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The Porch Eagle

THE PORCH EAGLE February 2001

Papa and I are amateur bird watchers. Emphasis on amateur. At our farm, we often sit under the arbor and watch the visitors to the feeders. My favorites have been the pairs of cardinals who come in together and the hummingbirds who seem to play tag around us. We both also love the large birds and will stop what we are doing to watch a hawk circle overhead.

Papa has an affinity for the crows and ravens. He watches their antics and seems to understand their language. We have two or three gangs of them here in the valley and it is amazing to watch them send out, and answer, the alarm, when a hawk comes along. Our local hawk family is driven to distraction by these guys. Driving home one afternoon, I saw a trio of crows torment a young osprey who took cover between strands of power lines on a telephone pole. The osprey was bigger than all three crows together, yet it cowered as they circled and dove at it.

The grape arbor is the best place to sit and watch the wildlife around us. But our front porch is a close second. It is the perfect place to sit and enjoy sunsets and the view of our valley and the hills around us. But the porch was in serious need of repair. So last year we decide it had to be replaced. Papa had rebuilt the arbor the year before and was confident that it would be a simple, straight forward job.

But as with everything, it has taken longer than planned to do this project. The demolition was great fun. I got to use the 'Saws All" for the first time. Not as much fun as the chain saw, but still pretty good. It turned out there was more rot than we had expected and so more repairing was needed. So that meant another trip to the lumber yard. And we made a point of buying the best primer we could find, so we could minimize the risk of rot on the new porch. I spent an entire weekend painting primer along the edges of the boards only to find it flaking off a week later.

And we had many distractions: gardening, fighting off woodchucks, shopping for a house for Papa's papa, thoroughly exploring the use of the new barbecue grill, studying the difference between barbecuing, smoking and grilling. And it did rain a lot. Not that that stopped the barbecuing, but that is another story. Add to that the fact that Papa tends to overbuild everything, and before you know it, it is November and its snowing and now its too cold to work out there.

In the meantime, we have been trying to adopt. Children, not birds. We had really been struggling to get through the process with our local county, to no avail. We have recently begun working with the Urban League in Rochester and are very hopeful after meeting with them. Of course, they were concerned that the porch was not finished as it is a main exit from the house.

We were eager to remedy the problems they saw, but were trying to figure out how we could finish the porch properly with the weather we were having. We decided to use plywood as a temporary floor, so the exit was usable. But the day we set to work on it the sun came out and the temperature hovered around 50. The smart and simple thing to do would have been to lay the plywood and be done with it until spring. But we decided to see how much of the tongue and groove flooring we could get done. And then use the plywood if necessary.

One of the things that makes this job difficult is the presence of our 300 gallon oil tank under the porch. The tank makes it impossible to stand on the ground to lay the flooring. To put in the new boards, Papa spent most of the job sitting on some of the old board with his feet resting on the oil tank and trying not to put any weight on the tank itself.

It was a delightful day really. The sun was out a bit and it was fairly warm. We hadn't been outside working together since the fall and we were having a great time. We are not particularly good at these things, but we don't take ourselves seriously either, so we got some good laughs out of the afternoon. But the highlight was along about 3 o'clock when we heard what we thought was the call of a large bird. It was too throaty to be a hawk according to Papa. And a little early for the osprey, says I. When we heard it again we concluded it must be an eagle.

By the third time, we stopped what we were doing and began looking around for this bird. It sounded like it was right on top of us. But we saw no sign of it. I said at that time that it must be one big bird, because the crows weren't even around. We spent a good fifteen minutes walking around the back yard looking for it. Finally we went back to work, laying a couple more boards. And darned if we didn't hear it again. Again we stopped, but couldn't spot it. It was then that the crows started coming in. One at first raising the alarm. Followed buy half a dozen scouts circling the area. We went back to work. Again the call comes. Again we stop and this time watch the crows. I am sure I see a large bird glide through the trees across the road. We watch for a long time, wondering if we should get the binoculars, but we see nothing more. After a time even the crows have lost interest. So back to work we go. By now it is after four and we have spent the better part of an hour looking for the eagle.

Papa regains his perch above the oil tank. He made one small shift to reach for something and we heard the eagle call again. He sat back down and looked at me. He shifted his weight again and the noise was repeated. He pushed on the oil tank with his feet several times and sure enough we heard the noise again.

It seems the oil tank has an air vent and when we put weight on the tank, of course, air was forced out through the vent, making the noise. Don't laugh, the crows didn't know the difference either.

Once we stopped laughing, relieved (and a little disappointed) that we didn't have a 300 pound eagle in the neighborhood, we couldn't help but wonder if you could make different sounds, different bird calls, with the oil tank, depending on how full it was. We even thought about putting a trap door in the porch so we could experiment with it later. Papa is working on that plan now, which means we haven't been able to finish the repair just yet.

I wonder if this has anything to do with these projects taking so long?


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