“Did you know that, in movies, they rarely use the actual call of a bald eagle?”

After hiking through pines trees, down a cave, over a trench, and up one of the tallest buttes in the park, I barely understood the question. I was much more concerned with keeping ants off of my snack and not falling down the side of the butte. The fun fact had come from Nathan, who spent the last hour leading me, Emma, and Bryan on a hike to try and find a bald eagle nest that he suspected contained a nestling. 

“They replace it with the call of a red-tailed hawk because it sounds more impressive. The bald eagle’s actual cry sounds really shrill and unpleasant.”

Shrill or not, we could have really used a bald eagle cry to help us locate the nest. The trees weren’t very dense, but they still managed to completely camouflage the dead tree, or snag, that we knew held the nest. I picked another ant off my leg as we walked through the trees, scanning for the grey nest that should’ve stuck out so well.

Suddenly, Nathan, with binoculars pressed tight to his eyes, began waving his arms and silently, but no less dramatically, summoning us over to where he stood. We hurried over and – success! — sticking out from the pines around it was a tall, leafless tree that had died but hadn’t collapsed. Nestled in the topmost branches was a large nest of twigs. Nathan passed around the binoculars and we all eagerly took turns looking inside the nest. A single nestling, young enough that its head was still dark instead of white, sat in the nest. Its mother must have been out hunting.

We took out our papers and settled in to record observations. We watched the nest avidly for thirty minutes; the slightest shift from the nestling took my breath away. I had never seen a bald eagle before! And even though it was a young one that probably couldn’t even fly, even though it neither looked nor sounded like the movies, I was so thrilled to have found it that I thought it was perfect.

Setting up a scope on the side of a butte to spot a bald eagle nest.

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