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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy


By Phil Plait

Colorado is rich in wildlife. Iâve seen a bit of it out on hikes and such; moose, elk, coyotes, the odd fox and hare.

Iâve also seen some bald eagles, but usually theyâre pretty far away. Sometimes far enough thatâs itâs hard to tell if theyâre eagles or not; a hawk with its feathers catching the sunlight masquerades well as an eagle to my inexperienced birding eye.

But then, sometimes, theyâre close enough that the distinction isnât so hard to make.

Driving home from the airport last week I saw this pair sitting on a power pole. They were obvious even from hundreds of meters away. I see a lot of hawks on these poles, imperiously gazing over their territory, eyes sharp for rodents or other potential snacks. An eagle is clearly different; larger, with that vividly white-feathered head.

I drove home to get my camera and see if my daughter wanted to come look. She did, so we went back out, and fortunately the pair was still there. Unfortunately, the only place to park the car was right next to the pole. The eagles werenât thrilled with that (they glared down at us with a look that was seriously chilling) and took off. I was able to catch one just as it took off, in the first picture above, as well as both of them flying away.

They flew to another pole, a few hundred meters down the road. As my daughter drove, I snapped a few more pictures of them settling in. We stopped at a gas station on the way back home, and saw them circling around over a field for a while. They were pretty far, and again if I hadnât known, I wouldnât have been able to tell they werenât hawks. But knowing what they were, well⦠it was pretty cool.

I have to wonder if this is the same pair I saw back in 2009, also sitting on a pole. That pair was young, and bald eagles live for 20 years or so, so itâs possible. Either way, I know there are nesting grounds in the area around Boulder, so I think I may have to spend some time viewing them. These birds are truly magnificent, and a wonder to behold.

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