My attention was focused on the turkeys out in the field to our front, but I knew the crows were after something. They were putting up quite a fuss, and were headed in our direction. I looked up just as they started to pass overhead.
"Look at that big bird" I said to my son Clayton. But, I realized as soon as I said those words, that it was an eagle. They flew directly over us at tree top level with the crows darting and diving at the immature bald eagle.
I noticed the white mottling in it's breast, that seems like an undercoat of its overall dark brown color. There was no white on the head or tail. The flight was deliberate but not hurried. It seemed to be somewhat indifferent to the crows.
The eagle flew on across the tree tops toward Sumter. This sighting was this past weekend on our hunting lease, just off Bethel Church Road, near Pinewood. They are strikingly beautiful birds. Mature eagles have brilliant white heads and tails that glow like neon against a bright blue sky. They look black at a distance, but their body color is dark brown. The beak, feet, and piercing eyes are bright yellow.
Eagles are not plentiful in our area, but they are here, and I see them occasionally. They are big birds, slightly larger than vultures. Their wings are longer and are held straight out with no bow. Vultures and buzzards have a distinct bow or bend to their wings. Much like a shallow "v." Eagles do soar, but not continuously, as vultures and buzzards do.
I saw an adult eagle last spring while sitting in traffic at the intersection of Pinewood and Wedgefield roads. It was coming from Second Mill Pond and had a large fish in it's claws. It flew to the southwest just above the tree line. Later in the year I saw an adult eagle sitting in a tree off Kolb Road near Twin Lakes. It was being mobbed by crows. Driving home one day down McCray's Mill Road I saw an adult eagle diving toward the surface of a detention pond across from Meadowcroft Subdivision.
In late September I saw an immature eagle sitting in a dead oak tree in a residential yard along Black River Road. It's head and tail were mottled brown and white. It flew south toward Dalzell, when I stopped to look. Later, Hurricane Matthew blew the dead oak over.
One morning in mid December I saw an immature eagle fly over Peach Orchard Road just north of Highway 378. It was flying low, and it's flight was deliberate and steady toward Shaw Air Force Base.
In late January this year my wife Ginger and I saw an adult eagle soaring in tight circles over a pond along McCrays Mill Road. It was struggling against a strong wind, and eventually flew off to the east toward Sumter.
On Presidents Day in February I checked on an eagle's nest that is located along Boggy Branch near Pinewood. The nest is in a pine tree that stands on the edge of a beaver pond. It can not be seen from the public roads in the area. From a distance with binoculars, I could see one adult eagle standing on the nest.
In early March I noticed an eagle soaring in high, tight circles near Cain Savannah. It was cloudy and I could only see the dark silhouette, but the long flat wings made identification certain. It drifted off toward Westlake.
According to Charlotte Hope at South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, there is only one other known eagle nest in Sumter County. It is located on the Wateree River very near the Sumter/Kershaw County line.
She told me recently that there are probably other nests in the county that haven't been reported to S.C. DNR. If you know of another eagle nest in the area, contact her at (843) 953-9017 or visit http://dnr.sc.gov to report it's location.
Eagles have made a remarkable comeback in recent years and have been removed from the Endangered Species List, but they are still protected. DNR monitors known eagle nesting sites, and advises landowners on common sense restrictions to minimize disturbances during the nesting season.
Eagles are our national symbol, and it is gratifying to see them living and raising young in our area, foraging in our ponds, and soaring in our sky. I think we must be doing something right.
Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.