Bald Eagle near Brandon, South Dakota, with injured bill and missing left eye. Despite all the human activity in the area, despite the injury, I believe he is in one of two nesting pairs in the area. Nature thrives, if we give it just the tiniest opportunity, but given our short-sighted nature and greed, far too often even that tiny opportunity doesn't exist.
I live right next to the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park along the Big Sioux River. I often take walks there, taking trails or going off-trail along the river, through the forest, and through an area of open grassland. This morning I was walking along the river and came across and adult and younger (not totally mature plumage) Bald Eagle, perched on a tree overlooking the river. Over the next half hour the two would occasionally leave the perch, fly to a different one, or disappear upstream a bit before coming back a few minutes later. I took a number of photos, and everything seemed fine.
However, when I got home, I noticed the adult bird was missing part of its bill, and it appeared its left eye was also gone. I don’t think it was a fresh injury, from the appearance, but it was obvious the eagle had undergone some sort of trauma. Given my cynical nature, and given the idiots around here who blast away at anything that moves, my first thought was a shotgun blast. What’s amazing though is the bird appears to be doing quite well, despite the setback.
Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota. OK, at 150,000 or so, it’s not huge by some standards, but there are a lot of folks that live in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area. The Big Sioux River isn’t exactly the cleanest river in the world. It’s a typical, slow, meandering, Great Plains river, very muddy and receiving one heck of a lot of agricultural runoff. Despite the setting just a few miles from the biggest city in South Dakota…despite the cleanliness of the river…and despite this eagle’s injury, there are not one, but two active Bald Eagle nests, including one less than a mile from my house. What I am always amazed at is how nature can thrive, if you provide it just the slightest bit of an opportunity.
What I find so depressing though is how often human beings are unable to provide even that slight opening for life to thrive. The USGS center where I work is 15 miles outside of town, and I often used to take gravel roads to work. It’s all agricultural land here, soybeans and corn, but there were a few tiny pockets of habitat where I would stop on my to and from work, looking for birds. It’s amazing how often these tiny pockets of land would host a variety of birds. Nearly all the wetlands on my drive have long since been drained and converted to cropland, but there was one small patch of damp land, not more than 2 or 3 acres, where I would often stop on the way home from work. Despite being in a sea of cropland, despite being such a tiny bit of habitat, this damp bit of land with some sedges and a few cattails would often hold a lot of birds, including some real exciting birds from a birder’s perspective, such a Le Conte’s Sparrows that I often found there during the fall migration.
This summer, we had a severe drought, and farmers took advantage of the dry situation by plowing up dried up wetlands and installing drain tile to ensure they remained dry in the. After this summer, I don’t bother taking gravel roads to work any more. My little damp spot was plowed up and drain tile was installed. Other little patches of habitat, including brushy fencerows and windbreaks, have also been torn out and plowed under in the last few years, as farmers are capitalizing on high commodity prices by plowing and planting every square inch of available land.
Just a small opportunity…that’s all life needs. But given our short-sighted, greedy nature, we seem incapable of providing even that tiny opportunity.