By Kate Watson
Northern Wilds Media, Inc
Along Highway 61 it’s not unusual to see bald eagles, but it never fails: Someone exclaims “Eagle!” and we crane our necks to see the regal bird. My favorite sight was a massive eagle’s nest in a mature aspen. Occasionally, an eagle poked up from among the sticks. I always mused about what dinner was that day, or how many hungry beaks the eagles had to feed.
After windstorms last fall, apparently the tree with the nest fell down. Unseasonably warm February temperatures lured us into the woods to find it, although we didn’t know exactly where to look. Our method was to drive slowly, watching for particularly large uprooted trees from the road—when we spotted one we’d pull over and investigate. The first weekend of searching was unfruitful, but we were heartened by the presence of a bald eagle, which observed our progress (perhaps somewhat amused) from high up in a tree.
We spent another afternoon tramping around in the springy ooze, dodging deer poop and plucking thorns out of our pants and socks. Following the forest’s natural pathways, we walked on fallen tree trunks like balance beams. After a number of fallen trees with disappointingly empty branches we started to wonder if maybe someone had found and taken the nest. Then, in a final detour on the way back to the car, we stumbled upon it.
The nest is huge; no one will carry it away anytime soon. Pacing out its width showed the nest is about seven feet in diameter. Many sticks the eagles used in building it are as big around as my wrist. We surmised that the nest landed right side up and I marveled at the small interior of the structure. Rather than a big basin with tall walls of sticks, the nesting area appeared to be a smoothed and packed patch of mud. Tangled among the sticks are bones of varying sizes (detritus from past meals), and a few small feathers.
On the way home, we spotted the beginnings of a new nest in another tree, which hadn’t been there the last time we’d been out searching. This one isn’t nearly the size of the one we’d found, but the mass of huge sticks tangled in the tree signaled a work in progress—the eagles are hard at work building a new home.