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The bald eagle, emblem of our national bird, King of the Air

April 2, 2011

This bald eagle returns each year to Oktibbeha County, to “his straw castle” which he carefully served as architect and contractor  I am sure that he is very proud of his fine construction.  We are very fortunate that this bald eagle pays Oktibbeha County a “return visit” each year and he is fine representative of America.                                                                       
This American bald eagle is fast becoming extinct.  This is the bald eagle that comes to the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge each year to make a nest and find refuge there.  This nest is in the top of a Cypress Tree among the large Cypress Trees there.
A bald eagle is “any various large diurnal birds of prey belonging to the family, Accipitride, renown for keen vision and powerful flight. The Talon (his foot claws and heel),  30’-31” (76-79 cm)-weight’ 6’-7’ 6” (1.8.  2.3 m).  A large blackish/brown eagle with a white head and tail and a heavy yellow bill. Young birds lack the white head and tail and resemble adult Golden Eagles, but are variably marked with white and have a black more massive bill. Their voice is squeaky and crackling, and thin squeals. Habitat, lakes, rivers, marshes and seacoasts are places where they nest. They est two or three white eggs in a massive nest of sticks in a tall tree or, less frequently, on top of a cliff.  Range breaks from Alaska east to Newfoundland and south locally to California, theGreat Lakes and Virginia, also in Arizona along the Gulf Coast, and in Florida, formally more widespread. They winter along coasts and large rivers in much of the United States.”
 “Following a dramatic decline caused by pesticides, our national bird is now making a slow but steady come back, and once again nests in areas where it was wiped out during the 1960’s, however it is not as numerous as it was in Colonial times, when it was a familiar sight along almost every coastline, bald eagles could be seen eating fish. They also pursue their prey and they rarely enter the water, but instead snatch the fish from the surface with their talons (heals and claws).  The bald eagles obtain much of their food by stealing it from the smaller  “Fish Hawk.”
In 1970 Burton Webster was the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge manager.  He and his family— his sweet wife and three children — actually lived in a home provided to them by our government right there on the grounds of our refuge on the banks of Bluff Lake.  I often thought, “now this is ‘Home On The Refuge’...and in a way like the song, ‘Home On The Range’ was to me... and to them... more like ‘A Home In Paradise.’”  Think of falling asleep to the sounds of a “Symphony of Frogs” at night, and waking up to a “Symphony of Birds” each morning.  Think of the stillness and the quietness of a wildlife refuge where your “close-by” and “only” neighbors were trees, plants and animals.  It must be lovely and lonely too at times.
 I knew that the bald eagle had become a “permanent resident” along side the Webster Family home, and I wanted to paint his portrait.  With the help of Mr. Webster we located and found “My Bald Eagle” there near by...the Webster home on the Refuge.  We found that “Moma Eagle” and “Daddy Eagle” had drawn out their plans for their new house, their “Eagle Nest Home” with very great attention to their special design of just what they wanted as a “Couple Of Birds” to  build and construct as their “new home” to raise their new family that year, 1970, of baby bald eagles. The bald eagles were “moving in” to become the Webster’s newest neighbors.
They chose a sturdy very tip top of a big and old Cypress Tree in the far distance away from the Webster’s family home in the far, far distance almost away from all human beings.  I remember it was across Bluff Lake from Mr. Webster’s office. Today we have a brand new Visitor’s Center, and you, “a visitor” to this beautiful center and Wildlife “stuffed” museum of animals on the Refuge...you can often see a bald eagle if you walk out on the wooden patio that is in the back of this Visitors’s Center, and go to the strong binoculars attached to the side of the fenced railing part of the patio. Just look up and into the sky towards an old Cypress Tree, and you might see a bald eagle about spring time “scouting out” his and her new “home site” for their new home for the year.
The Bald Eagle’s portrait was absolutely my honor and quite a delight to first sketch and paint. Look at his beautiful and very handsome white face. Look at his facial features. Look into his determined eyes and his golden/yellow bill.  His white almost fluffy top of his head white feathers around his neck which is held high and sturdy as if he is indeed a “a king with great majesty.” He looks very” “royal” and “king-ly” to me.  His strong body is filled with brownish/black feathers mixed in with the beautiful Indian Red colors. His bird legs look very firmly “planted” on the Cypress limb and his talons, his yellow feet and heels of his claw feet are holding on very tightly to the limb as if he is just waiting for the next strong wind gust to not blow “him off into the wind.”  His talons are grasping the bark of that limb oh so tightly.  His white tail matches his white colored head.
The nest was “flown in” by “Moma Bald Eagle” and “Daddy Bald Eagle”...each stick by stick...one at a time. It looks as if each stick was woven into intricate patterns to fit perfectly as if they were actually “Brick Layers” laying the foundation for their new... “stick home” on the Refuge. 
I am sure they wanted to be “good and friendly neighbors” to the Webster family ...cause they just knew that Mr. and Mrs. Webster and their three children would be serving as “the Welcome Wagon Family” coming soon to pay they a “welcoming visit” to the neighborhood.
 The Cypress tree and limbs offer a “beauty” all of its very own.  Look at all the colors of the various shades of the grey tree trunk.  Look deeply into the trunk of the light greens, light Cerelean Blue..and Mint Greens to the Turquoise Green/Blue.  Look at the dark browns of the big limb that Mr. Bald Eagle is “perched upon” as your eye travels on to the top of the pointed Cypress Tree itself.  Look at the touches of Ivory Black and dark browns and Indian Browns that you find both in the body feathers of Mr. Bald Eagle and within the limbs and of course these same colors are in and out of the carefully woven nest... “home” of “The Bald Eagles”.  I even wondered it they  would they hang a swinging  sign reading... “The home of the bald eagles”...at least we can use our imagination and see ... that there is such a sign “dangling” in the breeze up so high attached to the smaller limb of the Cypress Tree.  The Webster family had a “Webster’s Home” sign and they should “hang out” a “shingled sign” too. Agree?
Here they were, “the bald eagle family” all settled in their “home nest.”   It would take their young about a year to mature. They were happy on the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, cause they could find lots of food in Bluff Lake to feed their family.  They had tremendous eyesight.  When they saw a fish swimming in the lake...they would “target” with their eyes and swoop down and “go fishing” for that particular fish. Everyone was making them feel “right at home” in the tall Cypress tree.  You might say, “they loved living at the refuge.”  It had become a real “refuge,” a safe place to be to fly freely and with the knowledge that they were “safe and sound.”  They had grown very fond of their near by...new neighbors, The Webster Family and those three Webster children were delightful to have around.  When their new babies arrived...they just knew that the Webster children would become good friends with their “young bird babies” too.
I remember signing my name and the year only on the bottom of my huge canvas  as 1970. 
As I write this story for you to enjoy along with this painting...I thought back to another year... 10 years plus one year later... to an exact day, which was February 9, 1981.  Our family of five, “Big Frank,” “Little Frank”... who was 13 at the time, McReynolds...who was seven at the time, and Elizabeth...who was only two at the time and myself had spent the last six months in The Philippine Islands. Frank had been “loaned” from the USA government to the The Ford and Rockefeller Institute called IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) to design and set up a Rearing Laboratory to “rear insects” for the study of rice insects at this institute.  Did we miss the good ‘ole United States Of America...  I was 39 years old at the time and had never really been anywhere except to Presbyterian Church Camps in the summertime.  Never been too far from Starkville. 
Frank was 42  at the time, and he had been born and grown up in the Mississippi Delta out of Greenwood, in a tiny spot called, Money. It did have a post office, and just a couple of years ago, closed this post office down.  We had traveled  around the world ...thousands of miles...and spent the last six months in a third world country in a place called Los Banos, the University of the Philippines at Los Banos...about one hour from the huge city of over 11 million Philippinos...Manila, Philippines.
We toured lots of countries near and by The Philippines as well as Europe before we came back home. We left London, England with our destination to be Atlanta, Ga.  We were taking a northern route back to the USA.  We flew over Greenland to Canada then turned south along the eastern coast line of Nova Scotia and crossed huge mountains before we got into the Smokie Mountain Ranges.  We remember the day as bright, sunny, and very clear with a very high visibility.  We were all looking with great excitement and anticipation ... as we were entering the United States of America air once again after our long six months stay in The Philippine Islands.  Suddenly we all looked down and into the sky below us and saw with our eyes the most beautiful bald eagle soaring and flying right below our airplane wings. We could actually see his white head, his yellow bill and his out-stretched wings as he was almost just “sailing along” almost effortless in the wind right below and very clearly visually below our huge jet airplane.  Everyone got up from their seats to look out to see the bald eagle.  He was safely some distance from us, but we could see him... oh so clearly.  We wiped our tears from our cheeks, and we each said to one another, “the bald eagle is welcoming us back after six long months to home sweet home. He is flying with us to our beloved home, America.”
The bald eagle, our emblem of our national bird, is truly, and without a doubt, “king of the air.”

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