Baldwin and Betty have a perch high up in a pine tree on the coast of Marco Island on the edge of the mangroves. After a few hours of diving for grouper, Baldwin returns to their nest.
"Betty, I am not sure where all the grouper are today but I had a ‘hoot of a time' trying to catch anything out there this morning. I probably did twenty dives but came up empty-handed."
“Ok Baldi, why don’t you chill with the youngins, and I’ll give it a try. They could use some daddy time anyway, they’ve been pecking away at my feet for a while here...”
Betty swoops down off the homestead and circles above the currents by the groves on the west side near Treet Island. Sometimes the groupers swim the currents near the charter boats. She catches some swirling with her eyes and streamlines into a feathery bullet, shooting down toward the currents. She tucks her yellow beak into her white neck and torpedoes into the Gulf, targeting a grouper. She comes up with nothing. She tries again but has no luck.
Betty decides to try another mangrove inlet on the west side of Treet Island. She lands on an old boating shack with old kayaks and runs down dingy boats. There is a nice ripping current curving around the island west and south. Out of the east, a large male eagle dives toward her like a speeding bullet except Betty can't see his beak. It's as if he is a fast phantom diving out of the sky. No yellow beak just swift, mysterious, and fast. He shoots through the water with a little splash and pops up with a nice grouper. He flies it over to the sand and lands to tear it apart. Betty looks closer and barely sees his beak.
She waits for him to finish eating, as all eagles know not to encroach on each other’s catch. Top predators have unspoken territories and general boundaries. After finishing off his kill, he glides over to the east side of Treet Island near the palm trees with a few dried out coconuts on the sand underneath. He tears off the top of the fibrous coconut, cleaning his mysterious beak.
Betty lifts off and flies over to his side of the beach and lands next to him. She skips and lifts, and skips a couple times over to him and asks,
"Excuse me, nice dive, earlier! I saw you catch that grouper with ease in that westerly current. May I ask, what happened to your beak?"
“Haw, ha” You Goldies are funny, you expect every eagle on earth to have bright yellow beaks.” Pat chuckles.
“I am a Patagonian Eagle and have a blue beak from years of munching on maqui berries and, I loved it there but a vicious fungus called the “Mal De Cipres” took over and started eating the trees. So, we migrated here to the Gulf as we heard of all the abundance of fish and berries up here.”
“Wow, can I take a closer look? Betty curiously leans in toward the mysterious predator.
“How cool and amazing, I’ve never seen a blue beak eagle...”
Pat smiles and shares confidently,
“We have a hit rate five times the golden eagle when diving for grouper. I’ve counted.
I think our blue beaks blend in with the water and give us that extra edge to snag em inconspicuously”
Betty twists her neck and nods,
“That must be why we have been having a harder time lately.”
“Golden’s have to try five times as hard and not to mention, the grouper schools haven’t been running as much this spring.”
Betty nods, “That makes sense on why we have had trouble catching our normal grouper.”
Pat adds, “Yep, that and your giant yellow beacons alarming the fish that you’re diving in to snag them.”
Betty laughs curiously but is still concerned for her family,
“What should we do?”
Pat opens his wings for a flap or two letting some air onto his belly and exhaling out a big breath. “I know,” he smoothly chirps,
“Let’s go berry hunting! Meet me at the base of the glades, over by ten lakes and I’ll show you where the bundles of berries are.”
“Okay,” Betty agrees and lifts up and off Treet Island and flaps against the wind and finds a drift air current pulling her into the ten lakes area. She spiral focuses down on the edge of the Everglades and sees a warm spot in her vision where the dense humid jungle meets the salty ocean. She drops her head and wings follow into a descent. She sees Pat on a wooden pole near the water's edge.
“Over here,” Pat directs Betty.
“Land near the inlet water brush over on the inland side where that sandy embankment is open.” He reassures.
Pat lands first, then Betty. On the easterly ocean side there is a large pool of wading water but on the westerly jungle side is a huge bush of glade blueberries.
“This is a nice bundle here,” Pat encourages.
“Wow, what beautiful blue colors!” Betty exclaims.
“Come on Goldie, dig in!”
Betty pulls a few off the bush and twists and jerks her bright beacon of a yellow beak.
“Mmm, sweet and fibrous.” An iridescent blue speckles on her beak.
“Eat more,” Pat continues.
After five more berry grabs, Betty’s beak is completely covered in blue and stained nicely over the brilliance of gold that once radiated from her head.
“I feel so sticky and pasty but excited at the same time.”
Pat hops over and chuckles at her blue Patagonian like beak.
“I think one more will do the trick and seal the deal,” he confirms.
“Okay” Betty dives into one more bush and seals over her weapon with total blue.
“Awesome, let’s fly back out to Treet Island” Pat suggests.
Betty lifts off and follows Pat to Treet Island. She wonders what Baldwin would think of her sailing along with a mysterious blue male eagle from the exotic southern tip of South America but continues along on the fun adventure.
Five minutes later they approach Treet Island and catch a downward drift onto the easterly side. Pat diverts quickly to the currents, streamlines his dive and parts the surface effortlessly and comes up with a three-pound grouper.
Betty caught up in the thrill, darts right a few hundred feet past Pat and dives for one herself. Armed with extra confidence, she attacks the currents like a blue phantom in the night. She pulls the dive, breaks the surface smoothly, and comes up with a five-pound grouper.
“Nice catch!” Pat applauds.
“That felt awesome. You got me sold on this “blue beak” thing.” Betty exclaims.
“Thank you for sharing your secret hunting tactics with me. I will return to the nest and feed the youngins.”
“No problem,” Pat replies.
“And let me know if your male chap wants a lesson too...”
Betty clenches the fresh hefty grouper and lifts off to fly back to her home. On the way back she ponders how she is going to explain her blue-stained beak to Baldwin.