Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bald Eagle tracks at Kenai Beach, Cook Inlet

Right before I left Alaska, a dear friend and her family visited me on the Kenai Peninsula. Before I got the job with the USFWS, Nadia had been planning a trip to Anchorage, AK to visit a family member. When I got the job just 3 hours from there, she promised she'd come visit me.

Nadia, her husband David, and sons Oliver and Griffin, picked me up one morning at my cabin and we spent the day sight-seeing around where I had been living for the summer.

The 'A' is where I lived in Soldotna, and the large blue expanse of blue that curves up to Anchorage and beyond is the Cook Inlet.

We spent a lot of our time on the beach of the Inlet that morning, walking the shore. The Inlet has a huge flucuation in water levels when the tide goes in and out. When the tide is low, it leaves a wide expanse of scary, "quicksand-like" mud, that animals and people alike have gotten stuck in, and then drowned when the tide comes back up. I explained to the boys to not step in the mud, and they had a lot of fun chucking rocks into the sludge instead.

We saw cool stuff like:


Dead salmon sharks

And many other dead fish, like this flounder and...
...whatever this thing is. Not a salmon, so therefore: out of my range of knowledge :)

What I was most excited about seeing though, was this immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus):

We watched it come in to land, and it first landed on the ground, and took a few steps around. Then he or she sat on that stump for a long time, just taking in the sights and watching us. We eventually got too close though, and it took off. I wandered up there, to check out the spot and see what was so interesting. I was rewarded with some beautiful tracks in nice moist sand.

This bottom picture is just of the single left track in the first track picture. Sorry for not using something for scale...but you can see how big it is in comparison to my hand.

This was the first time I think I have found nice bird tracks, that I KNEW who they belonged to. I've speculated and said "duck" or "goose" or "songbird", but I saw the Eagle leave these tracks.
I referred to easily one of my new favorite guides, Bird Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch with Eleanor Marks.
Their measurements for Bald Eagle tracks are: 6-8 1/4" L x 3 1/4-5 3/4" W, on average, for an adult. As you can see, this bird is an immature. It's not that dark brownish black, with the distinctive white head and tail. Bald Eagle's can take up to 5 years to completely mature, and I'm not expert on micro-aging. So all I can say is this bird isn't a chick, nor a true adult.
By my judgement of the size of my own hand, and a ruler I have now here in my kitchen- those tracks seem to be on the small side or just under, average.
Other notes that Elbroch and Marks have written about the characteristics of Bald Eagle tracks:
-Classic bird tracks.
-Very large.
-Anisodactyl (3 toes pointing forward, one toe (the hallux) pointing backward).
-Toe pads very bulbous and rough.
-Trail (or I like to call it 'Track Pattern'): Walking with strides of 4-11", on average, for an adult.
They go on to say:
-"Predatory birds don't often stroll...if an eagle is on the ground, there is often food nearby. Look for signs of feeding, such as fish or carrion remains."
Well, as shown in the above pictures, there were dead fish everywhere. Lot's of scavenging opportunities each time the tide receded.
I love tracking, I think it offers so much insight into the animal's life and movements. In this case, I lucky to see the tracks be left behind, but that's not always the case!


  1. The bald eagle on the stump, that would be a "First" in any photo competition.Super shots, and it is always wonderful to meet really true friends again. Cheers from Jean.

  2. Very cool! You saw so many cool animals in Alaska. What a summer for you!!!!!

    I saw a bald eagle near my house this past spring. It glided over me when I was on a local peak. I was so shocked that I almost didn't believe that it had been truly a bald eagle. But, it was.

    I hope that you visit out here someday! I'd love to show you the "secret places" where our animals wander. It's amazing how few people are as fascinated by this stuff as you and I are!


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