116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
You’re not really alone when you go solo fishing.
The best fishing being off the beaten path, you also will encounter people-shy wildlife, many of them there, like me, for the solitude and to catch a fish.
While I relish their company, they do not welcome mine.
At the first hint of my presence, the osprey, the eagle, the heron and the kingfisher all depart for private waters, the heron and the kingfisher voicing their disapproval of the disturbance.
I don’t take it personally. Even though I mean them no harm, fear of humans is hard-wired into their genes.
I did not realize how profound that fear is until I read “The Peregrine,” the late J.A. Baker’s poetic account of his obsessive quest to understand the lives of a pair of peregrine falcons wintering along England’s southeast shore.
Both the subject matter and the writing are so intense that it took me two weeks to read the 191-page book, in which the author describes scores of kills by the apex avian predators.
Especially disconcerting to me, a human, was Baker’s harsh depiction of the relationship between wildlife and people.
“No pain, no death, is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man,” he wrote, citing examples of wounded animals in their death throes expending their last breaths to distance themselves from their captors.
Writing in an era when it seemed likely that humans’ indiscriminate use of DDT and other pesticides would soon render raptors extinct, Baker wrote: “We are the killers. We stink of death. We carry it with us. It sticks to us like frost.”
For one who kills animals for food and sport, that is a lot of guilt to reconcile, and it helped to realize through Baker’s accounts that I am not nearly as bloodthirsty as the peregrines in the skies over Essex, England, and probably not as feared.
When they are not sleeping, falcons, which must kill to live, are either killing or looking for something to kill. They have evolved into aerodynamic missiles which pack a deadly wallop when their clenched talons strike a pigeon or starling at more than 200 mph. The mere sight of the peregrine’s airborne profile strikes fear in the hearts of their prey, startling them into flight and increasing their vulnerability to attack.
When I encounter fish-killing birds along the river, they evince no panic in their prompt departure. I get no sense of deathly fear; merely a sense that they do not trust or like me. I can live with that. Mistrust of people is part of the definition of wild.
That relationship was impressed upon me earlier this spring while fishing in the Wapsipinicon River shortly after ice out.
Between casts I noticed a mature bald eagle on a floating ice floe. Though it was within casting distance of me, it paid me no mind, preoccupied as it was with digging a fish out of the ice.
But when I leaned my fishing rod against a tree and pulled out my phone to record the event, the eagle took notice. With outspread wings, it bailed off the ice floe, leaving behind its prize.