Free Like an Eagle. A Hike in the Urban Wilderness.

This is Sarge, a five year old female American Bald Eagle. But unlike in the song, or how I pictured her here, she’s not free. Quite the opposite. Sarge can’t fly, and now lives at the Narrows Environmental Education Center in McGough Nature Park. But let me start from beginning.

mcCough nature parl trail ud70This long weekend I suddenly found myself without plans. Our smallest granddaughter woke up with a viral infection and sky-high fever when her family was supposed to drive this way on Saturday.

So yesterday I decided to hike in McGough Nature Park, a jungle-like small park bordering to intracoastal waters south of us. Huge oak trees mix with tall pines, palms and mangroves providing a peaceful spot of wilderness in the middle of the hubbub of this crowded beach weekend.

jungle 2 ud70This park is a safe haven for hundreds of turtles, so I started my hike at the turtle pond. Some turtles were enjoying the sun on the ‘resort deck’ in the middle of the pond.

turtle resort ud70While others preferred to lounge solo on the land or in the water. I thought many of them had beautiful colors. And observing their slow pace of life was calming to the soul. They had no hurry to do anything or to go anywhere. A lesson on “just being”.

turrtle 3 ud70

turtle closeup ud70In the open areas of the park, lots of wild flowers were blooming.

wild flower 2 mcGough ud70

wild flower at McGough ud70But around the forested trails sunlight reached the ground only at a few spots.

McCough trail ud70I could hear an Osprey calling and many birds singing, but it was impossible to spot them high up in the dense forest. I walked towards the intracoastal hoping to find some birds.

nest UD70I walked along the long pier over the water and spotted a pelican just taking off. But all wading birds were hiding from the heat in the dense mangrove forest.

pelican on the intracoastal ud70I stood there in the welcome breeze for a while and observed the busy boat traffic, a sign of families having fun on the water this long weekend.

boat traffic on the intracoastal 2 ud70It had become cloudy and I hurried back through the park to visit the raptors who had their permanent home at the Education Center.

pier McGough nature park ud70Sarge is a newcomer to the park. She was found weak, dehydrated and malnourished in Tennessee a couple of years ago.

sarge ud70After a long rehabilitation at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, she was deemed non-releasable. She has an irreversible and rare feather disorder. Her feathers are brittle and can break easily. Her molting, unlike for other birds, happens all on one side. That makes balanced flight impossible. Thus she cannot take care of herself in the wild.

Sarge is a beautiful, big bird of about 11 pounds. She came here only in May and is still getting used to her new home. But now she is safe and well cared for, and gets to go on outings in the park once she’s familiarized herself with the new environment.

I found her fascinating. She looked at me, the only visor at the time, and we talked for a while.

american eagle ud70Next to her, some Great-horned Owls had their little home. I thought one of them looked at me a bit suspiciously from the corner of his eye.

great-jorned owl ud70And then there were several hawks, all with different injuries that made life in the wild not an option for them. I thought this Red-shouldered Hawk girl was most hawk ud70I stayed with these wonderful raptors until a few fat rain drops started falling and I had to head back home. It was a great hike. I hope you enjoyed it too.

fireworks ud70Happy Independence Day to all friends in the US!

78 thoughts on “Free Like an Eagle. A Hike in the Urban Wilderness.”

  1. Sorry to hear about your granddaughter, hope she will recover soon.
    Thank you for sharing your hiking! So glad to hear that Sarge is being taken care of… The Red-shouldered Hawk is gorgeous!
    Happy 4th to you, Helen! Thank you for the beautiful post. 🙂 ❤

    1. Thanks you, Amy! She’s is doing much better today 🙂 Sarge is a wonderful bird, I’m sure I’ll go to see her again. I just need to find out when the birds will be on their outings so I can get proper pictures. Happy 4 July celebration to you too ❤

  2. All the photos are spectacular, but the birds are incredible. I am sure the cancelled visit was a big disappointment, but I love the way you made a wonderful day for yourself and I hope your grand daughter gets well soon. Happy 4th!

    1. Thanks Cindy! On the close-ups, I decided to focus on the eyes of the birds through the net from behind the 5 feet perimeter (lots of kids visit here and they cannot be allowed right next to the net) so the net wires became less visible. It was a great outing, and my ‘grand’ is doing so much better.

  3. I so enjoyed your walk through this park, Tiny, and your photos were a true joy. Your experiences in the Bird Sanctuary were wonderful to read, and I liked the close-ups of the birds, something that is impossible in the wild. I hope your granddaughter is quickly on the mend, and wish you a Happy Fourth.

    1. Happy you enjoyed the virtual visit, Jet. The close-ups were taken through the net from behind the safety perimeter of 5′, truly impossible to get so close in the wild 🙂 My little ‘grand’ is very well on the mend, almost back to normal self today. Thanks Jet.

  4. Such a great post, Helen. Love your turtle photos. I hope that your granddaughter is soon feeling well again. Love that look that owl is giving you. He obviously thought you were up to no good. 🙂 Sarge is really cute and I’m so happy she is in safe hands and getting used to being in her new home. What gorgeous colours you’ve captured on the red-shouldered hawk. I so enjoyed your Independence Day hike with you. xx

    1. It was great to see the beautiful raptors so well taken care of. They come out of their little wooden homes quite often with their handlers and I am hoping to find out when that happens so I could go out there again to “meet” them. That owl clearly was not sure of my intentions 🙂 And out of the four beautiful hawks, this one was the ‘beauty queen’, so gorgeous. Thanks for coming along, Sylvia. XX

  5. Something about those cute turtles really caught my attention.
    They have such an ancient and wise look about them.

    Prayers for a quick recovery for your granddaughter, Helen.

    1. I agree. The turtles seem so ‘timeless’ and their ability to just enjoy life spoke to me. My ‘grand’ is doing much better already, thanks Genie.

  6. A few years ago, I went to a similar sanctuary for raptors in Orlando, but this one looks even better, perhaps thanks to your photos.

    Hope your granddaughter will get better very soon!

    1. This is a very well cared for sanctuary. They have lots of educational events for the public and nature camps for kids. I hope to get there again to see the raptors on their ‘outings’. My ‘grand’ is well on the mend, thanks Hien.

  7. Your photos are so lovely! I enjoyed trailing along on your hike. The raptors are so beautiful, but I wonder how they feel about their captivity? Are they happy to simply be alive, even though they are no longer free? If they could only speak their minds:-)

    1. That’s what I was thinking too…they know they can no longer fly (wing, feather, eye injuries) so maybe they just accept that fact. Their homes are quite big, and they get to go “out” too. All but Sarge have a bonded companion with them. Maybe she gets a companion too by time …

    1. Close-ups taken from behind a safety barrier and through the net. I am hoping to see them on their ‘outing’ one of these days.

  8. Thanks Tiny for interesting insight into another wonderful conservation facility. Praying also your granddaughter is recovering well from her infection. Thanks for sharing your eagle story, now I have shared mine in my comment from my blog:-) Glad you were able to enjoy your 4th of July weekend.

    1. Happy you enjoyed the visit. I saw your fascinating story! And I thought about your birding hikes in the rainforest-like environments when I was walking the trails in this park. I heard so many birds, but could not spot a single one in the tall trees 🙂 My ‘grand’ is doing much better already, thank you, Ashley.

  9. You’re like the bird whisperer. 🙂 I love the look the owl gave you, beautiful images all. Best wishes to your granddaughter and hope you’ve had a happy 4th!

    1. Thanks Maverick! I kept a very low profile, but that one owl kept giving me those looks. It was hilarious. My ‘grand’ is well on the mend now, almost her wild self again 🙂

    1. Thanks for coming along, Donna! The close-ups were ‘challenged’ by the wires and the 5′ security perimeter, but some of them came out quite nicely. I hope to be there one day when Sarge is on her ‘outing’. My little ‘grand’ is doing much better already.

  10. Another great entry, Helen. Delightful images.
    What wonderful work the sanctuary has done to rehabilitate Sarge (and others). Sad for her/them to be so confined, and yet she/they are, at least, relatively healthy, and I’m sure; well looked after.
    I’m looking forward to seeing more images as you capture them on their outings. I’m green again, Helen. What an absolute joy for you.
    Happy to read the little Granddaughter is recovering… 🙂 ❤

    1. It was a great little adventure, thanks for coming along Carolyn. This place is exemplary…for them to get to take care of Sarge required a permission from Federal Government! And they built a new little house for her 🙂 The funny thing was that those who found her in Tennessee (whisky country) had named her Bourbon. That name was not considered nice when she’s presented to kids, so she became Sarge 🙂 Have a wonderful week. XXX

  11. On this 4th (and everyday actually) I am grateful that our fellow planet inhabitants have a safe sanctuary in which to be who they are. Thanks for your reassuring sharing, Helen, along with your always beautiful photos. Sending well wishes your granddaughters way.

    1. Thanks Eric! Our ‘grand’ is almost back to her wild 2 y.o. self now 🙂 That place and their raptor program is really great. It is a well managed environmental educational facility where the public, including kids, can learn about raptors, turtles, butterflies and nature in general.

    1. Luckily the road part of the trip was fairly short. It was bumper to bumper on the coastal boulevard. I calmed down quickly though observing the turtles enjoy their day. No stress there 🙂

    1. Glad you came along for a hike in this jungle-like park, Matti. I’m going to visit forests in Finland early next month 🙂

    1. Thanks for coming along for the hike, Hariod. That one owl was hilarious. While the others looked me straight in the eye, this one kept giving me those highly ‘suspicious’ looks 🙂

    1. This park was an oasis of peace on Sunday when every other place was crowded with visitors, bumper to bumper on the roads and on the water. Have a great week, Susan.

  12. The top shot of the wildflower is top shelf! How exquisite. Glad to hear that your granddaughter bounced back from her ailment already.

    1. Thank you Emily! Our little one is back being her ‘wild’ two-year old self 🙂 Time to plan new adventures with her.

  13. Yes, I enjoyed it too. I especially like the head shots of the owl and hawk and, of course, the eagle. Beautiful! Hope your granddaughter is feeling much better by now.

    1. Happy you enjoyed the close-ups of these raptors Skip! My ‘grand’ is almost back to her normal lively 2 y.o. self.

  14. Good to hear that your granddaughter is doing better. What a sad story about Sarge’s disability but at least she is in a place where she is taken care of.

    1. I was sad too that Sarge is not able to fly, but in the wild she would very soon get malnourished and die. This is a wonderful place for her and makes it possible for kids to learn about her and the other raptors.

  15. Wonderful pictures. All this from one walk? Just goes to show you should never leave home without a camera. It helps if you live near such a beautiful place.

    1. Sorry for the late response. Yes, all these pics are from one hike. I am so grateful to have all these beautiful spots close by.

  16. Beautiful pictures! My husband is a big fan of turtles and owls, so I’m sending him a link to this post. 🙂 I love the portraits you capture – the eagle, the turtle, and the owl and hawk profiles are exquisite. And I love how you spent some time talking with Sarge. I hope your granddaughter is feeling much better now. The little ones are up and down so quickly.

    1. Sorry for my late response, Barbara. I am hoping to go back there and see some of the raptors out with their handlers. My ‘grand’ is back to her wild 2 year old self now, and I am hoping they will visit this coming weekend, or soon after that.

  17. I just love those close up shots, such magnificent animals and good to know that they are being well cared for. A good choice to hike rather than hit the crazy busy beaches, “just being” sounds good to me. I imagine your granddaughter has recovered…no fun being sick!

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