitting in a tangle of cottonwood branches, while the wind ruffled its feathers. Three crows were sitting close by, watching every move the eagle made. The crows were unusually quiet and focused. Clearly, they were hoping that a scrap of food might fall their way. While the eagle ate, the food was hidden by the branch, however I suspect it was a fish. Most likely appropriated from one of the dozens of double-crested cormorants diving for food just off-shore from the Waterfront Activities Center (WAC).

The young bird's head is nearly, but not quite, white. Which, along with its white-speckled body indicates it has not yet reached maturity. Since eagles usually mature in their fourth or fifth year, I am guessing this bird is nearly four years old. 

The temporary eyestripe makes the bird easy to identify. It has been fun tracking its progress around Union Bay. I first noticed it just before the end of the year, as it flew over Elderberry Island. Then, on December 31st, Jerry Pinkepank sent me a photo of the same eagle sitting above Montlake Cut.

A female belted kingfisher also having fish for lunch.

The water around the WAC is a special place - full of life. Many birds in the area feed on fish. In addition to the eagles, kingfishers and cormorants, you can usually spot pied-billed grebes and great blue herons, seriously searching for fish.

I usually photograph birds facing the camera, but there was something irresistible about this heron's wingspan.

In addition to birds that feed on fish, there are also birds in the area that feed on plants and smaller aquatic creatures. Birds, like this northern pintail, plus mallards, wood ducks, gadwalls, coots, buffleheads, green-winged teals and others. There is also a beaver's lodge nearby. Plus river otters, raccoons and coyotes have been seen in the area as well. 

Union Bay is a special place. Many people might look at Husky Stadium, The 520 Bridge, Montlake Cut and the passing yachts and think these are the things that make Union Bay special. I don't think so.

It is the beauty and persistence of nature that inspires me. Somehow, nature finds a place in the in-between spots - the cracks and crevices between the things we build. Along the forgotten western shore north of the WAC, in and around the small cattail-covered islands, birds, fish and beavers live and breed and die. It makes me wonder how much richer our lives could be if we planted more cattails all along our shorelines or added more native trees and ground cover in our yards

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a mature bald eagle approaching from the northeast. I suspected it was one of the adults from the nest near Yesler CoveWhen I glanced back to check on the young eagle, it was gone. There was no sign of it in any direction. It felt like it evaporated.

The mature eagle landed on top of one of the redwood trees behind the WAC. I certainly had the impression that the elder bird was reinforcing its territorial property rights. It was almost like it was telling the younger bird, "This is my place, you will need to find your own!"

On Thursday, I caught a glimpse of the young eagle again. It was trying to land in one of the cottonwoods on the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) peninsula. Unfortunately, the eagle did not even get to land as it was being chased by Eva and Albert - mature eagles from the Broadmoor nest. The young bird flew west with the adults in hot pursuit. The adults were calling loudly. The calling continued even after the pursuit stopped.

The adults landed in one of the tall trees next to Lake Washington Blvd. I believe the youngster continued on towards Portage Bay. Clearly Eva and Albert were defining the western boundary of their territory. 

As they called out, another mature eagle flew in from the north and then turned away. I suspect the third adult was one of the pair from the Yesler Cove nest. This encounter and others, makes me think the boundary between Broadmoor territory and the Yesler Cove territory runs roughly between Foster Island and Marsh Island and then southwest through the WSDOT Peninsula.

At the bottom of the previous photo you can see Eva twisting and turning among the branches - while Albert continues to raise a racket. Soon, she broke off a branch and headed back to their Broadmoor nest.

Albert also attempts to break off a branch.

Sadly, the branch seems a bit small.

Albert drops the twig when he spots a better branch.

Albert gives the branch the full-body treatment.

Males are about fifty percent smaller than the females so maybe it should not be surprising that the branch failed to break. In any case, Albert returned to the nest and soon the two eagles were sitting side-by-side in the distance. Their main objective, establishing their territorial boundary, having been temporarily achieved.

On Friday morning, the young eagle was perched in the cottonwood on the north edge of Foster Island. At sunset, it was looking south from a cottonwood above Yesler Cove. Since it is so persistent, in spite of the adult eagle harassment, I suspect it may have been hatched and raised here on Union Bay.

Soon the young eagle will need to find a place of its own. It will need a territory much like Union Bay to feed its future mate and their young, a place full of life and food. Like a human leaving home and striking out on its own, the young eagle will be challenged. Will the two pairs of adult eagles on Union Bay ultimately share some portion of their existing territories? Will the young bird find a place just a bit further away - like Portage Bay? Will the young bird have to leave the county or even the state to find a place of its own?

Ultimately, the more space we give back to nature the richer our lives will be. Watching these wild creatures struggle and learn and live is incredibly rewarding. When we share with the creatures around us, we help them to find a place of their own, and maybe we are actually helping ourselves to find a place of our own, in the web of life. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!



  1. I wasn't familiar with the area around WAC. I've walked around there before, but not that far to the south. I'll have to walk over there and check it out. I love to see the cormorants, but here they perch too far out in the water for a good look. Thanks for sharing such great tips!

    1. You are welcome! During sunny weather the WAC gets busy and the birds move away, but when it is gray and cloudy if you sit quietly on the north end of the dock it is surprising how many birds appear. Good Luck!

  2. Wonderful narrative and insightful information. I relish the reports. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and for following my blog. I am glad it brings you joy and hope you also get to enjoy nature around Union Bay - in person.