On the river and in the sky... Beavers swim and eagles soar

Fallbrook-Bonsall Village News 4.14.11
On the river and in the sky... Beavers swim and eagles soar

The Golden Eagle is known to nest in the Fallbrook area.

Nathalie Taylor
Special to the Village News

"I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth...

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there..."

John Gillespie Magee

(From "High Flight")

All was calm in the Pala/Gregory Canyon area the day I visited during my Golden Eagle-seeking adventure. I could hear the gentle warble of birds, the occasional knock of a woodpecker and the buzz of flies drawn by nearby cows. The air was tinged with the pungent scent of orange blossoms and sage. Hawks soared overhead, but the eagles didn’t make an appearance. No eagles "slipped the surly bonds of Earth," at least not while I was watching. Today they were safe in their high nest on the rocky face of the mountain.

The Golden Eagle is a bird-of-prey that is not really golden. However, their light brown head feathers sometimes appear golden in the sunlight. The wingspan ranges from six to seven feet and their beaks and talons are powerful. The Golden Eagle is a formidable creature.

Golden Eagles often mate for life and the pair prefers high, remote places to nest, such as cliffs or tall trees. A nest is constructed with branches and grass and can be over six feet in diameter.

Dave Bittner, a biologist and director of the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, said that the institute monitors a nesting area in the vicinity of Gregory Canyon near Pala; and that the female of the local eagle pair was tagged in 1998. Bittner also mentioned that, although a nest can be hundreds of years old, the nest material itself is replaced by the eagles continuously. He said that this particular nest has been documented since the early 1900s.

"It is well over a hundred years old," he remarked.

Bittner also mentioned that this nesting pair has been quite productive.

"Eagles usually nest in cliffs as it is a safer place," he remarked, "but, they are high up on the food chain and have no real enemies – except man."

He said that housing projects are a threat to eagles. "Unfortunately, most of the young are killed as they encounter cars, power lines, or diminishing territories."

The eagles do not push their young from the nest, but when the young are ready they launch themselves. "Sometimes they make hard landing at first," Bittner commented. The mother and father continue to feed the young even after they are flying. The diet consists of rodents and squirrels. Golden Eagles do not raise young every year either. "It is a long process," Bittner said.

Thomas Stephan, a master falconer who also owns a barn owl nesting box business, said that he has watched Golden Eagles in the Gregory Canyon area for over 35 years and has witnessed young eaglets learning to fly. He also mentioned that the eagles need a quiet nesting area.

The eagle is a sacred bird to the Native Americans. "The Cupeños and Luiseños have long valued the Golden Eagle feathers, which are used in sacred ceremonial clothing," remarked Eric Ortega of the Cupa Cultural Center on the Pala Indian Reservation near Gregory Canyon.

Some wildlife enthusiasts say that the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill will disturb and endanger the Golden Eagles that are nesting in the area, but the landfill has not yet been approved.

Thomas Stephan noted that he would like others to be able to appreciate the beauty of the area and the grace and beauty of the eagles, as he does. "This is my church," he said solemnly. I can understand why. God’s creation was evident in this fragrant, peaceful place. Hawks hovered, "high in the sunlit silence," and the eagles were safe in their quiet, undisturbed resting place.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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