[Bristol-Birds] eagles and coots -- no pizza

  • From: "Wallace Coffey" <jwcoffey@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Bristol-birds" <bristol-birds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2010 20:00:49 -0400

Musick's Campground
South Holston Lake
Sullivan Co., TN
29 Oct 2010

Two adult Bald Eagles captured my attention this evening
as they flew in tight circles just a few feet above the 
water's surface east of Egret Island.  It was not
immediately evident if they were playing chase or challenging
one another.

Soon it was obvious they were attempting to capture
an American Coot from among the 25 coots huddling in a
tight raft,  "minding their Ps and Qs."  The coots had been here,
done this before.  The stakes are high:  survive or die.

Eagles hunting coots are well documented in literature.
Birders frequenting Musick's Campground in the Spring
Creek Embayment enjoy fair odds of a first-hand sighting.

Most amazing was the apparent team strategy and
persistent pursuit from the big raptors.

It goes something like this.  An eagle swoops down on
a coot and makes it dive.  After many repetition the coot
becomes exhausted and surfaces more frequently.
Finally the eagle is close to the surface and, with timing,
snatches its meal.  The two eagles at Spring Creek were
taking turns going at the raft.  One would chase them
under and the next would swoop down to attempt a catch 
as they surfaced.  It simply wasn't working.

They started about 10 minutes before 6 p.m.  Two or three
times the eagles would go to the shore and perch just at
the water's edge.  They did not appear too familiar because
they landed on shore 200 to 300 yards from one another.
After a few minutes rest, one and then the other would
fly back over the water one or two feet above the
surface.  This seemed a perfect approach but, for whatever
reason, whenever an eagle decided to rush the raft, it
would pitch up at the last second and hover maybe
20 feet above the coots.  The intended prey would make
a great show as if really surprised and run across the
surface in a tight flock with much water splattering of
their feet and flapping their wings.  The eagle could not
pick out a weak or divided individual but kept looking 
down intently with its long and yellow tarsus and talons
dangling in the evening sun.  I only saw an eagle 
actually dive after a coot from the hover and it was no 
where near placing an order.

About 6:15 p.m., the apparent stranger eagles flew
across the lake and one made a half-hearted pause
to hover and went on.  They went to what many of you
know as the traditional eagle perching ridge. The first
flew under the canopy to roost.  The second stopped
on a branch about 30 feet away and turned to look
longingly at the raft and what might have been. 

Sunset: 6:35 p.m. 

Let's go birding . . . .

Wallace Coffey
Bristol, TN



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