And they are airborne

Published 9:23 am Friday, June 20, 2014

Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Jeff Turner and I spent the morning of the 17th on the Blackwater River. It was a slightly warm day, but the river was absolutely stunning.

The sun was high in the air, sending long pointed shadows toward us from the trees on our left side as we were traveling down river. The shore to the right was completely lit up and the trees, flowers and animals were a sight to behold.

As we continued, turtles would often hop off of logs and back into the river, though more than I care to admit showed no fear and stood in defiance of the noise coming from Turner’s engine. Many herons would turn our way to favor our journey with a glance as we went by, while the smaller birds continued about their business diving toward the water for prey. They had little regard for our passing.

As we slowed to pick up the frequent bits of litter, I would see dragonflies attempt to land on the boat. One time, a brave little insect tried to hold on for all it was worth as Turner sped off toward our destination. The dragonfly lost the battle within a few seconds.

On the journey, we also spotted a couple of critters that should not have been in the water.

The first was a garter snake with a part of its tail bit off. It looked so awkward crossing the river, that Turner took mercy on the little reptile and stopped the boat by it to pick it up with his hand. We then ferried it to the other side of the river. “I’m surprised it made it that far,” Turner said, implying that it was begging to become lunch for some larger creature on or under the Blackwater.

The next was a box turtle. It was so displeased to see us that it went into its shell and slowly started to sink as we pulled the boat up. It noticed the effects of buoyancy were failing and quickly poked its head back out, so that it could float and breathe. Turner seized that moment and grabbed it out of the water, and again, played ferry captain to the hapless creature.

Whether it had gratitude or not, we’ll never know, as we turned the engine back toward our destination, not waiting for the little guy or gal to pop its little head back out of the shell.

Within a few minutes of watching the lily pads to our right come and go in the distance, we saw it in the tree. It was the baby eagle that we had come out to see a few weeks earlier, only this time, the big bird had traveled the length of a football field in trees away from its nest site. We reasoned that it must be able to fly at least clumsily to get there.

Not long after spotting it, we saw another bird — Turner said that it was the father, as it didn’t look quite big enough to be the mother eagle. In raptor-style birds, the female is usually bigger and heavier than the male.

It had been watching us as I was taking pictures of its child, and it flew around in perhaps a warning to tell us to not get too close.

From there, we went over to the nest site again, and after we got over the surprise of how far the baby eagle had traveled, we saw that it had a little brother or sister perched near the nest.

After snapping some photos, including some of what we thought was the father eagle, we set back toward the dock and I was just left to marvel at how amazing and rare it is to have seen a wild eagle close up.

And in that moment, I, for one, was extremely grateful for how much time and effort Jeff Turner spends on the river picking up litter and making the habitat safer for animals.

Though I also wish he could spend less time cleaning up trash behind other people and more time enjoying the rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or at