Winter can be cruel to animals. Food is scarce. Water is frozen. Temperatures are inhospitable. In Northwest Montana, the scene is played out before our eyes each season. Deer nibbling at dried grass that would not appear to offer much substance. A path through the snow, where the mountain lion dragged the deer. A carcass half buried in the woods, the lion's "refrigerator". It can be distressing, but it is the circle of life, the delicate balance that keeps the weak out of the gene pool and a check on overpopulation of any one species. Recently, my "back yard" gave me a ring-side seat to one of these events. Don't worry, it's not too terribly gruesome.
On January 24, I was walking along the lake at the bottom of our property, ever hopeful that the otter might have returned to the spring (see this post for my otter encounter last winter). As I approached the open water, a slight ripple broke the surface and I held my breath. Closer, and no sign of an otter. No slide marks, no sleek sable-brown body. Sigh. Instead, fish. Dozens of fish, roiling the water. What? Check out this video.
link about low oxygen levels under ice.
In especially long, harsh winters a winter fish kill can occur. During periods of prolonged ice cover, the lake is sealed off from the atmosphere and cannot be recharged with oxygenated air. Furthermore, ice and snow reduce the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants, thereby reducing photosynthesis and oxygen production. All the fish and aquatic organisms in the lake use up the oxygen, and when it does not get replenished, oxygen levels can get too low for fish to survive. Winter kill begins with distressed fish gasping for air at holes in the ice and ends with large numbers of dead fish which usually show up as the water warms in early spring.
We don't know for certain this is the problem, but it is one theory. It might also explain why the fish have not returned to the main body of the lake. (An alternate theory is that the passage back to the lake is now frozen.) In any event, within a couple days of my first sighting, several of the fish had died.
This site is visible from our house by spotting scope and binoculars, and although you cannot see the fish, you can easily detect critters around the open water. Not surprisingly, crows began to gather, sometimes a dozen at a time.
But they were not the main attraction. One afternoon, three bald eagles and 2 golden eagles were in the vicinity simultaneously! At my next opportunity, I placed my trail cam at the site, and I was thrilled to see these majestic raptors on film the next time I downloaded photos. (I apologize in advance for the number of pictures - trust me, these are the best of hundreds that the trail cam snapped in a span of two hours!)
In the two hours caught on film, the golden eagle ate at least 7 fish.
Interestingly, the article noted that perch and pike are generally tolerant of low oxygen. If that's the case, then the dead fish you see floating here might have died for other reasons. (I can't be certain, but it would appear, from the color of "dinner", that the eagle was selecting live fish.)
And then it got even better; the bald eagle arrived!
Before these pictures, if you had asked me about relative stature, I would have guessed the bald eagle to have the size advantage. Wrong! Having the bald eagle in the shot emphasizes the gigantic frame of the golden eagle.
The bald eagle wasted no time in snagging a fish, and departed as soon as the prey was consumed.
The golden resumed fishing, with vigor. I am sad for the fish, but the raptors are clearly benefiting from this ready source of sustenance.
I was rewarded with one blurry photo of a coyote; based on the position of the camera and the fact that it takes three photos in one go, I suspect that the coyote did not stop at the spring.
Only one raptor appeared on the trail cam, and that was a bald eagle in flight. My theory? Most of the live fish have been consumed and the raptors have therefore lost interest. (By the way, isn't it fabulous technology that the camera detected the eagle AND took this shot?)
So, now I wonder what we will face when the spring season arrives. Is the open pool of water an isolated case, or will the entire lake be awash in dead fish because of low oxygen levels throughout the lake? Can the lake replenish itself with fish? If some fish remain, breeding will restore the fish stocks. If all of them are gone, since the lake is spring-fed, the only natural source of new fish would be those that might swim UP the stream from lakes lower down in the system. Could be a tough putt - there is a substantial beaver dam where the stream meets the lake! But, in my experience, nature finds a way. That's the circle of life!
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I do so enjoy your photos this week. Today it’s only 19 degrees here and I shiver as I look at the eagle drying his wings. And oh, the artistic skill of Mother Nature and her ice crystals. Simply amazing!!! Thank you!!! Have a wonderful week, Angie.ReplyDelete
...I rarely see a Bald Eagle and I have NEVER seen a Golden Eagle. What a sight! Thanks Angie for hosting.ReplyDelete
Wow... what a wonderful Post. Seeing a Golden Eagle. Most amazing is the story in the captures, step by step the eagle with his fish. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
Fantastic post Angie, those Eagles are amazing. So good to have the photos of them, hopefully the fish return after the cold. Your photos of the ice are stunning. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
wow, that´s amazing. I would really have loved to be there to see it. I have to say your camera is really great, taking such photos. I envy you. Such adventures at your doorstep. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Your shots of the different eagles in the same frame particularly fascinate me.ReplyDelete
Oh my gosh! The eagle photos, just gorgeous. Now that snow and ice...whew that's something else. We had snow last night and woke to temperatures at -1. I am soooo not used to this.ReplyDelete
What a smart cookie to place the trail cam out and capture wonderful photos.
Dawn aka Spatulas On Parade
Yes, it sure can be tough out there for all creatures great and small. Cool to see the eagle though.ReplyDelete
The circle of life is so incredibly brought to life through your photos here Angie, especially your photo of the two eagles waiting for their easy pickings for dinner. I too am wondering whether any of the fish will survive? It's boiling here, so have enjoyed my little chill with you!Thanks for hosting.ReplyDelete
Exciting photos, Angie! The eagle and hawk are such clever predators and it was amazing to see the magpie amongst them as I would have thought they would also be a tasty dinner for the eagle. Living so close to nature is so fascinatingReplyDelete
Gosh, you have amazing animals in your neck of the woods. Those eagles are magnificent. Yes, nature does have a habit of working the circle of life out, but more often these days, the balance is not quite as it once was.ReplyDelete
Hello, Angie. As we don't get snow in Melbourne (closest reliable snow catchment is about 150 km away), it's easy for me to say "Oh how lovely it is!". However, I forget how cruel a season Winter is, when you remind me of the animals out and about...ReplyDelete
Interesting post, as usual!
Thank s for hosting, Angie!ReplyDelete
What a mysterious paradox, this circling of life and death! Nature is dispassionate it would seem and designed for one creature to pursue another. Neither kind nor cruel, it evolved nonetheless to become nurturing to all.ReplyDelete
Warm Wishes from sunny Trinidad and Tobago. Thanks for sharing the mysterious of the circle of life from your photos.ReplyDelete
Nature does find it's way and things are constantly changing. I love seeing the Eagles together and seeing the size difference. I loved seeing the Golden Eagles in Alaska. Love your post! Happy MM!ReplyDelete
The circle of life is hard for me. I know it's there for a reason, but at times just seems too violent for this poor sensitive soul. I love those photos of the eagles Angie. I've never seen a golden eagle before!ReplyDelete
It's always interesting to walk in the deep, woods. There's always a crime scene. This one was more interesting than most, with beautiful eagles hanging around.ReplyDelete
Wow...just wow! Amazing shots that your cam got. Love seeing those eagles and the magpies thrown in, too. We had some tracks in our back acres that made us wonder if a coyote came through. Not big enough for a wolf tracks. It's supposed to be really cold this week here in the teens and lower. Hope you have a good week!ReplyDelete
I love your post, Angie! If I can't see nature in person, the reading a post like yours is the best way to "live" it. The scenes in words and photos have brought the circle of life alive to me. The photos of the eagles are amazing. Now I understand why golden eagles are called such. Thanks, Angie. :-)ReplyDelete
Angie, Thanks for sharing this post! I loved seeing the big birds. Have a great week! Sylvia D.ReplyDelete
Wonderful photos, Angie. The life cycle is sometimes puzzling and hard to watch. Salmon spawn in rivers here and at that time of year hundreds of bald eagles gather to gorge themselves on the dying fish. It's both magnificent and terrible.ReplyDelete
Interesting post. Great eagle pictures!ReplyDelete
Wow, love the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle images, awesome captures.
I feel sorry for the fish but the birds are happy and eating well.
Take care, enjoy your day and week ahead!
Very cool! As you know I'm a big fan of bald eagles. I had no idea it would small next to the golden eagle. Thanks!ReplyDelete
This is a wonderful series Angie! I loved it. Almost feels as if I too had witnessed this slice of the circle of life first hand. Thanks so much for sharing.ReplyDelete
We have very mild winters - very different from these great photos.ReplyDelete
"nature finds a way. That's the circle of life!"ReplyDelete
So true ...
Thank you for sharing these amazing photographs.
Stay safe and well.
All the best Jan
circle of life, yes. When I watch nature shows I root for one, then think the other one is starving... oy... beautiful pics!ReplyDelete
The Golden Eagle fishing for prey is fantastic Angie, and the Bald Eagle , beautiful.ReplyDelete
Wow - fabulous to see the eagles so close up!ReplyDelete
Those are great records of the eagles' mealtime Angie. I was about to ask about the relative sizes but it is very clear with those pictures. Like you say, nature in the raw.ReplyDelete
we forget about all of this during the winter, how harsh nature can be to those who live in the wild. i tried to think of the jumping fish as happy fish, it is good they found that cut out in the ice!!ReplyDelete
oooooh and those eagles, how lucky you were to have seen them. i just watched a movie, penguin bloom, that stared a magpie. i enjoyed the movie, my hubs thought it was very sad. i could relate to the movie, it was based on a true story and it had a very happy ending....and great real live pictures at the end!!!
Good thing you moved that trail cam. You got some amazing photos of the eagles. The fish seem to have no way of escape so they were easy prey for the birds.ReplyDelete
Spectacular photos!! Eagles need to eat to!!ReplyDelete
My sister worked a summer at Yellowstone with a vendor who operated the campgrounds. Early in the season is calving time for the elk who would try and hide their offspring while they fed. In the meantime the bears are coming out of hibernation and are very hungry and they love young elk. It made for a very upsetting situation and people would demand that the campground people and Park Rangers stop the bears from eating the elk, but they didn't of course.
Excellent post! Really interesting photos you captured. I've having trouble with trailcams. One just gets too cold!ReplyDelete
Wow, the eagles were incredible to see side by side. I wonder what they were feeling, definitely respect for each other. Amazing to see, Angie! Have a wonderful weekend.ReplyDelete
This is an amazing sequence, Angie, and I don't say that lightly. I would have been thrilled beyond reason to have witnessed some of this. In terms of restocking the lake with fish, one common occurrence is waterfowl with fish eggs from other locations stuck to their plumage, or their feet, releasing them into new bodies of water, thereby populating them. People who create ornamental ponds are often surprised to see fish in them, never having stocked them, and this is generally how it occurs. It happened to a good friend of mine and the run-on effect was a kingfisher all last summer and a Great Blue Heron or two.ReplyDelete