Bald Eagle on the Beach

Late one morning last week, toward the eastern end of the beach on Kiawah Island, a young Bald Eagle stood on the edge of the surf, near low tide, a long way across the sand from where I had just walked out on a path through the dunes. It was so far away, and so big that at first I thought it was a person bending over. When I took a closer look and saw an eagle, it made me take a sharp breath in. It was mostly dark brown, but with a lot of white speckling, and its head was partially mottled white with a dark eyestripe – so I think it was a third-year immature. Its legs looked very thick with brown feathers and its head and bill impressively large and strong. It stood on the sand with waves lapping around its feet, just at the edge of the surf, putting its head down again and again and tearing up big chunks of something. The main impression I had while watching it was simply and purely how big it was. Amazing. I couldn’t figure out what it was eating – I thought maybe some kind of large fat fish.

I walked toward it very gradually, stopping to watch several times over a period of several minutes, not wanting to scare it away, if possible. Then I finally turned to head on up the beach, still without getting too close. Soon after I did, it lifted its wings and flew over me, low and not far, to a perch in the dunes where it sat, facing toward me. So then I walked over to see what it had been eating – and it turned out to be, of all things, a dead possum.

When I came back down the beach an hour or more later, the half-eaten possum still lay there, the tide further out, but no eagle, no gulls, or any other birds in sight.

I never carry a camera myself. For me, it’s a distraction. Almost all the pictures here on this site, Clate took – so it’s really nice when he’s along. But in this case, all I have is words to try to capture how very impressive the young eagle was.

This was one of three Bald Eagles we saw last week on Kiawah. The other two included another immature and one magnificent adult with gleaming white head and tail that circled low over where I stood on the bank of a lagoon. All three were quiet. I never heard them call.

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