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In Our Own Backyard...Hangin' with the eagles

I could tell it was going to be a not-so-ordinary outing as soon as I put my kayak in the water. What I thought was going to be a sunny, muggy afternoon threatened to become something quite the opposite.

"Drat!" I muttered to myself.

I had looked forward to the chance to get out on the lake all weekend, and other things had prevented me from doing it. After a brief flurry of midday rain showers on Sunday, the sun broke through and clear blue skies prevailed. I slipped into my kayak boots, grabbed my camera and my life vest and headed to the lake.

As soon as I pulled away from the dock, I spotted black clouds creeping insidiously over the horizon. The thunder heads were immense, and the sky behind them had turned a deep, leaden gray.

The lure of the lake was calling me, however, and I forged on as the first rumbles of thunder began. The loon pair was swimming in a little bay directly ahead of me and I had just spotted an American Bald Eagle sitting on a dead tree limb overhanging the lake when the first drops of rain pelted down around me.

"Double drat!" I moaned.

I stuffed my camera back into the bag, shoved it into the comparative dryness of the hull of my kayak and paddled toward the shoreline, where I intended to harbor in the leeward side of the lake until the squall hopefully blew over. I ended up directly under the tree where the eagle was sitting, and I was surprised that he didn't fly away.

As soon as the raindrops ceased, I hauled my camera out once again, tilted my head straight back and shot several photos of the eagle on the limb. And though the shots weren't exactly taken from the best angle, I was struck by the fierce expression on the eagle's face against the stormy skies overhead, and the two seemed to fit together.

I was ready to move on to try to capture a few photos of the loons when the thunder crashed with renewed vigor. I cringed, but still, I gazed longingly ahead toward the loons.

"Wouldn't you just know it?" I thought to myself. "This is the best photography opportunity I've had on the lake all spring, and now the weather is going to drive me away!"

I hadn't seen any lightning at that point, so I decided to shelter in place a bit longer under the eagle tree. The rain held off, but the clouds kept getting darker and closer and I finally decided I'd better head home before I no longer had that option. I glanced up at the harboring eagle one last time and shoved off from the shoreline.

I was halfway across the lake when I heard powerful wing beats behind me, and all of a sudden the eagle soared right overhead at close range. I hastily set my paddle across the gunnel of my kayak and wrested my camera out of its case. I fired off four or five photos in quick succession as the eagle crashed into the water right in front of me and came up with a large fish in its talons. As he rose off the water, I snapped one last photo -- just as he dropped the fish! He flew back to his perch on the dead tree limb and settled back in with as much dignity as he could muster. I spotted the stunned fish floating in the lake and realized the eagle had staked his claim. I felt badly to think I might have in some way caused him to drop the fish, but I needn't have worried.

As I paddled away, he slowly lifted off the limb and returned to claim what was his.

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