Adirondack Chronicles 2019.1 – The State of Nature
Adirondack Chronicles are back! And not a moment too soon as we pause to celebrate the freedom and independence that are the true meaning of the 4th of July celebrations. And there’s no better way to celebrate the best of our great nation than to spend some time out in nature enjoying and observing the wild things that inhabit the beautiful forests and lakes of the Adirondacks in upstate New York
This is a tale of the State of Nature — specifically, how the relationships among wild things also teach us humans about responsibility, courage, power and the natural order of living things. The two beautiful creatures seen above, the eagle and the loon, are the apt protagonists in this story of nature’s beauty, power and sometimes harsh realities.
Typical human, I was driving along a back dirt road along Horseshoe Lake — a favorite place to spot cedar waxwings and hummingbirds. As I rounded a curve approaching a lovely outlet near the lake, I heard a loon calling nearby, and thought it strange since usually the loons are far out on the lake. As I came around the curve and the loon call grew louder, I was startled to see a beautiful big bald eagle perched calmly on a lower branch of a small sapling just across the outlet:
I inched closer to see what was going on that had the eagle’s attention on the pond, and lo and behold, there was a lovely loon paddling in circles and crying out endlessly. The eagle suddenly took off, but the loon continued to circle and call out:
I was puzzled as I watched the loon circling and calling and moving nervously to the bank of the pond and back again, head swiveling and throat bellowing the haunting loon call. Where was the mate? Usually there are two loons at some point evident. Was there an egg or chick the loon was protecting from the eagle? Did the eagle kill the mate? These questions ran through my mind as the eagle swooped back into the scene and perched high on a fir tree. The loon calls grew frantic. Listen and watch the drama:
The loon then did something I never saw before — the duck went over the edge of the marsh and walked up onto the mud and sat down. Loons only walk on land when broodingl So! Part of my hunch was correct — the loon was protecting a nest. Whether there was an egg or chick I do not know, but clearly, the parent’s protective instinct was enormous and fierce.
The eagle eyed the nest with interest:
The loon kept calling out plaintively perhaps in the hope of the missing mate returning, but no luck:
Soon, the eagle flew out of the fir tree, which caused a furious screaming by the loon, and the eagle then perched on a branch in another tree:
The loon needed to get back in the water, and took a stretch break:
Meanwhile, a curious deer wandered by to see what all the screaming was about:
Can’t quite make out the protagonists in this photo? See below with yellow circles identifying (L TO R) eagle, loon and deer:
The standoff continued for more than two hours, with the loon calling incessantly but no sign of the mate coming to help.
Finally, as dusk started sweeping over the lake, the eagle flew off, to yet more screaming from the loon:
For now, it seemed that the loon and nest were safe. But I’ll check back tomorrow to see if the loon and nest are still there. I drove home thinking about the state of nature and how important it is for humans to spend some time out here in the forest. Freedom is the way of life in the forest — the state of nature requires a great deal of freedom for life to flourish. Things that constrict nature’s freedom — roads, dams, pollutants, major developments along the edge of water — all diminish nature and so should be carefully considered for the least impact.
Yes, there are power structures, just as in human life — the eagle is clearly the dominant predator in this story and on many lakes here and elsewhere. But the smaller creatures are fierce in protecting their young, and they will fight to the death to protect eggs and chicks. “Survival of the fittest” is not always about the biggest or strongest, sometimes it’s about the valiant heart and persistence of the parent on a mission to ensure survival of the next generation. This story plays out over and over again in the spring and early summer as the wild things hatch their young. Worth thinking about in a time when some powerful humans think it’s ok to take the young away from their parents. Just observing.
Oh, and the deer will eat the grass, whether on your front lawn or in the Adirondack forest preserve:
Stay tuned for the next installment of Adirondack Chronicles!