Ten years ago, I never saw eagles here. As a kid I saw them when we went out west, but in the east, they were rare.
Now, there are frequent eagle sightings for those who care to look. When I drove to Lillington yesterday, I saw three. I had one knock Gonzo out of a tree the other day near my house - that's a story for another day.
Occasionally, I get calls to come and rescue this bird or that. People here on the beach call me "the bird man". Most of them know I keep birds of different kinds, usually because of the school kids.
That's me in the hat.
I got a call one evening from Jen, a rehabber friend of mine who needed some help with an eagle. It had been rescued and was severely underweight. They'd brought it back from the brink, and after several months of work, decided that it was time to release the bird back into the wild.
Jen was nervous. She was the one who was had rescued the bird in the beginning, but she was going to be handling this bird now in front of everyone: newspapers, FWS people, as well as the public.
We pulled into Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.
It was rainy and nasty. The mud squelched under our feet and the rain ran in rivulets down the dirt road. The clouds hung low over the field where the release was ging to happen. It was miserable. Some people hung back in in their cars to stay out of the rain, but there was still a crowd, standing their dripping in the mud, waiting for the eagle to be released. My kids were there, so was Andrew, watching from the side.
I've never handled an eagle before. It was big. It's feet were huge! But even then, it wasn't large for an eagle. I reached into the dog Kennel, where it was being kept for transport and pulled the bird out, feeling its weight in my hands. It didn't want to be handled and was ready to escape. I cradled it in my arms and brought it over to Jen for the release.
It was a small tiercel (male) bald eagle. You could tell it was young because it didn't have its white head. It was brown all over, except for blotches of white beneath the wings. Maybe three years old.
He reluctantly stood for a moment to pose for pictures, and then Jen thrust him into the air.
He launched and circled our heads. I figured he would just land and sit in the puring rain. But he flew for us, looking huge and masterful close above our heads, and then he took off for the treeline.
It was cool.