Old Birder Learns New Trick—The Hard Way

Ginger Travis

On April 18, 2015 I was in a marsh up at the north end of Jordan Lake to observe an eagle nest that was extremely difficult to see. Arrived by kayak with a tripod lashed to the back deck and a scope inside and there was only one sight line to the nest in a pine tree; surrounding willows, maples, and sweetgums blocked any near view.

To see over the deciduous trees I had to back away to about 300 yards from the nest tree—and set up my spotting scope in 20 inches of water. And stand, in shorts, in the 65-degree water with my feet planted ankle-deep in marsh mud.

Well, it worked. I saw an adult eagle at the nest tearing bits off a prey item, and with 40-power magnification I saw two chicks, even though one was mostly obscured by pine branches. After a while I straightened up be­hind my scope to relax my back and felt the gentlest puff of wind on my cheek. And then saw my kayak slip away from my side like a bit of dandelion fuzz borne on the wind—out of reach in a second. Not tied up, of course.

I lurched after it but was stopped dead when my Keen sandal stuck tight in the mud. The only way I could release my shoe was to take my foot out, bend down, burrow my hands under the sole through the mud, and yank straight up. Meanwhile my kayak kept moving.

I was scared and in disbelief but realized that to get my boat back I had to go after it with bare feet. So I did. I held my shoes in one hand and staggered through the mud and some­how never stepped on anything sharp or fell over in the water. Caught the boat, led it back over to the abandoned tripod and scope, and packed up. Mud everywhere—on the tripod, on me, and smeared by me all over the inside of the kayak. But, boy, was I glad to get afloat!

On May 5 I went back. Got out of the kayak and stood in the water, set up the tripod and scope, observed two big eagle chicks. Did only one new thing.