Bald eagle neighbor

Finding the exotic in familiar settings

QUITE A SIGHT Bald eagles can be found close to home.

We tell ourselves that the world’s scenic wonders and special wildlife are somewhere else—some exotic location far, far away. Certainly, there are exciting things to see in distant places, but does our longing for wonders elsewhere close our eyes to the ones right in front of us?

A recent discovery reminded me yet again that exotic and unusual surprises are hidden behind the familiar setting we tend to overlook.

Alone on an early morning run along the Coyote Creek Parkway, I was startled by a huge bird that came from behind me and swooped low and close over my shoulder. It pulled up and landed in a tree barely 50 yards away. It looked to be a bald eagle, but the pattern of random of black and white splotches was a coloration pattern that baffled me. The bird grabbed a long twig and took off. I followed its flight to a massive nest, perhaps five feet across, high atop a leafless cottonwood tree.

Since that day, I have made regular visits to the nest site and found the oddly marked bird standing guard over the nest with a mate: a bald eagle with dark and light shades where I expected to see them.

A week later, I was talking to a birder friend about the eagle’s nest I had found. He was surprised to hear about it, but during our conversation, he told me about reports of a leucistic eagle in the area. A what? He explained that leucism is a pigmentation problem found in many animals that have some cells incapable of making pigment. The frequent result is a creature cloaked in a random pattern of color patches. I lit up with excitement. He was talking about “my” bird.

Recent visits to the nest have been uneventful. The pair is busy incubating eggs, a quiet pastime. Only one bird occupies the nest at a time except when there is a shift change, which is brief and very business-like. The relieved bird then files off. The nest that had been so apparent atop the leafless cottonwoods is now mostly obscured since the trees have leafed out.

Reports of bald eagles nesting near home are increasing: atop a redwood tree at a Milpitas grammar school, beside Anderson Reservoir, at Vasona Park and many more. From fewer than 30 nesting pairs in California in the mid-1960s, about 370 pairs thrive here now.

Monterey Highway to the west and Highway 101 to the east carry thousands of us close by this bald eagle nest every day. How many would guess it is there? We file that “same old” view we see so often under ordinary, a practice that conceals surprises hidden there; things like bald eagle nests, busy bobcats and coyotes, and mountain lions moving between mountain ranges.

Exotic places will always beckon, but home isn’t as ordinary as we think.

Ron Erskine

Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.
Ron Erskine

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About Ron Erskine
Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.