Column: Community with nature is for the birds

Jul. 27, 2014 @ 05:30 AM

Twenty-eight years ago, the Vietnam War movie “Platoon” ruined an entire genre of film for me. I do not do war movies. As the women of a certain generation would say, “They tear my nerves up.” And now it looks like I’m going to have to give up nature-watching. It’s too stressful.

Once again this season, I have been following the Decorah eagles — a pair of bald eagles in Decorah, Iowa, whose family skills are on display thanks to a camera in their nearly one-ton nest in a cottonwood tree. Like thousands of others, I have been watching this couple raise its latest three offspring — known as D18, D19 and D20. They are not given names because names tend to aid in anthropomorphism — in other words, middle-aged women live-streaming these eagles want to treat them like humans and assign human emotions to them, and that is a no-no in organized nature viewing.

When you watch these offspring hatch from mere eggs and grow into magnificent birds, you become attached, so I refer to them affectionately as “my eagles.”

So, to recap this mating season, “my eagles” fought off cold and rain, high winds, tornado warnings, lightning storms and an owl attack on the nest, but the little family survived. However, it seems there is a gnat infestation in parts of Iowa this summer, and those little boogers got into the nest and were relentless in their attack. Some eagle-watchers theorize it was fighting off these gnats that caused the eaglets to fledge a little early, and that is when the trouble began.

Eaglets fly away from the nest but usually come back after that first flight, but not this time. “My eagles” were gone for days before they were finally spotted by the Raptor Resource Project people.

Long story short, one of the little ones — the baby we think — broke his wing, was rescued from a creek, had to have surgery and is now hospitalized and about to begin rehab.

Another eagle was rescued twice — once hungry and exhausted from a cornfield. She was fitted with a transmitter and eventually ended up on a huge mulch pile at the city’s yard waste facility, where her brother (now known as EWOT — eaglet without transmitter) had decided to set up shop since abandoning the gnat-infested nest.

One the Fourth of July, EWOT was humanely caught and fitted with a transmitter so that he, too, could be tracked for research, and returned to the pile. Folks online called him Indy.

Then, out of nowhere on the day Indy was flying higher, literally, than he ever had before, word came of a downed eagle near a transmission power line. Indy had been electrocuted.

Now, we are down to one eagle. Mom and Dad are still visiting her at the mulch pile, but my stomach is in knots. I have limited myself to two daily online check-ins with the Resource Center for updates.

Some people find watching nature relaxing and life-affirming, but it’s just another war movie to me. I may have to give up National Geographic viewing, too.