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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 19, 2014
The eagles and the estuary

by Peter Cooperdock

The coastline is a dynamic interaction between land and sea. The classic image of waves crashing on the rocky Maine coast outlines this daily drama. Tides recede and return; gulls float in the breezes above; the scent of salt spray fills the air. Add a lobster boat churning through the sea from trap to trap and the image is complete. Of course, there are other forms of Maine coastline to experience.

Estuaries are inlets of the ocean where a freshwater stream mixes with the salt water to create a brackish water body. The salt concentration varies based on the tides and the flow of the incoming stream which changes with the seasons and the rains. The land that gets exposed by the tides has bands of hardy vegetation resulting from the salt levels that compose salt marshes. Salt marshes are among the most productive plant communities on the planet and send large quantities of nutrients into the ocean with the rhythm of the tides.

These nutrients attract the foraging sea life of the coastal ocean. As the tide comes in, so do fish and other animals to take advantage of this bounty. And others are watching from above. This additional layer of the drama of the coastline can be easily viewed at the Hutchins Cove Estuary of Northern Bay in Penobscot at the mouth of Mill Brook. The eagles are back and putting on quite a show.

As the driver slows down at the sharp curve on Route 199 at the intersection of Pierce’s Pond Road, eyes fixed on the road ahead, the passenger shouts, “Look at the Eagles!” A safe pull off the road onto a conveniently placed large shoulder allows the driver to enjoy as well. High tide, when the estuary is full, brings the eagles to the trees across the lush expanse of vegetation of mixing ocean waters.

One recent afternoon, three eagles displayed ranges of activity. One sat calmly in the familiar roost waiting for a reason to move. Another flew up onto a branch and proceeded to enjoy some morsel of flesh it had retrieved from the banquet displayed below. A third burst unexpectedly from the bank before us and rose into the air with the realization of how big these birds actually are. We watched transfixed for some minutes as the gentle grace of its wings sent it smoothly down the cove and out to sea.