I pulled up into the Curtner Elementary School parking lot.
It was around 80 degrees outside, yet felt way hotter. Since school is out for the summer, my vehicle was one of only two in the lot. To an outsider, this meeting might have looked shady, like me and the man I met were up to no good.
Truth be told, though, it couldn’t have possibly been more innocent…
I was greeted there by City of Milpitas Operations Manager Daniel Nam. As we shook hands, I was grateful for the touch of a nice cool breeze. Inviting him out into this heat had brought about a pang of guilt. Mr. Nam seemed comfortable enough, however.
So we made our way across the street, to do some eagle-watching.
The City of Milpitas, a minority-majority community, has welcomed an extreme minority into its mix: the bald eagle. Bald eagles are America’s emblem: the proud, straight-spined bird that reflects and encompasses the utmost dignity of our nation’s character. Back in 1973, the bald eagle was marked as an endangered species, courtesy of the newly passed federal Endangered Species Act. However, a variety of measures — fostering chicks and fledglings, protecting habitats and nests, banning the use of DDT — spurred a strong comeback among the birds. Come ’95, they got upgraded from endangered to threatened. As of two years ago, in 2016, 375 eagle breeding nests were accounted for in California.
Still, however, the birds are relatively rare, and thus subject to specific legal protections, ensuring fines and jail-time for those who disturb, take, or harm them.
After we said hello in the parking lot, Dan turned my attention to across the street, namely to a towering telephone pole. Affixed to this pole, more than halfway up its length, was a sizable metallic box.
This is a camera.
It’s been installed there so as to watch the eagles. Or, more specifically, to allow Milpitians to watch the eagles, 24 hours a day (which you can do right here, anytime you like: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9dFZUa2K2oQSy4sruRvmsQ/live).
I was surprised to see the camera so far away from the birds’ nest, which itself is all the way across the street, beside the school parking lot, alongside Redwood Avenue. As Dan explained, “We wanted to find a way to do this without disturbing the birds.”
The pole they found to install the camera on was the best one for the job, offering a combination of a clear, direct angle and ample distance so as to leave the birds alone. “It’s zoomed all the way in,” Dan added.
Mr. Nam’s job calls upon his IT expertise, and he’s worked with the Milpitas Police Department for quite a few years: “We’ve been developing our own camera systems for quite a few things. For public safety mostly. Our council wanted to give people the opportunity to see this.”
The first eagle in the tree was spotted several years ago. Since then, the nest has come to be occupied by an entire family: father, mother, and two little eaglets.
At one point, as we spoke, Dan interrupted, pointing out that an eagle had become suddenly visible. As I looked upward, my jaw came down. The thing was giant. Even though I was looking from across the street, and below, without any binoculars, its size and basic nobility were unmistakable.
You could imagine my surprise when Dan said it was one of the babies.
In general, the cameras like the ones watching the bald eagles of Milpitas are implemented for surveillance tasks. They monitor traffic. They help to solve crimes, chief among them theft. It’s not unusual to install them in areas prone to burglary. The camera that we gathered near is unique to Milpitas in the fact that its function is to facilitate learning, and even joy.
“Last Friday,” Dan said, “I was out here taking a look at the camera and making sure everything was OK.” (Indeed, as he explained, sometimes the YouTube feed’s viewers will see the camera’s lens shimmying and shaking, which in all likelihood is from Dan’s hands, making adjustments.) “A guy came out,” Dan went on, “and said it was the second time he’d ever seen a bald eagle. He said he wanted to take his daughter [and show her].”
Suddenly, the eagle in plain sight moved. Dan pointed it out to me. I looked up again. The animal’s wings were spread out — wide. Whereas its body, beforehand, had looked dark, blackish even, the spread of its wings now revealed a shade of white.
I stepped back, astonished. The bird’s size was humbling. Whereas the man in Dan’s story had seen a bald eagle before, I believe this was my very first time.
For a brief moment, the two of us stood there, watching. The animal’s wings remained outstretched. I don’t think it was aware of us. But we were certainly aware of it.
The wind blew gently: cutting through the oppressive summer heat. The bird, perched on its nest, gazed outward. Time stilled itself. I had another question, but it slipped my mind. Before it came back, the two of us gazed skyward. Stock-still. Awestruck.