Friday, March 25, 2011
Eagle To Eagle
Friday March 25 2011
We ride toward the cliffs, hunting for golden eagles. They've nested in this territory the last couple of years.
A golden eagle flies off the cliff as we approach, but we don't see from exactly where.
We dismount to glass the cliffs, and the horses are a bit goosey at times, preferring to stand alertly and stare back down the trail whence we came in this narrowing canyon of tall concealing sagebrush - what's back there behind them? What do they feel? What do they smell? Cougars? Wild horses? (We did see 4 wild horses in the distance).
We spot two cliff nests, and find a likely one that might be, or maybe will be, occupied. We wait and watch the cliff. The horses wait and watch down-canyon.
No eagle returns. We want to climb higher, for a possibly better look at the nest. How about that ridge above us? We mount up and point the horses' noses toward the sky.
It is a steep climb. Snow has only recently melted up here and the ground is virgin-spring soft. Horses' feet sink above their ankles. It is very steep and deep. But there's no stopping now; we are committed. I am leaning forward over Gil's ears as he clambers awkwardly upwards. He has to stop and catch his breath, but I am afraid we will get stuck with the lost momentum and start to go backwards. I smooch and cluck, "Up!" Gil sinks down deeper as he starts forward. He leaps upward. My feet bang his stifles with every lunge. Finally, we crest this ridge, lungs panting, hearts pounding - humans and horse's. "I thought we were going to go over there for a minute!" says Karen.
The reward up here is fresh spring grass niblets for the horses, a staggering view over the Snake River valley and the mountains beyond for the humans.
Karen sets up the scope, but we still can't see in the nest.
I hike on foot, climbing even higher toward the nest - my feet sinking in the ground and the steepness snatching my breath away. The human and horses are dots below me, though I can't see the nest any better from this height.
We wait and watch the nest. We see a golden eagle flying, but none returns to the nest. Maybe there already is one sitting low in the nest. Or maybe up here, where snow still dusts the hills not far above us, it's still early for nesting. It's an inconclusive site visit, so it will have to be checked again.
Now, that's an idea... the Owyhee Eagle to Eagle Endurance ride...