I enjoy observing various forms of wildlife where I live. I have touched upon some of the aquatic species in Pensacola Bay and in the Gulf. Now I want to do the avian part some justice. I recently took my dogs on our daily one-hour walk, starting from my house, and saw the birds I cover here. To spot all these birds during an hour’s walk within a small town is amazing. The spotting part is easy – these are big birds (except for the Kestrel), but if you don’t pay attention you will not see them.

The first bird is the great blue heron, and it’s ubiquitous around here. The heron and I have at least one thing in common, and that is fishing. However, the heron does not cast any fly, instead stalks the shoreline, and uses its sharp beak to spear its prey. The stunned prey is then just summarily swallowed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_blue_heron

The transparent nictitating membrane
The transparent nictitating membrane

The heron’s nictitating membrane (third eyelid) is transparent, advantageous if you stick your eyes under water and get your food there. I settle for polarizing sunglasses.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nictitating_membrane

Red tailed hawk
Red tailed hawk

The red-tailed hawk lives and hunts around our recreational center – in the middle of town. There are several wide open fields, and it can view the menu from various vantage points. I absolutely wouldn’t want to be a rabbit crossing those fields. This hawk is quite the poseur, and is not nervous around people at all. I encounter him on my walks at least once a week.

For the Icelandic readers, our language has two words for its falconsfálki and haukur (fálki i.e. gyrfalcon). Haukur is the same word as hawk. In USA there are numerous hawks, but they are not in the falcon family. The red-tailed hawks are quite a bit bigger and chunkier than the Icelandic gyrfalcons. I must say that I find the table manners of the gyrfalcon more refined, than those of the red-tailed hawks. The gyrfalcon will sever the spine of its prey before dining, but the hawk does not observe such niceties, and just starts eating its prey. The prey might be dead from the impaling talons, but often it’s not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-tailed_hawk

Bald eagle
Bald eagle

Then I noticed two bald eagles soaring – too far up to photograph (I use an old photo for this blog). They are unmistakable with their white heads and tails. Their number seems to be growing, but that might just as well be due to my powers of observation. The fishing prowess of the bald eagles is legendary and known to all. Their table manners, however, are appalling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bald_eagle

The eyesight of these raptors is much, much sharper than ours (6-8 times better).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_vision

Osprey
Osprey

The ospreys are everywhere here in the coastal areas. They are superb hunters and eat preferably live fish. They cruise over the water and then dive down, hitting the water with their talons first. They can become totally submerged, then pop up again and take flight with a fish in their talons. I have noticed when they fly off with their fish, the fish’s head always faces forward. Whether it has to do with aerodynamics, or the osprey is just being nice with a scenic flight is unknown. Then the osprey tears the fish apart and that is that.

I think they have a sense of humor, or at least one of them has. One day I went fishing and was catching Spanish mackerel left and right, and releasing all the fish I caught. When I came home an osprey flew over and dropped a mackerel on my driveway!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osprey

American kestrel
American kestrel

The kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon [weighs ca 4.1oz (120g)] and is similar in size to a mourning dove. I once noticed a smallish bird sitting on top of the uprights of an American football goal at the recreational center’s grounds. Those uprights are really high. By sneaking in and using my longest tele (approx. 640mm – handheld – sometimes you just get lucky), I got this shot of the kestrel surveying its hunting fields. The big hawk and the small kestrel can coexist because the kestrel goes for insects, invertebrates, and the small fare. So each bird occupies a different niche. Judging by the droppings (the white stuff) on the pole, it is clear that this is a well-used vantage point for the kestrel. I find the kestrel to be a beautiful bird.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_kestrel

Great horned owl
Great horned owl

Now for my biggest surprise of the dog walk. I noticed some movement in an abandoned eagle nest. This huge nest sits very high from the ground in a dead tree. In order to be able to see over the top of the edge you need to be far away. First I spot the “horns” and then I see the unmistakable owl face. Then I spot the owl chick. I had never seen this owl before. The great horned owl is a huge bird (22” or 55cm high) and an apex predator. Only the great gray owl is bigger here in USA, but the gray owl is a resident of the north part of the US. The great horned owl is found all over Canada and the States. The owl kills its prey by squeezing it if it survives the initial impact. Those talons are able to exert 500 pounds of pressure per square inch (30psi is your car tire pressure)!

After I posted this I got this e-mail and correction from Lucy Duncan.

Hello Jonas,

Your blog was certainly interesting. I would make only one correction, and that is of the nest in which the Great Horned Owl nests. It is not an abandoned eagle’s nest. The trail is called the Eagle’s Nest Trail because there used to an eagle’s nest there 70 years ago when my husband was a boy here. That tree and nest had long been forgotten by any eagles by the time I moved here in 1966, but in the 1970s or early ‘80s, a tornado took that tree down and the nest with it. The nest you now see is an Osprey’s nest. Or, I should say it was an osprey’s nest! The owl nests much earlier than the osprey, and when the owls leave that nest, an osprey could move in. If there were a competition for the nest, the owl would certainly win.

So, Every Jonah has a Whale…..  and you have woven quite a delightful tale of your own.

Thank you for sharing.

Lucy

Thanks Lucy – I opted to place the whole e-mail here to prove that someone does indeed read my blog!

Also please have a look at Capt. Baz’s comment after the blog entry.

https://greathornedowl.net/great-horned-owl-talons-diameter-size-color-force/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_horned_owl

To see all these birds in the span of an hour is incredible but true.

Pictures: Jonas and Drifa Freysdottir (Bald eagle and osprey)

English consultant; My good retired neighbor Joe.

One person in my stable of blog characters is Capt. Baz. No, don’t worry, this one isn’t about him. However, it started with him.

Hi Jonas – my little brother Dave is in town, and he really would like to learn to fly cast, was the gist of our phone conversation, followed by and it is on the house too!” I am fine with the work is your rewardphilosophy if I am teaching something. However, Baz, manual labour is a straight no no no.

Capt. Dave
Dave – you see what I am up against!

Dave showed up, and he was an exceptional student from the outset. When I am teaching raw beginners I find one issue in them all. It doesn’t have to do with the movement, but rather lack of it, i.e. they just can’t stop the hand/wrist and rod when they make the backcast. So, their backcast will look like the picture below.

Poor stop and/or too much wrist bend.

The motion we are trying to teach starts with our upper arm vertical, and under arm horizontal (90 degrees). Then the hand is moved up and back with constant acceleration to an abrupt stop until the underarm has reached the vertical position with the wrist firm. This movement should be smooth, and the acceleration constant, but the stop must be abrupt. There are some issues with the constant smooth acceleration, but that can be ironed out rather quickly. However, the abrupt stop on the back cast is very hard to accomplish in the beginning. The drawing below shows a good backcast.

A good stop.

This near universal inability to stop the hand/wrist and rod is a bit baffling when you come across this first when teaching (conveniently forgetting how I myself struggled). We use our arms and hands all the time to do all kinds of complicated tasks. We certainly can stop a forward moving hand hard (think fly swatterhammer). But, when you think about that particular backward motion, we do not use that often in our daily lives, if at all. When we gain the ability to stop our hand on the back cast – the backcast will be straight without slack – setting up a good forward cast. My task as a teacher is pretty much wrapped up when my students understand the importance of the abrupt stop and straight backcast. All the rest is tweaking this or that.

But returning back to Dave, it turned out that he could absolutely stop his hand wherever I wanted him to stop it, while keeping the wrist firm. On top of that, the constant acceleration part was there, too. This piqued my interest, so I asked him what his work was. Oh – this and that in business was the answer ” and I am a drummer (i.e. sort of a musician).” Now this was very interesting to me, and sure enough the musculature of his underarm was exceptionally well developed, and precisely those puppies control the wrist movement. Biceps and triceps have to do with flexion and extension of the elbow.

Underarm of a drummer
Underarm of a certain drummer – or Popeye?

We had two short sessions, and at the end he was double hauling, and shooting line with ease. A week later he calls “How long are these fly lines?” It turned out that he was casting into the backing (fly lines are around 100′, some shorter some longer). That is a very long cast for even excellent casters.

Since then, drummer Dave has shed his skin, and found Capt. Dave within – and is running a guide service. https://gulfbreezefishing.com

——————————

Last January Capt. Baz, Odell Mullis and I went to the Bahamas to escape the Florida winter, that is, what there is of a winter. This was Dave’s first encounter with bonefish and he had been told that they would be very hard to catch. We don’t go to a bonefish lodge, so it is low key and self guided. The Bahamian flats are just stunning. Vast flats become dry on low tide and then the tide comes in, and the bonefish follow to get to the smorgasbord of the inundated flat.

The flat at low tide

Yup, you guessed it, Dave with a bent rod became a recurring theme. Bent rod when I only almost had a strike!

Same flat with the tide in – Dave with bonefish

The bonefish subsequently released. Needless to say, Dave caught numerous bonefish on his first trip with us.

Release of a bonefish

I gotta go now – the UPS guy is at my door delivering my set of drums.

Pictures; Jonas and Odell

English consultant; My good retired neighbor Joe.

Below the Réttarfoss

Réttarfoss

In a previous post I covered this river – see below. The current post deals exclusively with the two uppermost fishing spots – i.e. the Réttarfoss pool and the Réttarstrengur run.

The crew for this trip was my fishing partner and friend Sibbihttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1783 – and Hilmar Konráðsson, with whom I had not fished before – but I will gladly fish with again. Then there was my American friend and traveling companion Odell Mullis in the role of photographer. His job was the hardest – fingers freezing – electronics sluggish, and rain constantly splattering the lens.

The salmon in Hrútafjarðará can get up to Réttarfoss, but can’t jump that waterfall. Therefore, the pool below the waterfall invariably holds numerous fish at the tail end of the season. However, it is awkward to fish, and casting in the canyon can be problematic. The position taken by most anglers is close to the middle of the outflow from the pool. That is not an ideal position. You get too close to the fish to my liking, and you are practically on top of some of them. This violates two of my fly fishing tenets: no unnecessary wading and don’t get too close to the fish.

We were fishing there in late August ’19, and the conditions were challenging. Just a few degrees above freezing, and wind was barreling up the canyons from the north, and the blessed rain was there too, and there was a lot of both. The amount of water flowing was quite a bit over the average. No fun wading in those conditions.

Pool below Réttarfoss
Pool below Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss

By tiptoeing close to the black basaltic rocks to the position you see on the photograph above, we were in a relatively concealed position to cast over the outflow tract of the pool. However, the fly was not going to move across the water in a way we like it to do. After some rumination Sibbi says “let’s try a hitching tube here, and just strip it across the outflow.” This is why I love this guy – he is always ready to try something unconventional. The salmon loved this, too, and we had great fun for a while with multiple salmon striking the flies, and there were some takes and then some salmon landed. (It is called hitching when the fly is riding the surface and a V shaped disturbance on the surface forms – see video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TYgn_oO2Q )

The current is usually sufficient to make this happen, but by stripping the fly we made it go faster than the current, thus making the V on the surface. This strategy saved the day for us and will certainly be tried again. This is a very good reminder not to get stuck in some routine. If your approach does not work, try something else. It really does not matter how you don’t catch fish – does it?

Réttarstrengur

After leaving the Réttarfoss pool the river flows over some rocks, and is shallow and spread out with no channel. At the rock formation – seen clearly in the third picture below – the river forms a channel, Réttarstrengur, that is pushed up against the west canyon wall. The salmon will be there from the run’s beginning, and can be found for 100 meters (more or less depending on the amount of water). There are always salmon there – you may not catch them, but they are there. We take great care not to get too close (no wading there), instead we use longer casts, and the fly must be delivered on the opposite side of the current for best results. Then you pull it into the current and now you mend. Small flies are our choice there. Take care to cast with quite a sharp angle not more than 45 degrees to insure the fly swings first over the fish – not the line then the fly. To do that you need longer casts as you do not want to wade or get close to the channel. Make an effort to keep the line and leader straight, that way the fly is fishing from the get-go. For the Icelandic crowd – see the excellent book Af Flugum, Löxum og Mönnum by Sigurður Héðinn a.k.a. Haugurinn page 72 on Smáflugur. Réttarstrengur is without doubt one of the premium runs in Icelandic salmon rivers.

Correct casting angle
Correct casting angle

You really should practice before your fishing trips, preferably with a casting instructor. I have witnessed multiple times anglers in expensive rivers with no cast at all. It is a mystery to me why anyone buys those costly permits, and shows up with no cast. Most anglers I come across in salmon rivers would do well to take some lessons. When you are riverside it is too late to learn how to cast.

You have expensive gear – why not spend on learning how to use it?
Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

This is how far away from the river’s edge we like to be. There is no sense in getting closer if we can cast over the run with a sharp angle from where we are at. By and large anglers wade too close and also too deep. If you get too close – the fish see you, and it is game over. If you wade too deep you lose height and your cast suffers.

Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

Sibbi keeps his distance and is rewarded with a beautiful salmon.

Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur
Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur

Subsequently released into the river.

Salmon released by Sibbi
Salmon released by Sibbi

Odell and Hilmar seeking shelter from the wind, cold and rain.

Shelter from the rain and wind
Shelter from the rain and wind

Here is a short video from Réttarstrengur.