Monday, January 2, 2017

This Place is Lousy with Eagles

The first time I heard a saying which began with "This place is lousy with..." was a number of years ago when Paul and I were visiting Boston. We were in the oldest bar in America and we asked the barkeep about the history. He replied "This place is lousy with history." We were intrigued by the origin of that phrase and the barkeep told us (and I have since confirmed with my friend Google) "Lousy comes from the English word louse, as in lice. (Yikes!!!) To be lousy with means “to have lots of something.”

When we first moved to Whidbey island, I had no idea it was lousy with bald eagles. I knew they were around, but I thought they were infrequent visitors. So, when we heard about the Skagit Eagle Festival with activities in Concrete, Marblemount and Rockport, Washington during the month of January, we decided a family outing was in order. We packed up the boys in the minivan and  headed off to
 beautiful Skagit County. 

Our first stop was the Eagle Festival Information Station, where we wandered through a lovely arts and crafts show with all manner of artwork inspired by our national bird. Next, we visited the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. There we learned about the Skagit River ecosystem, the winter migration of bald eagles, salmon, and the vital role each play in the environment. And we learned a new word - "kettle." Now you're thinking "I know what the word kettle means, as in the pot calling the kettle black." That's the noun kettle. The verb kettle means "when a group of birds (hawks or eagles) uses a thermal (rising pocket of air) to gain elevation." Cool, huh? Okay maybe "nerdy" cool. Which is what my boys thought at the time as they rolled their eyes. So, we moved on to the whole reason for our trip, checking out some bald eagles.

We all clambered back into the minivan to head over to the Eagle Watching Stations located along the Skagit River in Marblemount. Each station was manned with volunteers armed with binoculars and spotting scopes for us to use. And we did see a few eagles. By peering through the scopes, we could see their tiny forms as they perched on branches in tall trees on the far side of the river. The volunteers were very nice and definitely knew their "stuff" as far as eagles were concerned. But the boys, were a bit underwhelmed. I have a feeling they thought the eagles would be swooping all around us, occasionally diving down to snatch a salmon from the river. The volunteers explained, that to lessen the disruption of the eagles, we had to view them from afar. We also learned that the eagle festival was held two months later than the actual peak of the eagle season in order to minimize the "tourist impact" on the eagles.  Makes perfect sense, unless you're an eight or eleven year old boy who would rather have an eagle land on your shoulder. We ended the day by visiting the fish hatchery in Marblemount, which the boys enjoyed, although I still think they were hoping and eagle would drop down and pull a fish out of one of the hatchery pools.

"Wow, Earl, look there's more of them. This place is really lousy with people."

We drove back to Whidbey Island, tired after our long day. After we pulled into our driveway and began to unload, Christopher, our oldest, yelled "Mom, look!" My gaze followed his pointing finger upward towards the top of a Douglas Fir tree that grew about twenty feet from where our van was parked and there sat a pair of bald eagles! They looked enormous from our close vantage point. The boys were thrilled. They were getting to see eagles up close and personal after all.

In the fifteen plus years since that day, we have seen lots of eagles. In fact, they are a common occurrence on our island. We're lucky enough to have nesting pairs in our backyard. The most I've seen at one time happened on Father's Day a few year's back. We went on a family picnic at a lake in the state park within a mile of our home. We had taken our canoe and Paul and the boys were paddling around the small lake in the bright, early, summer sunshine. I was on the shore, with our two dogs, and counted 12 mature and juvenile bald eagles as they kettled overhead. Who's nerdy now?

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid:
Mac and Friend - auction ends on Sunday, January 8th at 9:00am PST. 

My horse Mac and and his friend Buddy (the other horse hind parts) out in their pasture on Whidbey island. This was from a few years ago during the full bloom of summer. Something to look forward to during these dark, cold days of winter.

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