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Thrilled by sight of a wayward eagle

May 22, 2013

It's been more than a week now since I saw what I think was a bald eagle fleeing the Camarillo Springs wildfire. It was the fire's second day and the Santa Ana winds had shifted to an onshore flow.

I first saw the eagle in flight, and then perched on the highest branch in a neighbor's 70-foot deodar cedar. I got a great look at it with the naked eye and through binoculars after it landed on a high, drooping branch facing into the wind, looking down on the Crescenta Valley.

The sheer size of it caught my eye as it circled down the south slope of the foothills above our house. It was way bigger than anything normally seen around here, with a turkey-size body and six-foot-plus wingspan that dwarfed that of even the biggest hawk.

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I'm kind of an amateur birder and tend to keep a pair of binoculars handy, so it was game on as I goggled our impressive visitor and soaked up the details.

For a long time the bird sat motionless and resting as I watched it profiled against the blustery mid-morning sky. The head and tail were pure white with contrasting wings that looked mostly brown or gray in the morning light. The head was that of an eagle, not a common buzzard or other large bird.

More details came into focus and I was rewarded with an array of behaviors including several fully extended wing spreads and a takeoff that revealed the very distinctive and unmistakable American eagle shape that we see in the seal of the United States — check out the image on the back of a $1 bill.

Since my sighting I've heard from friends with stories about bald eagles living in Big Bear. And my son actually saw one with a fish in its talons on a recent fishing trip to the Eastern Sierra. Great affirmation for a species that has rebounded from the dark days of threatened or endangered status.

I'll not soon forget that wayward eagle who visited La Crescenta and I'm curious if anyone else happened to see it. If you did, I bet you couldn't believe your eyes and are also very sure it wasn't a large hawk or vulture.

Greg Wilkinson
La Crescenta

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