Sunday's for the Birds: Big Bertha and Little Bob


The San Juan Islands off the northwest coast of Washington state have made numerous “top” lists: “Top Twenty Islands in the World,” “Top Ten Bucket List Destinations,” “Top Ten Best Summertime Weather,” and so on. My husband and I arrived on the island of San Juan ten years ago when I took a hiatus from teaching so I could write. We’d planned to stay for two years. We stayed for five. We now live on nearby Fidalgo Island, but I often return to San Juan to visit friends.
            Since moving to Washington, I’ve added several species of birds to my life list. And one species, although not a new one for me, is a common sight, one rarely seen in my native Texas. When my sister, Karen, visited recently, we took the ferry to San Juan. One item on her top-ten list of things to do was to see were eagles. I knew right where to go.
            Standing sentinel for years at the entrance of America Camp Historical Site is a huge, well-known eagle’s nest. At this time of year, an eaglet or two should be easily spotted above the mass of branches. Our binoculars told us that no one was home, and it looked as if no one had been home for a long time. We headed to the ranger’s station and learned that the eagle couple had abandoned the nest. Here’s the story:
            Big Bertha, a twenty-something-year-old eagle returned in the spring two years ago without her mate, Bob. Since eagles mate for life, it was most likely that Bob had passed on to a nest much higher in the sky. Bertha, not about to let a breeding reason slip by without contributing to her species population, found another fellow. Little Bob, as the park rangers call him, insisted on a new home, one not occupied by Bertha’s previous mate and not one so visible as to the public knowing their business. But we were in luck—one of the rangers had located the new nest, and with telescope and tripod we headed out. When the ranger stopped to set up his equipment about a hundred yards from a thick tangle of evergreens, Karen and I glanced at one another—a look that said, “Yeah, right.”
            We of little faith. Within a couple of minutes, the ranger had the scope focused dead center on the new nest. We had the delight of watching two eaglets bobbing up and down while Big Bertha and Little Bob, perched on nearby branches, looked on. It was Karen’s first bald eagle sighting and watching her excitement made the trek into the bushes worth it.
            The next time I’m on the island, I’ll be out there for another look. Will I tell anyone the location of the new nest? I’ll have to think long and hard about that one.