I fished with my dad once in Campbell River, B.C. (home waters for Roderick Haig-Brown).
We caught some salmon, I did a story about ugly Americans who fished their provincial season limits, then canned the salmon and sent it home with friends and fished some more, inviting additional friends up.
One afternoon, the camp host dropped by in a golf cart with a couple of trash cans he’d just picked up at the cleaning station.
“Come with me,” he said.
We rode to the beach at low tide and in the exposed gravel of a small bay, he took us down to the center at low tide.
Around us, like football fans in the bleachers, were several dozen bald eagles (yes, dozens) perched on driftwood, drooling at the thought of the pending touchdown.
The host emptied the cans of fish guts and carcasses and we drove up the slope to watch as the eagles descended on the remains of the day.
Feathers flew, squawking crescendo-ed and within minutes, white heads and tails ran as red as the Canadian maple leaf flag.
“There you go, yank!” my host declared with a guffaw or two. “There’s your national symbol.”
Benjamin Franklin seemed to agree, although he is often wrongfully credited with favoring the wild turkey as a symbol for his fledgling nation.
What he really wrote: (The) “Bald Eagle…is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…[he] is too lazy to fish for himself.”
The turkey, he said, is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.”
To its credit, a wild turkey tom also displays in red, white and blue colors. Fortunately, of course, while acting vain and silly in front of hunters.
I can’t argue with Franklin.
Eagles are, indeed, scavengers and thieves (ask an osprey).
However, they’re also deft, sly, skillful, tenacious and very, very successful hunters on their own.
Sounds pretty American, doesn’t it?
Social media lit up recently with videos of eagles struggling in the water after snaring a fish too big to fly with.
My brother and I once fished from a ship (with small fishing boats moored alongside) anchored off Work Channel, also in British Columbia.
One day we were trying for halibut a ways up the channel, but could only catch true cod, which bloated with air as they were brought to the surface. We let them go (before the days of release devices) and hoped they could recover as they floated away.
Suddenly, seconds after releasing one, a bald eagle swooped so close between us we could feel the wind from its wings.
It latched on to the floating cod, but couldn’t get airborne, so struggled across the water, paddling until, exhausted, it finally reached the rocks and stopped to catch its breath.
…And an otter ran out of the forest, grabbed the cod and took off.
Most of us have stories about watching eagles steal fish from ospreys, many from Cascade lakes and even some along the Willamette and other rivers.
Jack Hart, a Pulitzer-winning editor at The Oregonian, hosted me once off Point Defiance near Tacoma, Wash.
We were treated to the sight of a bald eagle circling a hapless coot, caught in a rip tide far from land.
Every time the eagle got close, the coot dove.
This kept up for several passes and then we watched as a second eagle came in low from the point, where it had been watching.
After the first eagle made its usual pass, the coot dove, and as usual, came up for air.
Just as the second eagle arrived out of the sun and snared it.
Both birds flew back to the point for lunch, or perhaps to tend their chick.
I’m pretty sure Benjamin Franklin would like to have seen that kind of cooperation today in the political world he helped create.