OCEAN PARK — This photo essay documents a life-and-death struggle by a western grebe vs. two bald eagles.
I was at the beach near the beach approach road in Ocean Park on Jan. 18 watching the storm surge, as were many others. I was standing on a knoll in the beach grass, camera in hand, just out of reach of the foamy waves that came and went as the high tide around 1 p.m. grew closer and closer.
At one point, being an amateur birder, I noticed a western grebe come floating down the mouth of the nearby creek that runs just south of the beach approach road. I zoomed my camera in and began taking pictures as it was buffeted here and there by the shallow waves of surging foam and water.
When the grebe had floated out where it was more in the open I saw it get up and run on top of the water for a short distance, as I’d seen mating grebe pairs do as part of their mating ritual in one of those nature films on TV. It was about to be attacked by two eagles and was trying to get away. It couldn’t dive, as it customarily would, because the water was only inches deep, and it knew better than to take to the air and be grabbed from behind by the huge, mean-looking talons of its attackers.
The first attempted attack came from a juvenile eagle, still without its white head and tail feathers. The grebe managed to avoid the young eagle’s sharp talons, leaving the relatively giant youngster just standing there in the outgoing shallow foam.
The grebe got up to run across the water again, and that’s when the adult parent eagle flew in to finish the job. The adult initially had the grebe partly in its grasp, but the feisty grebe, not wanting to be on the lunch menu, fought back with its sharp needle-pointed beak. After a few more thrusts and parries, and what looked like a stabbing blow to the big eagle’s left claw, the little grebe stood beak to beak with the now frustrated eagle.
Less than a minute passed until the next wave surged in and caused the eagles to take to the air. They made a few circles above the grebe as it wisely stayed in the water, half covered with the foam of the seawater as it raced up into the creek again.
Both of the eagles flew off toward the nearby trees, from where they had been sitting and watching earlier. The battle was over and the grebe escaped — for the time being.
Just another day at the beach. A life-and-death drama played out, and some very dramatic storm surge waves ripping at the sand and dunes, and moving huge driftwood logs around like they were toothpicks.