The Eagle and the Gull
By Jeremy Schwartz
Editor's Note: This article comes from my "archives" on my personal Medium page, though I want to feature it here as part of celebrating that our Kickstarter campaign will launch at the 2019 Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival on March 16. This story took place smack dab in the middle of where this festival is based. Enjoy!
Winter always makes me think of a once-in-a-lifetime natural world experience I had with my extended family a few years ago.
My wife, parents-in-law, and I were vacationing for Christmas. We were staying in a small town called Blaine along the westernmost tip of Washington state’s northernmost county. Next to Blaine is an area called Semiahmoo, which hosts numerous rental condos looking out over the water north toward Canada. My family and I were staying in one of these for a few days surrounding Christmas.
The weather was cold but mild, which allowed us to go on regular walks with the two family dogs. Semiahmoo sits on a skinny, mile-and-a-half-long spit of land (Semiahmoo Spit, in fact) with a marina stretching along the south side. The views of the salt water and well-maintained trails made this area perfect for getting out into the brisk, December air.
A Flock of Gulls
It was on one of these walks during mid afternoon that we saw something we’ll likely never forget. Flocks of gulls were common along the marina and across the water to mainland Washington.
We noted one of these flocks taking off as we came to the end of the spit, looking east across the water. Dozens and dozens of white-and-grey gulls, all taking flight together.
Then, we saw the reason.
A Bald Eagle was approaching from the west, powerfully flapping its wings as it made for the flock. Within about 30 seconds, my family and I had realization after realization “Hey, it looks like that eagle is going to hunt…, oh yeah that eagle is definitely trying to catch…. holy shit that eagle is hunting for gulls!”
The Predator Enters
We watched in mouth-agape awe as this apex predator swooped into the flock, the mass of birds it was hunting morphing to avoid it. The eagle banked and swerved, working to isolate one gull from the rest.
It did. it banked sharply to follow a gull that had separated itself from the flock. The eagle shifted in air, talons reaching for the gull. It seemed to make contact, but the gull managed to escaped.
On the eagle’s second try, the gull was not so lucky. Talons met feathers as the eagle grabbed the gull in mid air. It banked for a final time, flying back toward us with a squirming gull in its grasp.
We realized it was heading for a stretch of dock in the marina not more than a football field’s length away from us. It landed, the gull expired by this time, and began to tear into the lifeless, grey and white body.
We could barely believe what we had just seen. Within two minutes, we had witnessed a bald eagle grabbing and dispatching a gull in mid-air. We would talk about it in spurts for the rest of our stay at Semiahmoo, each re-telling more excited than the last.
I’m still amazed at what we witnessed, all without even really trying. We were just on a walk and happened to be in the right place at the right time. This instance goes to show what rewards being present and paying attention to your surroundings can reap. That’s really the essence of birding, but it can be practiced by anyone.
This story was originally posted on my Medium page.