Attacking Eagles Offer Painful Reminder of Nature's Unpredictability

In Annapolis, pets have become fair game for roosting bald eagles.
In Annapolis, pets have become fair game for roosting bald eagles. (By Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)
By Angus Phillips
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Like our beloved Redskins, nature doesn't always follow the playbook. Things turn out differently than you expect.

Take our neighborhood bald eagles. Please! Everyone was enthralled last winter when the pair moved into a tall, scraggly tree on Carrollton Road. They built a nest 75 feet up and set up housekeeping. The little ones arrived in early spring and grew before our eyes from fluff balls to scrawny teenagers, then to full size fledglings. Folks came from miles to take photos, all eagerly awaiting the first flights of the young-uns.

Be careful what you wish for. Trip Trubee, who lives 100 yards from the nest, was not home on the summer day one of the fledglings made its first foray, but he'd left his dogs outside in the fenced back yard. That turned out to be not such a good idea -- a Jack Russell terrier apparently looks a lot like an ice cream cone to a bald eagle.

Neighbors heard the barking but thought little of it. When Trubee got home, the racket was still going on. He went out back to find his dachshund Dicky in a rage, barking into the woods, and Moby, his Jack Russell, cowering on the ground, bleeding.

When Trubee probed the tree line to investigate, out hopped a young eagle that took flight for safety. The Jack Russell had more than 20 puncture wounds from repeated eagle attacks, Trubee said, and appears to owe its life to the brave dachshund that fought off the intruder.

The eaglets weren't done marauding. A few weeks later, I'm told, folks down on the Heron Pond watched in horror as they snatched up a whole family of baby swans.

Anglers and hunters of course know how unpredictable nature can be. If they don't, they haven't been trying very hard. What happened yesterday on the water or in the woods isn't sure to happen again today, or even likely to, and what happened last week is ancient history.

I had timely reminders of that last week when a pair of lengthy forays amounted to nothing. First came a 300-mile round-trip drive to the southern tip of Maryland's Eastern Shore to Gone Huntin' Farm, where Bill Rowland predicted a bang-up day on greenwing teal. These tiny, acrobatic ducks are the first to zip through the region on their way south each fall, and the state offers a special, two-week September hunting season for teal alone.

"I got my limit of four on Thursday morning and was back at the house by 10 o'clock," Rowland crowed, "and I could have had a dozen more."

The prevailing wisdom on teal is that hunting gets better as the early season progresses, so I had no problem making the three-hour drive Monday night through Salisbury, Snow Hill, Boxiron and Girdletree to Stockton on Chincoteague Bay. But the following morning, five days after Rowland's shoot-'em-up, there wasn't teal one to be seen. Well, maybe one or two, way off in the distance. It makes for a long day on the salt marsh, waiting and watching.

On the long drive home came a text message from Jeff Nicklason. "Fishing tomorrow 9 a.m.," is all it said. I rang him up and got the full story. Bluefish and rockfish were breaking the surface all over Eastern Bay, he said. It was prime time for a flyrod assault.

"When did you get 'em?"

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