Eagles in Au Gres

Guest blogger and photographer, Stephane Irwin shares what it’s like to witness the majestic eagle soaring through its wholesome Michigan habitat. Read her story here on Pure Michigan Connect!

I bought a cottage in Au Gres last year and had wonderful times there with friends and family all through that summer season. But after the boats were gone and the docks were pulled out, something happened that surpassed my expectations to a degree I could not have imagined. I started seeing eagles.

On September 17 of last year I was enjoying a visit with family on the deck when a large dark bird caught my eye overhead. I’d seen crows, hawks and even buzzards so I thought it was one of them until my eye moved forward on the bird and I saw its white head. I grabbed the arm of the person on either side of me and gasped, “Eagle, eagle, eagle!” We all watched as it soared only 40’ or so directly overhead. It never flapped its wings, riding along on the air thermals created by the water. It was so close we could see its face and its intent expression as it panned its head slowly back and forth, watching the ground. My cousin’s wife remarked that “It’s like something from a movie.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

Three weeks later, I was walking on the beach about a half-mile south of the cottage when I was stopped in my tracks by an eagle taking flight out of a pine tree a few yards in front of me. I watched as it made a big left turn out over the water and flew until it was only a tiny speck heading north. An older woman walked by me on the beach as I stood there in a stupor of wonder. I asked her if she had seen it and she said “no” but that, “It often sits in that tree. We’ve taken pictures of it. We think there’s a nest in the cemetery (another half-mile south).” You can believe I made a mental note of the tree’s location.

That night I didn’t sleep too well and got up early. I looked out the front window and could see a Blue Heron at the shore just to the north. There were a few seagulls flying around but then I noticed a larger dark bird hovering there too. It seemed to understandably shy away from the heron and landed on a rock that juts out of the water a few yards offshore. I thought it might be an eagle but in the morning silhouette I couldn’t see any white on it.

I took a shower and then came back out into the front room. As soon as my eyes were able to focus near where the birds were, I saw a large dark bird snatch a fish out of the water and take flight! Now I knew it was an eagle, white visible or not. I ran out onto the deck as it flew by only a few yards offshore with a seagull in hot pursuit after it, I supposed hoping it might drop the very large fish from its talons. I craned my neck to watch where it went and it appeared to make a right turn into the trees, right in the vicinity of the favored pine tree.

I grabbed my camera and took off running down the beach, figuring it would take a few minutes for the eagle to eat the fish.  As I closed in on the pine tree, I slowed to a walk and started searching the trees and there in the pine tree was not one huge beautiful eagle, in all its brown and white regalia, but two!  I was awed by their size from head to tail, 24” or more it seemed.  As I raised my camera, one took off.  I was able to pan and snap a picture of it in flight. I panned back to the one in the tree and it took off too, still holding the fish! I was also able to get a picture of that one too as it caught up with its partner and they both flew toward the cemetery.

I walked back to the cottage with a feeling of quiet excitement and, about halfway back, stopped to admire the sand writings of my niece. The day before she’d found a stick and wrote, “Hidden treasure here.” How right she was. How so very right she was.

Stephane Irwin is a lifelong Michigan resident. She writes essays and has been published in magazines and newspapers. She also takes documentary photographs of the Lake Huron shoreline, several of which have been published as well as sold through the Flint Institute of Arts.