Making our way down the west coast of Florida, in order to get to Marathon, in the Keys, by around New Years Day.
November 27 – December 10, 2019
December 4-5, 2019 – As we were making our way south from Sarasota, looking for a nice place to anchor, we spied a trio of spots that were indicated on the crowd-sourced ActiveCaptain community as being good places to drop the hook. The one at the south-east looked nicely protected, a tiny little bay.
Well, when we got there, it wasn’t quite what we expected; a man-made cove, surrounded by $1M+ homes. According to Google Maps, this was Pelican Bay.
Oh well, in we went, and had a nice base from which to take our dinghy over to the southern tip of Little Gasparilla Island, for a walk on the beach. We came back just before sunset to find that two other boats had joined us there for the night.
The next day we were going to head down to Cayo Costa State Park. Cayo Costa Island is one of a chain of barrier islands that shelter Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. The park contains nine miles (14 km) of soft white sandy beaches and 2,506 acres (10 km2) of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, and mangrove swamps. (wikipedia)
It turns out that where we are headed is also called Pelican Bay, but it’s as different as night and day.
Since our trip down took less than two hours, we had plenty of time to explore, and so took the dinghy down to Cabbage Key to get our very own ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. (The inn there is purported to be the inspiration for the Jimmy Buffett song by that title)
The ambiance was pretty funky, but the burger only so-so.
We met up with some other Loopers on three different boats, that were each exploring various parts of the area. A couple of us went over into a little ‘manatee hole’, a small inlet and pond off Pelican Bay, and rowed our dinghy around and saw a few manatees surface, with just their snouts above water. Very hard to get a picture, though.
Enjoyed a spectacular sunset that night, and the next day made a couple trips over to the beaches, where we continued to add to our shell collection. Ben had to promise that we’d still make a stop at Sanibel, supposedly the mecca for sea shell picking.
Here’s a short drone clip showing At Ease, and other boats, anchored at the real Pelican Bay.
November 18-24, 2019 –
November 19, 2019 – It’s been six months since we cast off lines for good from Herrington Harbour North, and started off in earnest on our ‘forward progress’ Loop. (See 3-month recap blog post)
Over the last three months (months four through six), we have traveled another 2436 miles, and:
- Completed Lake Michigan, exiting through the Chicago Harbor Lock into downtown Chicago
- Took our boat down the inland waterways
- Illinois River
- Mississippi River
- Ohio River
- Cumberland River
- Tennessee River
- Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
- Black Warrior-Tombigbee River
- Mobile River
- Cruised the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
- Crossed the Gulf of Mexico
- Added seven more states to the list we’ve gone through:
- Transited 29 locks on the inland rivers
- 4 locks we actually went through twice – once going up and once going back down, on our 500 mile (roundtrip) side-trip to Chattanooga
- Traveled for the first time with guests aboard (Ben’s cousin Alec and fiancee Lena accompanied us for three days on the cruise to Chattanooga)
We moved the boat on 46 days, and remained in place 46 days; on the days we moved, we averaged 53 miles, although the shortest was 11 miles, and the longest was 113 miles.
We spent 67 nights in Marinas (74%), and 18 nights (20%) at anchor; as well as one tied to a non-lock wall, three nights on mooring balls, one at a free town dock, and one at a lock. (And one underway, during our 19-hour crossing of the Gulf.)
We have gained a tremendous amount of experience, but each time we think ‘we’ve got this,’ something new comes up.
Great Lakes boating – got it.
Narrow industrial river – got it.
Anchor in strong current – got it.
Communicate with huge tows to arrange passing – got it.
Navigate through dense fog – got it.
Get on a river that’s in flood stage 30 feet above normal – got it.
Tidal salt water again – working on it….
Getting used to ‘6 feet is plenty of depth’ for hours at a time – uhhhh, not quite there yet!
We pinch ourselves that we have come so far (‘Really? Over 4500 miles traveled since May 1st!?!’) Much of it was enjoyable in its own right, but some of it has seemed as only ‘paying dues’ to get to the nice, warm, Florida part of the trip. We plan to take our time enjoying the 300+ miles down the west coast of Florida for the next month, arriving at year’s end to our two-month layover in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Then on to the Bahamas….
November 17/18 2019 – The boat was ready. We were ready. We were in the right place, at the right time, to make the right decision about our 170 mile crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.
Our friend Greg on TxAu pulled past at 1500, and we pulled out of our (very tight) slip at C-Quarters Marina, and followed him down the river toward Saint George Sound, around Dog Island and out the inlet to the Gulf.
Paddy Wagon and Sea-C-Rider followed At Ease, with quite a few other boats leaving ahead of us, or behind us, on their own schedules during the afternoon.
We four settled in on the designated cruising speed, and gained a comfortable separation of about 1/4 to 1/2 mile between boats so we’d be able to see each other in the darkness and have assured radio communications on the 2-hourly checks we’d agreed upon.
The waves were between 1 and 2 feet, and the boat rode comfortably as we headed initially east for the first hour and a half, toward a marker at which we turned south, and started the long leg to Anclote Key outside Tarpon Springs. The slight swell was behind us at that point, with negligible wind, and everything was going smoothly as we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
After sunset, when it was nearly dark, we had a pod of dolphins come play in our bow-wave for a few minutes, but soon, dusk gave way to a very black night, and we could see nothing other than the lights of the other boats, and the instruments.
Although there were scattered clouds, we were able to see some stars for a while, but as the moon rose, the clouds brightened and we were actually able to discern the surface of the water for most of the rest of the trip.
There was no haze or fog at all, and we had crystal clear view of the lights of boats ahead of us, behind us, and later on, boats that were converging with us from the sides. We could pick up lights 4-5 miles away, and easily keep track of all the boats in the vicinity, aided by radar and AIS.
We took rotating shifts, each taking the helm while the other tried to doze, and that did give us each a little relief rather than trying to stay awake all night.
Chantale was driving when around 5 AM, she encountered the first crab-pots (actually crab-trap floats). These small floats are connected to crab traps on the bottom with rope or cables, which are laid out in lines that are hundreds of feet long; when you see one, there are probably more nearby. You definitely don’t want to get one of these wound around your propeller, so vigilance is key!
We knew that we’d come across these as we got in closer to shore, in depths of ~30 feet, but these were in 52 feet of water (!), so a bit unexpected. She roused Ben, who was asleep on the bench seat in front of the helm, and a ‘fire drill’ quickly ensued. We slowed to a crawl, communicating a warning to the boats behind us, and after bundling up, Chantale went forward with the spotlight to scan the water on our path, to point out the hazards so Ben could alter the course enough to miss them, while staying on the correct general heading.
We were soon back underway at cruising speed, with Chantale at the bow with the light for over an hour, before it was light enough to discern the floats with natural light.
We wound up being on high alert for more than thirty miles, but with very smooth water, and the sun slightly off to one side rather than directly in front of us, the crab-pots were easy to see, and were more an annoyance to avoid, rather than a true risk.
The sunrise was pretty, and we were fortunate that a low layer of clouds shaded us until it was a bit higher in the sky.
As we pulled around Anclote Key, we phoned the marina to find out that we would need to wait an hour or two until several boats had cleared out of the marina in order for us to go to our slip, so we motored up and dropped the hook just across from the channel that leads to Tarpon Springs.
Ahhh! We made it across, and could now relax, get a hot shower, and prepare to enjoy the warmer Florida part of our adventure.
Let the ‘pleasure-boating’ begin!
November 9-16, 2019 – This week we traveled 270 miles across Lower Alabama and the Florida panhandle, from Mobile, AL to Carrabelle, FL, in preparation for our overnight crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.
It was mostly cold, windy, grey, and miserable.
We had envisioned anchoring and taking the dinghy to isolated stretches of shoreline, strolling the renowned white sand, or sampling the local seafood at fun waterfront bars or restaurants. Nope. Down jackets and wool hats.
We did spend two nights in Mobile, and went with friends to museums – the gals to the Mobile History Museum, and the guys to the USS Alabama. (Separate post to follow) before crossing Mobile Bay and spending two nights at Orange Beach, AL.
The rates were good at the military marina at Pensacola Naval Air Station, and we wanted to see the Naval Aviation Museum there. The marina was somewhat isolated, though, so although we did take our bikes out on the first day, we had to get a rental car to get to shopping and the museum. (More pictures from the museum will be in a separate blog).
We saw the neatest old steel tugboat at the marina, that a young couple seemed to be fixing up; they took it out for a short cruise just after dark one night, but due to fierce winds on our second day there, we didn’t get over to find out what their story was.
We are intently watching the forecasts for when the winds and seas will settle, to provide safe and comfortable crossing overnight. There are as many stories of wonderful starlit crossings in smooth seas, as there are horror stories of rough and worsening conditions in pitch darkness 100 miles out.
It’s looking like Sunday night might be the right time, and so we press on, 50 miles to Destin, 70 miles to Panama City, 85 miles to Carrabelle. Each day the various forecasts seem to look better and better, and more aligned.
Although we have seen many dolphins since getting to Mobile, we finally had them come right up to the boat and follow alongside on our last leg to Carrabelle. Previously they’d come up to the boat for a look and then disappear. Maybe they were looking for people? So Chantale went out on the side deck, and suddenly, there they were! They were so fun to watch – maybe it’s because they liked the interaction, in addition to the waves of the boat.
We top off diesel tanks upon arrival at C-Quarters Marina, and walk up the street for some good fresh seafood before turning in for our last night’s full sleep before the long overnighter.
The next day, we confer with other boats looking to cross, and with some experienced locals with decades of experience on when to, or not to, head out into the Gulf. It appears to be unanimous, that it should be a sound decision to go Sunday afternoon, and we get everything on board ready to go, and especially making sure that anything loose is well battened down in preparation for the possibility of boisterous seas.
We are ready.
November 1-6, 2019 – There were parts of the Loop that we really looked forward to. And then there were other parts.
This was one of the other parts.
We headed down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, nicknamed the ‘Tenn-Tom’, on a cold, foggy morning. Cold, as in, below freezing, ice on the docks cold. Foggy, as in, we can’t even see the next dock foggy.
Days are shorter, so precious minutes tick away waiting for safe conditions; but there is the tyranny of miles between good stops, and quite a few locks to transit, any one of which could have delays that would set us even further back. And the first lock we had to clear was on a reduced operating schedule, only locking pleasure craft at 8, 12 and 4. Or in the dark.
There aren’t really any sights we have to see on the Tenn-Tom. Well, there are some towns that have their features attractively written up in a Chamber of Commerce brochure. But, none that compelled us to linger. Instead, it was a case of ‘let’s just get it over with’. So as soon as it began to clear, we’re off!
As the morning wears on, we realize that we might not make the 12:00 lockage, so we speed it up a bit and pass the boat that we had followed out of Aqua Yacht as the fog cleared. We come up to the lock where several other boats are already waiting. We hang out for a little while, but hear no radio traffic; Ben notices that the lock light is green, so he calls the lockmaster to see if he is going to call us in. ‘Nope, it’s open and ready for ya, come on in.’ Jeez, the other boats apparently didn’t have a clue; guess we will have to take matters into our own hands from here on.
We pressed on through the first three locks; the third, Rankin Lock, was our 100th lock on the Loop. No wonder we are getting so good at it!
We stop short of Fulton Lock for the day, anchoring less than a quarter mile from one side of the lock entrance. When we get up the next morning, FOG!
Just as things start to look clear, an upbound tow comes on the scene, and has to be locked up before we can lock down. There’s just a touch of mist remaining by the time we enter the lock at 9:30.
The other three locks go smoothly, and we get to Columbus Marina just before sundown, in time to get fuel and pumpout. A couple of the other boats that had gone a bit farther than Fulton Lock the previous day are already at the marina, along with some other Loopers that had been there a few days or more. We didn’t run into anyone though, as they were on other docks that were separately secured so we couldn’t go down to visit them at their boats.
Didn’t really matter, though, as we intended to leave at first light if it wasn’t foggy. When we got up, things looked good, and one other boater, in a small center-console with twin outboards (who we had met in the first three locks) was getting set to go as well. We pull out of the marina and into the lock. Then another boat calls on the radio, and says “I’m coming!” The lockmaster waits, of course, and then there are three of us.
When the lock doors open at the bottom, however, we are greeted by a thick fog-bank: uh-oh!
Nobody else is ready to arm-wrestle us to go first, so we lead the other two boats into the fog, sounding the horn every two minutes, and using our radar, AIS, and charts to pick our way carefully along the river.
There are no marinas in this stretch, so we find an anchorage in an oxbow that cuts off from the main channel. It’s plenty deep and wide with a good current that holds us straight despite a light breeze. The next morning we awake to a gorgeous sunrise, and are underway early.
We are hailed by another boat who had spoken to the next lock by phone – if we could make it there by 7:00, we’d probably be able to lock through with some other recreational vessels. We revved it up, and managed to catch up to another group of boats as they were rounding the bend a few miles from the lock.
We were in and down early, and just had to avoid the ever-increasing amounts of debris in the water, and mind the missing and out of place ATONs. And tows…
As we pulled into Demopolis Yacht Basin, we had to queue up to get to the fuel dock, which could only handle one boat at a time. In addition to having the best price on fuel, you know it’s fresh because the tows fuel there and ensure that there’s good turnover in the fuel tanks. One actually pulled up while we were there, and was probably going to take on 3500 gallons.
At Kingfisher Marina, they give a briefing daily at 5pm for boaters heading down the river, to discuss river conditions, anchorages, and coordinate the early morning departure to catch the lock right around the bend.
It is at this briefing that we find out that the next section of the river is about 30 feet above normal.
In fact, the section we just finished was more than 15 feet above normal – that would explain some of the debris, washed into the river by high rains.
The current is running fast, many of the channel markers are out of place or are missing (or might be submerged), there is a lot of debris. And many of the anchorages are unusable due to the aforementioned factors, or due to shoaling caused by the flooding.
Great. So, who wants to go tomorrow? Ten hands shoot up, ours included. It’ll be a long day, 95 miles, plus getting through the lock first thing in the morning if there are no tows. Or fog.
A few boats head on at greater speed, and a few lag behind. In the end, six boats wind up docking at Bobby’s Fish Camp, a rustic place with a dock, some cabins and RV parking spots, and a restaurant. It’s a fixture on the river, and a critical fuel stop for those who can’t make it the 230 miles from Demopolis to Mobile. The dock is only long enough for three or four boats, so we have to raft off of each other, faced up into the current so debris doesn’t entangle in our props and rudders.
The restaurant is normally not open on Tuesdays, but they call in the cook and a waitress, and open it just for us. Fried catfish is their specialty, and it’s pretty darn good.
The next day, we coordinate with the lock before shoving off, and a tow that’s staged to go through is kind enough to let us go first (probably so we are out of his way and he doesn’t have to deal with us passing him in the twisty river ahead). Coffeeville Lock is the final lock on the waterway, and once we are through this lock, the river becomes tidal, and increasingly brackish as we make our way to Mobile. This lock normally drops boats about 34 feet; today, it dropped us about 6 feet, when the doors opened we were let out into a river fully in flood stage, but it had crested and would be going down as we made our way toward Mobile Bay.
This travel day will be even longer, 106 miles, to another anchorage, and the river is incredibly contorted, going from east to south to west to north back to west and back to south. Patriot is eventually five miles ahead of me, but sometimes only a half mile away, because of the course of the river. There are a lot of tows, and its much more complex to work out a passing or meeting engagement when there are such tight curves and narrow stretches, not to mention bridges. We had to hold up at one point about 20 minutes to let a tow negotiate a bridge that was right at a 90 degree bend. He had to slow to less than 1 mile per hour, and churn his props furiously to make the load swivel around the corner, after which I could finally pass.
It’s a long day of dodging logs, and minding the ATONs that are missing or out of place. Lots of large debris has an ‘auxilliary marker’; they aren’t totally reliable, but we can see them from quite a ways off. We are still carrying a couple knots of extra speed, due to the current, and we start seeing that the banks look a bit more normal, and not as swollen.
We make it to our anchorage by just after 3:00, and drop the hook ahead of Patriot; Outta the Loop comes in later, and anchors behind them. With a name like Big Bayou Canot, it seems like we should have seen alligators basking on the shore, but we didn’t see any wildlife at all. We did hear what we thought were owls, later, though. A quiet night, and no fog when we awoke. We were all headed down to Dog River Marina, and all to take on fuel, so At Ease went ahead and jumped off first, right at sunrise, so the other boats could leave on staggered schedules and the fuel dock would be free by the time they got there.
Within a few miles, we round a bend to see a RR bridge in the down position; I hail the bridge tender, who tells me he’s waiting for someone to cross. So we wait. And wait. Finally, I hear something coming. And it’s not a train – first time I have ever been held up like this for a dump truck!
The river banks started to look a lot different now, with plentiful cypress and palmettos. We spotted many of the channel markers on the banks, washed loose from their proper spots up the river.
There are large barge loading/staging areas, and lots of tows working, and even more parked by the side of the river.
We can see them all on our AIS, and did a double take when we spotted one with our son’s name…
As we get into the port, we see a couple of stealthy-looking Navy ships, and a cruise ship with its lifeboats deploying. We slow down for that, since a police patrol boat was out, and get some good pictures of the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Fast Expeditionary Transport.
We soon left the busy port behind us, in a drizzle, and continued down Mobile Bay towards the channel that turns up Dog River to our marina. Lots of watermen out dragging nets; they seemed to be cleaning their catch on this boat, while underway, and the seabirds were hanging around to take care of the scraps.
Later that afternoon, we gathered together to celebrate our safe transit down the rivers, and into salt water, with the crews of Patriot, Outta the Loop, and Carousel.
Now, onward for the next part of our journey, down the panhandle and across the Gulf.
October 19-21, 2019 – After the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous, we and a flotilla of 11 other boats departed for a side trip 250 miles up the Tennessee River to Chattanooga.
We were joined at our first stop, in Huntsville, AL, by Ben’s cousin Alec and his fiancee Lena. Long-time boaters, currently based on the Hudson River near Hyde Park, they were excited to join us to get a taste of the Loop, and experience what was supposed to be a pretty nice leg of the inland rivers. Alec never goes anywhere without his camera, and he took over a thousand pictures in the three days they traveled with us.
Their first leg aboard turned out to be a wet one, with early clouds and then steady rain, but it let up for a smooth locking through Guntersville Lock, and then for docking at Goose Pond Marina. That marina had a twisty, narrow channel to come in from the river, with depths that looked only a foot or two more than our draft. Yikes!
Along the way we saw some beautiful rock formations as the river entered the Cumberland Plateau, plenty of birds, and an amazing number of fishing boats, blasting around in the rain.
We left Goose Pond Marina and traveled next up to Nickajack Lock, plenty more beautiful scenery (and a few bits not so beautiful).
After a short wait, at the lock, 10 boats entered with a couple rafted together and up we went.
Within a few miles, we turned into the anchorage, and all ten boats anchored rafted to one or two others. We dropped the dinghy to make special delivery of Bushwacker frozen drinks to the other boats, and then Alec and Lena took the dinghy around for some up-close pictures of the cove.
The next morning we left at first light, ahead of the pack, to get to Chattanooga with as much exploring time as possible- our guests had a 6am flight out the next morning!
The hills along the river in this section were really stunning, even with some morning mist in the hills as the sun rose.
We docked on a long floating dock between two bridges right in downtown Chattanooga, so it was an easy walk up the Riverfront area for lunch at a spot recommended by some locals.
We walked around downtown after lunch, and after looking at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel, we found a distillery that offered tours and tastings – perfect!
By the time we walked back to the dock, we agreed that it had been a great trip and that we’d better make it an early evening, so Alec and Lena could get up early to make their flight – no late docktails tonght!
September 28 – October 8, 2019 – After treating ourselves to a long 2-week stay at Green Turtle Bay, we headed down Kentucky Lake, planning to overnight in a series of bays in the Land Between the Lakes.
We made several short hops, less than two hours cruising time, to nice anchorages at Pisgah Bay, Vickers Bay, and Clay Bar.
We relaxed, and dropped the dinghy a couple times to explore. At Pisgah Bay, we went around into the Rock Quarry, a popular local party spot. Just a few local boats tied up, and lots of cool graffiti painted on the rock cliffs surround this former quarry over 100′ deep. We forgot our camera, so nothing to show you, except this sunset when we got back to the boat-
Each day was quite hot (over 90), but as the sun went down each evening, it cooled off nicely and made stargazing on the foredeck quite pleasant.
At Vickers Bay, after the sunset we laid out front for over an hour just enjoying the whole cove to ourselves, and seeing a great night sky.
At our third anchorage, we saw quite a display of nature, with two bald eagles fighting, blogged separately.
Finally, though, after the third night, the heat got to us, and we headed to Paris Landing State Park Marina rather than anchoring out a fourth night. Since we were so late in the season, the restaurant at the marina wasn’t open when we were there, but a local restaurant would come pick us up; here’s the limo that came – pretty cool! And good creole food, too…
We then moved down to Pebble Isle Marina; one of their trademarks is that the dockmaster bakes fresh cinnamon rolls each morning and delivers them to the boats. Delicious!
As we move south, up the river, the river narrows, we begin to see rocky shoreline rather than just trees and bushes along the levees. The nature of the boats that we see also changes. A lot more bass boats, and a lot fewer sailboats.
All the water that we are traveling in this section is ‘Kentucky Lake’ so named as it is held back by Kentucky Lock. As part of their management of the waterway, the lake level is reduced by about 5 feet in the winter (to ‘winter pool’). At this marina, they had a concrete marker that shows winter pool (now), where summer pool would normally be, and where the level would be if flooding reached the top of the dam.
Here’s a marina that we didn’t stop at, although their advertising was quite eye-catching. We’re in the bible belt, aren’t we??
Some sections of the shoreline are TVA property, and some are private. We see a lot more vacation homes, and some more ‘rustic’ camping.
Do you supposed it might flood here? Check out the stilts on these homes!
We finally exit Kentucky Lake, at Pickwick Lock, and head into Aqua Yacht Harbor for a few days before continuing on to the AGLCA Rendezvous.
This marina had an interesting phenomenon going on – people would rent (or buy) a large covered slip, much larger than their boat, but then build in a separate ‘patio’. We saw a wide variety, including screen enclosures, patio furniture, refrigerators, smokers and grills, large screen TVs, heaters and fans, and carpets. Quite the weekend place to hang out!
September 30, 2019 – Our third stop coming down Kentucky Lake was at the Clay Bar anchorage. “Look for the bald eagle nest on the south shore”, the review said.
We didn’t go all the way back in, because we wanted to catch some of the southwest breeze on what was projected to be a mid-90s day, but as we dropped the anchor, Chantale had already seen a bald eagle overhead. As we scanned the treeline with binoculars, we saw two adults sitting at opposite ends of the cove; within a half hour, they were perched together. Wow, what a sight!
We saw some juveniles, lacking the adults’ white head and tail feathers and yellow beak, flying in circles, practicing, we imagined. Catching a thermal, one was followed by an adult, higher and higher, and they disappeared over the ridge.
In mid-afternoon, I saw one flying low past the boat, with a commotion in the water behind him. His talons were empty, an unusual sight. We’d seen several bald eagles taking fish from the rivers before, and it seemed they never missed. He swooped up to land in a tree on the south bank. Soon an adult flew the length of the creek, with a raucous exchange, that continued as they both headed further into the woods.
A bit later, what looked like an adult, or a more mature juvenile (they take about four years to gain their full adult coloration), swooped out of the northern side, down to the water–maybe we’d see him get a fish! But instead he landed at the waters edge of a small rocky point. We watched as he dipped and drank from the lake, and stood there still, looking to each side. Ben stood by with the camera, looking for a good shot of him taking flight.
Suddenly, the flash of another, swooping in toward the first. Wham! A whirlwind of water, feathers, beaks and talons accompanied by shrieks…
Chantale even shouted “Stop it!”, and went below – she couldn’t bear to watch.
They continued to thrash for several minutes, well past when it seemed that one would yield, and a victor be declared. Then they lay, entangled and spent, on the rocky edge of the water, on the slimy rocks; they were completely still, beaks open and silent, for a full twenty minutes.
Another 30-second thrashing, talons intertwined, wings beating the other. Another half hour, motionless. ‘Do you yield?’ ‘Never’
And again, back into the water, neither releasing the other, seemingly intent on twisting his opponent under the water, wings beating the other’s head. Again they lay in the water, bedraggled, their feathers picking up the algae stains from the rocks. At least it offered some respite from the brutal 95 degree heat, to be soaking wet.
Then I noticed above, buzzards beginning to circle – first a couple, then a total of seven; interested perhaps, in whether this fight was truly to the death. Then an eighth, but with the bright white head and tail of a mature adult eagle, came to circle the pair on the ground, and as he circled and rose, the buzzards went higher and higher, and eventually went looking elsewhere.
The pair alternated between laying inert, staring at each other, for long stretches, and then mightily thrashing, neither relenting his grasp on the other.
What was it about? Did one think the other had something he wanted? Was one an outsider, and the other defending his territory? For a mate? Sibling rivalry? Young male challenging an elder?
Apparently it was something worth dying for; as the standoff continued into its second hour, the buzzards returned, only to be escorted away once again by the adult eagle, who must have been surveying the scene from a perch high in the trees.
Finally, after more than two hours from the initial assault, the two birds separated. One splashed around in the water, raised and shook his wings a few times to dry, and within 10 minutes, took off to the other side of the cove.
The second combatant had hopped up into the woods, and later could be seen stretching his wings, but as the sun set, he stayed in place, watching as an adult and baby raccoon came to prowl the water’s edge. We didn’t see him the next morning – we hope that he was able to return to flight.
It’s easy to project a calm but fierce nobility onto our national symbol. However, it was downright unpleasant to watch two proud specimens go at it in such an ugly fashion, talons into the other, neither relenting, or backing off to settle their difference in more civilized fashion. This is real life, I guess.