Mating on Cypress Island

Eagle Harbor, Cypress Island

Too slow to get a shot of the eagles, this is where the impromptu mating dance took place.

As I headed across the opening of the harbor, I was rewarded with the sight of a bald eagle gliding low over the water with a fish clasped in its talons. A couple seagulls were screaming bloody murder, which meant they thought the eagle stole it from them somehow.

Shortly after pulling the dingy up to the beach, I crouched down to reset my GPS. At the familiar chirp of a bald eagle, I looked up to see three eagles flying in my directions – two adults and a juvenile. As they closed to about 50 yards away and 40 feet overhead, a fourth, adult eagle came into view. The lead eagle in the pack of three gracefully flipped over and the two eagles locked talons. They spun in three perfect circles as they slowly descended from forty feet to thirty feet above the ground, at which point they released their embrace and flew apart. This amazing aerial dance took place right over my head in the space of less than five seconds.

The eagles, as a group now, all flew down the harbor and into the trees as I stared, dumbfounded. “Did that eagle just get laid?” I asked myself, while attempting to pick my jaw up off the ground. From what I’d read, eagle mating is described as very close to what I had just witnessed, but I’d never seen it in real life. I always thought they did it much higher above the ground! Any less grace and I would have had two large, horny eagles land on my head.


Telepathic Salamanders?

Pacific Salamander

The forest floor was crawling with salamanders, all looking for food and mates. I don’t know how plentiful the food was, but mates were plentiful this day!

My mission this weekend, beyond just getting away from the dock, was to assess the state of the edible spring plants on Cypress. I wanted to know what was coming up and what wasn’t.

I was just starting to get into my hiking groove when I looked down at the last moment to avoid stepping on a salamander. I snapped a photo and continued on my way. A hundred feet later I looked down, again, just in the nick of time to avoid stepping on another, and another, and another. Salamanders littered the trail, turning up every few hundred feet.

One thing I have always wondered at is how few I step on. Despite their perfect stillness and excellent camouflage, I almost always spot them just in the nick of time. How is that?

Young Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are often the first edible plants to spout in spring. The younger they are, the better they taste.

Let’s pretend for a moment that something like telepathy exists in the animal world. Now, if you were a small, slow moving creature with no obvious physical deterrence and a high risk of being stepped on, I think it would increase your evolutionary fitness to ‘telepathically’ persuade large creatures not to step on you…. or so goes my pseudo-scientific reasoning.

Funny fantasies aside, it was nice to see so many salamanders doing their thing. Amphibians are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. When pollutants are introduced into an area or an ecosystem becomes unbalanced, amphibians are usually the first species to be effected. A healthy population is often correlated with a healthy ecosystem.


Foraging 2014

Greenling and Avocado

Kelp greenling and avocado for dinner the first night.

I did not spend much time foraging in 2013 as last year was full of false starts and drama, but this year I plan to step up my foraging and food preservation. This will be the first year in several that I won’t have a garden. Instead, I plan to invest that time towards canning, smoking, drying, and freezing wild foods and in-season foods I can get from Anacortes’ excellent farmer’s market.

Stinging nettles are typically the first edible plant to sprout in early spring. I gathered several on my hike to have with my free-range, grain fed beef steak from Three Sisters beef farm on Whidbey Island. I also managed to catch a nice sized greenling on my way into the harbor, which made a great dinner with a side of avocado.

I plan several return trips to Cypress this spring to harvest lady fern, oyster mushrooms, cattails, maple blossoms, and various sea weeds and herbs for tea. Stay tuned!

Stinging Nettles

Cutting the leaves off of stinging nettle stalks in preparation for cooking.

Cooking Stinging Nettle

To prepare, I bring a small amount of water to a rapid boil, then add the leaves and cook for 5 minutes or less.

Steak and nettles. Yum!

Steak and nettles. Yum!

This was a big guy.

This was a big guy.

Turkey tail mushrooms, I believe. Going back to verify with my mushroom field guide.

Turkey tail mushrooms, I believe. Going back to verify with my mushroom field guide.

Awesome story I found posted at Smuggler's Cove.

Awesome story I found posted at Smuggler’s Cove.

Mrs. Hardy's cabin.

Mrs. Hardy’s cabin.

I wish I had come across this years ago. I may give them a ring this summer.

I wish I had come across this years ago. I may give them a ring this summer.

Another decaying homesteader cabin.

Another decaying homesteader cabin.

An old 4-cylinder, steel-cable log pulling machine. Left over from old logging days.

An old 4-cylinder, steel-cable log pulling machine. Left over from old logging days.

A close up of the 4-cylinder engine. Gas tank is on top. Transmission extends into the background.

A close up of the 4-cylinder engine. Gas tank is on top. Transmission extends into the background.

It was a gorgeous night on Friday, with a full moon and clear sky.

It was a gorgeous night on Friday, with a full moon and clear sky.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Mating on Cypress Island”
  1. Chris –
    Wow – you’ve been busy! What an amazing experience to have eagles mating mere feet from your head! We had a friend in Alaska witness that once, but they didn’t/couldn’t release talons quickly enough and crash landed in the forest. Sadly only one survived. You two are the only folks I know that have seen this supremely astonishing feat in person. So jealous!
    We have plans to cook up some nettles this weekend as well – also some knot weed. Yum! Any idea on the species of salamanders you’ve been finding? We’ve found at least two species on our property, but haven’t keyed them out. Give a holler next time you’re passing through Bham and come meet the new barnyard crew.
    – Katie and Mark

    • Knot weed… that’s a new one by me. I’ll have to have you show it to me. I tried to google it, but there are a lot of plants that go by that name.

      I believe most of what I was seeing was the Rough Skinned Newt. They match the physical description and they all appeared to be migrating towards Duck Lake. I had never seen this kind of intense migration before, so in hindsight, it was pretty amazing!

      Count on me giving you guys a ring soon. I’m so happy to hear you and the goats are settling in. I can’t wait to see the place!

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