1 July 2012
It was Canada Day, and we were convoy sailing with Kalagan, across Knight Inlet, when Rick called us on the radio: “Do you see what I see off to port? I don’t know what we can do about it.”
An eagle was paddling vigorously through the water with its wings. We stopped our vessels to observe it and to concoct a plan. The eagle sculled towards a cluster of bull kelp, but once it arrived and realized that this was not a solid platform, it stopped swimming and sank a bit, as if from discouragement. As we watched, the current pushed the eagle back out into the center of the channel, further away from shore. The bird’s energy seemed to be flagging; we did not believe it would make it to dry land on its own.
Now and then, an eagle will hook its talons in waterborne prey that is too heavy for it lift into the air, but, without a solid surface to press down upon, the birds cannot always loose their grip. They can swim well—as we could clearly see—but they do get waterlogged and can drown.
But how do you rescue an eagle, a fierce, independent, enormous bird?
Plan A—to hold out a flotation cushion on a boathook as a possible perch to the eagle—was a complete failure.
Plan B—to catch the bird in a large fishnet and dinghy it to shore—seemed improbable but worth a try.
Rick launched his dinghy, zipped over to Quoddy’s Run, and picked up Marike to drive the dinghy while he tried to net the bird. The larger vessels and crew would stand by, and try to keep everyone off of the rocks and out of trouble.
After several tries, Rick managed to net the eagle, or at least most of it; its wings splayed over the rim of the net.
The eagle was a small bird, a male, thankfully not a larger female. He seemed to have lost his prey, nothing was in his talons, but he was so waterlogged that he couldn’t fly anymore.
At first, the eagle tried to leap sideways from the net, but Marike steered the boat in the direction he wanted to leap, and Rick lifted and angled the net, so in end the bird stayed put, and settled down for the ride. Slowly, so as not to damage the eagle’s wings, they crossed the inlet and made for shore. Still, the eagle watched them with his eagle eye, turning from side to side, showing his fierce hooked beak. He seemed perplexed, Marike would say later; “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’m too tired to fight with you.”
Once ashore, Rick and Marike let the eagle out of the net on a rock below the tide line. But he was too weak to climb out of the water. So they poled in closer with an oar and Rick heaved the bird up on a dry rock, free of the net. At first, he drooped there, dazed, wings dangling, but then he sat up and gathered his wings.
They left him then. He’d have several hours to preen, dry out and warm up before the tide came up that far again. He had, they thought, a good chance of making it.
As they motored back to sailboats, the rest of us heard the eagle cry out a thank you in its rusty, wire-on-a-wheel voice, krrriiiickkk! Krrriiiiickkk!