Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

Living in a nature preserve is an amazing thing, and I have long loved that my children are growing up understanding the rhythms of the tides, where the owls raise their young, how to coax their dinner from the water, how the marsh changes subtly with the seasons.  And, occasionally, we have a moment like the one Tennyson describes, where nature is indeed red in tooth and claw, and it too takes our breath away.

juvenile eagles on 4/29

Yesterday morning I got a phone call from a neighbor who said he’d seen “the most horrible thing”.  His house is located over near the eagle platform, and for months they have had a front row seat to the action there.  From the adults on an ice covered nest, to the calls of the fluffy eaglets, watching them grow, observing the adults bringing the juveniles fish and ducks to eat, to witnessing their first tentative hops upward and awkward fluttering back to the platform… there’s been a lot to see.  From his porch, he and his family can still see the somewhat tentative flight of the juveniles as they careen through the trees on their way up to the platform.  Yesterday, he was drinking coffee on the porch and a juvenile eagle landed on the edge of the duckweed covered pond behind the house.

By now, the three month old eagle is a pretty big bird– 3 feet tall, with a wingspan of about six feet.  The eagle was probably watching the water for a gallinule chick or hapless fish, and clearly didn’t understand the danger posed by the 7 foot alligator on the far bank.  In seconds, it was over.  The alligator left the bank, propelled through the duckweed somewhat noisily, heading straight for the eagle.  The eagle attempted to fly upward, was hampered by the undergrowth, landed, and the alligator’s jaws snapped with lightning speed, pulling the eagle below the surface of the water.  When it surfaced moments later, the eagle’s head and one wing were still visible from the corners of the mouth.  Of course, I raced there with a camera,  but by the time I could get there, the only evidence of the carnage was the swirl in the duckweed left by the submerging alligator.

And, since we’re a pretty connected community here, it didn’t take long for the story to spread.  Happy Hour last night was full of gasps and amazement, some sadness and a reminder to respect the predators.  Alligators move quickly when they are stalking something, and it’s easy to dismiss them as slow when they seem inert on a bank.  David Dewhirst certainly has a new respect for them.  Others pointed out that karma might be involved: they had witnessed the eaglets preying on the juvenile osprey on another pole.  For me, it was a reason to keep protecting the habitat we value here… manmade perils take a pretty big toll on our wildlife, but nature itself provides plenty of danger to young creatures, and everybody needs to eat.

A lone adult was on the platform yesterday; nearly all the sticks have either blown down or been removed.  The other juvenile, presumably, is also off hunting on his or her own.

This morning the platform stands empty against a leaden cloudy sky, a few sticks reaching out the only evidence of the youngsters raised here. Both adults have been seen in the area, but if this year is like the last three, they will soon head elsewhere for the summer, returning as the weather gets cooler in the fall.  We’ll be waiting in our front row seats to nature’s savage beauty.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Tish

    Judy – this is beautifully written, but I would still rather have the eagle than the well-fed alligator!

  2. david McIntyre

    Judy, Thanks for your well “spoken” comments on the wild world we live in here on Dewees and the sad but real world fate of the young eagle. We will miss him. Dave McIntyre

  3. Marion cotton

    Wow! Sad but informative about nature on our island.

  4. Dershie

    Ohhh no! Mother Nature is an equal opportunity offender. How profoundly sad for all who have loved them.

  5. gaye gambell-peterson

    Well written, Judy. The title sets it up perfectly! The happy hour conversation sums up the lessons. The photos, as usual, are perfect. (Personally, I’m glad you missed the shot of the gator’s mouthful.)

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