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By Rob Matson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Rob Matson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNot too long ago, before inventions like personal computers, video games, cable TV, and other high-tech gadgets invaded our everyday lives, families used to spend more time outdoors. In one community, people have been drawn to spend more time outdoors with nature and its fascinating features. Folks are armed with binoculars, cameras and camcorders. Recently, there's something very unusual in the skies above Castle Rock, and there seems to be a growing number of sightings in and around the large cottonwood trees along Plum Creek on the town's north end. The unusual sightings have created such a stir that people from out of town are coming to see what all the fuss is about. People donning jackets embroidered with popular names are everywhere: Fish and Game, National Geographic, National Audubon Society and Animal Planet, just to name a few.
The Wandorzols claim their daughter Jamie is the first to have spotted them.
Last March, Jamie, a curious four-year-old with wondrous eyes, came running into the house far before the call for dinner. "A big green-headed bird flied by!" she cried with excitement. Her parents didn't pay her much attention until the fourth afternoon in a row, when she again cried, "A big green-headed bird flied by!"
Red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and turkey vultures are fairly common in these parts, but big GREEN-headed birds? Never been seen; never been heard. Maybe someone lost a parrot, Jamie's mom sarcastically thought as she peered up at the fading sky.
On the back deck, Jamie's mom stooped down and draped an arm around her shoulder. "Where's the birdie, Honey?" she asked the curious youngster.
Jamie pointed to the west, practically right into the setting sun, and said in a disappointed tone, "It's gone."
Jamie's mom stood up to go inside and said, "Come in and get washed up before dinner." Just as she opened the screen door, Jamie shrilled, "It's BAAACK!!!"
Her mom anxiously turned around and was just about blinded by a beam of sunlight. However, she could make out the silhouette before her. It was a large bird indeed. "I can't quite see it Honey, but it IS a big bird-I bet it's an eagle," she suggested to her daughter.
"A GREEN-headed eagle, Mom!" proclaimed Jamie.
"Uh, huh," she agreed as she guided Jamie to the door. "Now let's get ready for dinner, Sweetie."
That next day was a Saturday. Jamie's parents were working in the yard, pruning the bushes and raking up leaves left from last autumn. Jamie kept herself entertained by using her "magic wand" from one of the pruned bushes to poke holes in the leaf- filled trash bags. A faint shadow passed over Jamie. She glanced up and sprang up from her knees.
"Daddy! Mommy!" she cried with excitement. "The green-headed bird!"
Her father looked back over his shoulder, and looked up toward the sky. Captivated by what he was seeing, he spun around on all fours and climbed to his feet. "Wow, Jamie!" he exclaimed. "I think that's a bald eagle."
She was confused. "Bald, Daddy?" she asked. "But it has green hair."
"You're right, Sweetheart," he agreed. "Its head does look green."
Turning to his wife, the father asked, "Honey, is that green?" pointing up at the odd bird.
"It is!" the mother confirmed in amazement. "I bet it must be algae from the lake or one of the creeks."
"Do you think so?" the father asked, but then agreed. "You're probably right. What a magnificent bird!"
In the following weeks, others started catching glimpses of these green-headed birds in the sky. Kids around town started looking out for these birds. They became very curious and wanted to discover where the mysterious birds lived. A few of the local third-graders were riding their bicycles home from school one afternoon when they spotted two of the birds flying in the direction of Plum Creek.
"Hey, let's follow them to their nest!" suggested Cory, the boy who always had a plan.
The other kids-Matt, Boyd, Alex and Chris-all excitedly agreed as they raced toward the creek. Five minutes later, the kids were off their bikes and wandering through the majestic, twisted and weathered old cottonwoods. Rustling through the leaves and stumbling over fallen branches and twigs, the kids wandered with their chins in the air, peering into the canopy filtering out the sunlight.
Boyd whispered, "I think I see one," as he pointed into a narrow V-shaped opening in the trees high above the ground. They gathered around Boyd and followed his finger skyward, honing on the exact location of a massive nest.
"Yeah." confirmed Chris. "I see it, too!"
"Me, too!" added Matt.
"Coooool!" whispered Boyd, trying not to scare the bird.
"Let's hit it with a rock!" Cory suggested in a mischievous tone.
"No!" cried Alex. "You might hurt it!"
"I don't mean hit it," Cory said, embarrassed. "I mean just scare it to make it fly."
Alex tossed Matt a smallish round rock-an oversized pebble-and told him to throw it. Gently, Matt tossed the projectile skyward, where it ricocheted off a few branches before falling harmlessly back to earth. The noise from the stone striking the branches did the trick; it spooked the two birds from their perch. With two powerful swoops of their wings, the birds were airborne.
The kids stood speechless. The wing spans of these birds were as wide as the kids were tall. The children decided that they would not tell anyone that they had found the birds' home.
Each day after school, the third-graders returned to the cottonwoods to study the odd birds. At school, the classmates visited the library. They searched the Internet, too. However, they could not identify this particular species. Everything they had read and compared to the pictures they had taken suggested to them that the birds in question were American bald eagles. The only difference was that their white heads were green.
One afternoon the children were at the library flipping through a book titled North American Birds of Prey when they reached a crossroads.
"We have to figure out their species before someone else," proclaimed Cory in a territorial tone. "We can name the birds after us! Or better yet, me! Cory's Crows!" he proudly suggested, his hand tucked regally against his heart.
"Boyd's Buzzards!" demanded Boyd, not to be upstaged. The youngster's emotion-driven outburst caused the group to laugh out loud.
The studious librarian warned, "If you kids can't keep it down, I'll have to ask you to leave."
The schoolmates continued their conversation as if the adult hadn't said anything at all.
"Do you think they are just bald eagles with green heads?" asked Alex.
"Well, some stuff don't make no sense, but let's say they're some type of eagle," Matt replied, and then asked, "How come they don't eat?"
"They eat," Chris pointed to one of the pictures they had taken, "See, right there!"
"But we never saw 'em catch anything and bring it back. There's at least two babies in that nest now," Boyd explained, "and we never seen 'em bring 'em food."
"Look!" Chris cried, pointing to the photo again. "There's that thing hanging out of the Mama's mouth and the baby is pecking at it, eating it."
"What is it?" asked Alex.
"There's only one way to find out," said Cory as he rose from his seat.
The kids all looked at each other and knew they were all thinking the same thing. Cory finished by saying, "We're going up in that tree and check out that eyrie!"
Everyone's eyes lit up and let out a raucous, "Yeah!" The conspiring kids quickly quieted down as the librarian glanced over a book at them with a stern look.
"Hey, what's an eyrie?" asked Alex.
"It says right here-the nest of a bird of prey is called an eyrie, e-y-r-i-e." explained Cory.
In unison, the children huddled closely and began to develop their plan.
On Saturday morning, the group met bright and early in front of Matt's house. Eagerly, they headed to the cottonwoods with the following items in tow:
200 feet of rope
Baseball catcher's mask
Plastic trash bag
When they arrived at the site, Cory found a large rock and tied one end of the rope to it. Chris secured the other end of the rope to a belt. Matt and Boyd helped Alex put on the mask, jacket and gloves. Alex hung the camera from her neck and stuffed a trash bag in her pocket. Since she was lightest of the group, the others voted her to visit the eyrie.
Cory cleared everyone away from him as he tossed the rope skyward, hoping to corral a sturdy branch. The rock at the end of the rope was zipping around his head while everyone peeked out from behind the trees. On his third try, he let go of the rope and the rock sailed right through the V-shaped opening in the tree and settled down right beside the eyrie. "Perfect!" he shouted, but not at full volume, and everyone clapped quietly.
Matt helped Alex fasten the belt around her waist while Cory, Chris and Boyd grabbed the other end of the rope with the rock tied to it. Once Alex was ready, Matt gave the thumbs up. The other three boys spun around, wrapped the rope around their waists, and started walking toward the base of the tree, adding tension to the line. When all the slack was taken out of the rope, Alex elevated slowly toward the nest. It was quite a sight. She was scared and nervous but didn't show it. The boys were quite proud of themselves as well.
The adult eagles were gone but two eaglets that could not yet fly were in the eyrie. That was still bad news for Alex. When see peered over the top of the nest, the eaglets went berserk! The hooded jacket, gloves and catcher's mask sure came in handy. Those birds were squawking and pecking at her. She managed to swing her left leg over and straddle the tree limb while defending herself with her left forearm. One of the eaglets got hold of the camera strap. Alex used a head butt to the beak to free the camera and rapidly shoot four photos. She tugged the trash bag from her jacket and swiped her arm across the bottom of the nest.
The panicking eaglets jumped over her arm as she snatched samples of debris into her bag.
Meanwhile, the helpless boys stood on the ground speechless. Then Chris noticed the parents coming back. "Abort! Abort!" Chris screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Jump!" Matt shrieked.
The parents swooped down towards the eyrie.
Just as Alex was about to look down, she was clipped on the back of the head by one of the eagle's talons and sent sprawling back through the "V". The rope jerked her on one end and the boys on the other. The boys raced toward Alex, not realizing that they were sending her spiraling down faster than she would have liked. Luckily, they met at the same spot and the collision broke her fall and left everyone in a pile. The trash bag ripped open and debris spilled on top of the heap like a very nasty and smelly hot fudge sundae.
The eagles were eighty feet above caring for their young while the gang gathered themselves, congratulated each other on a successful mission and rode off to Matt's house.
Back at Matt's house, they sat in a circle on the back deck. Alex dumped what was left of the debris in the middle of them. It didn't smell too good. They poked at stuff with sticks.
"This green thing looks like a ..." sniffled Chris while holding his nose.
Matt quickly added, "It looks like a pickle!"
"No. It doesn't LOOK like a pickle," as Cory cut it in half with his stick "it IS a pickle!"
"Here's another one. But look, it has a root. The end is fresh like it just got ripped out. Like it grew right out of the tree!" said Alex.
"Weird." Boyd said while shaking his head.
"There's nothing else here but feathers, pickles and poo.." sighed Cory.
"Gross!" exclaimed Alex. "Let's see what kind of pictures we got."
They headed up to Matt's room and hooked up the digital camera to his computer. Alex did a great job taking pictures considering the chaos in the tree. The first photo was all beak but the next three were terrific shots of the eaglets and the eyrie. Both the eaglet's heads had a green tint to their feathers. The bottom of the eyrie was as messy as Matt's room. In one area of the eyrie there looked to be living roots growing up through the tangled branches and twigs. Some of the roots had pickles attached. These weren't just ordinary cucumbers, they were already pickled! "Growing pickled! How could that be? Up in a tree?" asked Boyd. They studied each photo.
"Look at this. Look at the tree bark. It kind of looks like a name carved in the tree." said Matt.
Boyd, looking over Matt's shoulder, added "Let me see. N ... I ... C ... K ... Nick?"
"Could someone climb that high?" asked Chris.
Cory answered, "It looks very old. Maybe many years ago when the tree was much smaller it was easier to climb."
"Oh yeah, you're right. I wonder how old it is." replied Alex.
Boyd jumped up, "I know exactly how old it is!"
"What? How?" asked Alex.
Boyd continued, "I read a story in the newspaper, an old newspaper. It was a homework assignment. We had to give an oral report about the town's history."
Cory interrupted, "That's right! You told us that story about the first family that settled here."
Alex cut Cory off, "The little boy loved pickles. His name was ... Nick."
Matt added, "Oh my gosh, my grandpa read the article and said they were friends when HE was little!"
"Wow! That was a long time ago." Chris suggested.
The group took these findings downtown the next day. They recognized National Audubon Society embroidered on an elderly woman's jacket. The Society had written the book where they found the American bald eagle. They talked with the woman and displayed their work and findings, as smelly as they were. She keenly listened to their adventure and marveled at their photos.
"You children have done great work! These photos are fascinating!" exclaimed the old woman. "I'm sending all of this off to Washington D.C. for further study." The gang was thrilled.
A large number of groups got involved in studying the eagles and the tree they made their home. Two months went by when the kids were visited by the old woman at their school.
"Children, I have exciting news for you!" she exclaimed, and continued, "It was determined that pickled cucumber seeds must have been dropped in the tree by someone, probably this boy, Nick. The seeds took root and began to grow every spring.
These eagles just happened to build their eyrie on top of the pickles and this became their main source of food. Something to do with the pickling caused the eagle's feathers on their head to turn green."
"Whoa! Cool!" cried Chris as he high-fived Cory.
The kids were so excited to learn of these findings. They were proud to have been a part of this research. The National Audubon Society named each of them honorary researchers and dedicated the small, unique site a National Wildlife Sanctuary and granted the children the right to name the site for these unique green-headed eagles. The kids exclaimed, "The name we give this site is - Pickles Eyrie!"
Excerpted from Pickles Eyrie by Rob Matson Copyright © 2010 by Rob Matson. Excerpted by permission.
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