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Tales from Buzzard Point - Chapter 7: Flight of the Loons

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The seventh in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point that explores the rich history and traditions of legendary Buzzard Point – a legacy that the current D.C. United ownership should honor in their plans for naming the new soccer specific stadium

This entry is a rarity — one that has not required any research but features the original author. Reminded by citations to The Evening Star in other Tales from Buzzard Point, Bryan McEachern ferreted out from his personal files the clipping of a feature story that he had written for The Evening Star when he was a journalism intern in 1975.

Subsequently, Bryan decided that journalism was not for him and instead went off to Georgetown Medical School. Bryan is now a highly successful and respected pediatrician in the DMV and, more to the point of this series, a former Washington Diplomats fan, a D.C. United season ticket holder since 1997, and a regular member of the B&RU Commentariat known better around these parts as Doc96.

His 1975 feature story is presented below:


Bald eagle drives off loons from Buzzard Point sanctuary

U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Southwest
courtesy of Southwest the Little Quadrant that Could

By Bryan McEachern

April 1, 1975 (Southwest Washington) — It was a brisk spring day along the banks of the Anacostia. Chief Petty Officer Devon McTavish was exiting the US Coast Guard headquarters at Buzzard Point when he heard the roar of an engine coming towards his location. Marine One was flying overhead to Andrews Air Force base, carrying President Gerald Ford to his destination aboard Air Force One. Always fascinated with birds, McTavish lifted his cap only to notice a swirling motion of the namesake buzzards circling overhead, no doubt interested in some recent roadkill or vermin on the dusty grounds below.

This section of town was quite desolate in places, but it did make for ample shoreline where a variety of indigenous wildlife could nest or spend some idle time. Migratory birds had been passing overhead for weeks, much to the delight of the workers at the Coast Guard facility and nearby Ft. McNair. Things were just kind of quiet in the District, as baseball had been gone for some time and only an occasional soccer exhibition would find its way into RFK Stadium until the much-awaited Redskins season began in the fall.

He stopped to further admire the buzzards as they descended onto a location along the shoreline that was shielded by a power facility. No doubt, a feast was to be had. He held the bemused thought that there are just not a lot of places to eat around here, minus the Spartan cafeteria at the facility which featured a limited menu of bland foods typical of the game day fare of the stadium upstream.

“Probably the same damned catering service,” he muttered aloud, when suddenly he was shocked to see the buzzards flying in all directions, screeching loudly. What could have possibly happened, he wondered? He had never seen the airborne inhabitants of Buzzard Point so obviously terrified.

He started toward the area on the shoreline where they had been likely feasting. Could there have been another inhabitant that chased them off? There had been rumors about a bald eagle sighting, but those birds were few and far between in America anymore. Only the polished brass model of the great living symbol of America atop the nearby flag pole paid homage to the noble bird of prey.

CPO McTavish turned the corner and was stunned to see a flock of birds (perhaps a couple of dozen, or more) along the shoreline and in the water. He had never seen these before, and he wondered what this invasive species could be. Where would the displaced buzzards go if they have been moved off their territory that had born their name since the mapping expeditions of 1673?

Moving at a brisk pace, he returned to the USCG facility to place a most urgent call. Something had to be done to get these interlopers out of the Anacostia and on to a new place to call home. Tearing through his federal agency telephone book, he came upon the number he needed most. Dialing furiously, he found himself connected to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Numbed by the slowness of the federal bureaucracy over the years, he was pleasantly surprised by a helpful operator, a Miss Simpson, who took his call, heard his complaint, and connected him to the Assistant Director for Migratory Birds.

“Assistant Director Garber here. What can I do for you, Chief Petty Officer McTavish?”

CPO McTavish recounted the alarming scene to the thoughtful public servant on the other end of the line. He hoped he didn’t sound too crazy, but the thought of these fowl taking over Buzzard Point made his brow bead with sweat.

“Don’t worry. We are right here on C St. I’ll send my man Johnson over. He’s the kind of guy who will catch them and transport them once they are, essentially-- ”

“In the net?” McTavish asked.

“Yes, but I don’t recommend that you steal his thunder.”

With that taken care of, McTavish grabbed a cup of instant coffee and gazed out the window, where those odd creatures continued to hog up the shoreline. It seemed that more had come since he first investigated. They simply didn’t belong. It made his stomach sick to even look upon them. Other Coast Guard staffers looked out at the swelling flock and had equally grim assessments.

Gavia immer
Wikimedia Commons

“We have stuff in the armory. This can be taken care of quickly. Screw catch-and-release,” a young and trigger-happy Lieutenant Josh Gros announced.

McTavish smirked, wondering why the US Marine Corps assigned this guy to the facility, but he was a high energy kind of guy and could really grind out long assignments where others would typically wilt. He told Gros to hold off as some guy named Johnson from Fish & Wildlife was on his way and should be here any minute.

The group finished their coffees and went down to the shoreline to meet with Johnson, who had just arrived on the scene and had already proceeded to the site on his own. There was not a buzzard to be seen in the sky. It was an awkward feeling for McTavish, but he was sure that some playful banter would get Johnson in the mood to get these birds moving along, or leave them to the marksmanship of Lt. Gros.

“Deputy Assistant Director Johnson,” the black-suited man extended his hand.

“CPO McTavish,” he responded, noting the sporting red tie on this well-dressed federal employee. “Can you tell me what these damned things are, and how we can get rid of them?”

“I can tell what they are, but you may not want to hear what follows.”

McTavish took a deep gulp.

“These are a rare breed of loons, hailing from the northern parts of the Midwest,” Johnson explained. “I don’t have clue how they got here, but they are a protected species.” Lt. Gros let out an audible sigh.

“They are under the full protection of the United States Government.”

McTavish had racing thoughts. What will happen to the buzzards? Where will they go? Will this place be re-named Loon Point in the future? It was a dizzying scenario to process.

Just as Johnson turned to go back to his Oldsmobile, a terrifying scene unfolded as suddenly a huge bald eagle swooped down into the mass of loons, tearing their organs out with its mighty talons, even enucleating eyes with his powerful beak. The slaughter stunned even the most grizzled onlooker. At least half of the loons were killed and left in states of evisceration that only Lt. Gros could appreciate.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Wikimedia Commons

“Nice talons,” he quipped as he rubbed his lonely trigger finger.

The bald eagle quickly flew out of sight, while the vengeful buzzards began to circle the appetizing carnage below.

“We must protect these surviving loons!” Johnson barked.

“Where the hell are we going to put them? Inside headquarters?” McTavish fired back rhetorically.

“Yes, Chief,” Johnson retorted, “for the time being. We need to come up with a temporary housing plan, and ultimately get these loons back to where they belong! Let’s get them in your HQ and out of the sight of that ferocious bald eagle!”

Using the four loon calls, Tremolo (flee), Wail (mate), Hoot (check-in with flock) and Yodel (male territorial), Johnson skillfully maneuvered the flock into the USCG building. McTavish rushed to the top floor to gaze out upon the grim scene of the buzzards feasting upon the mangled corpses of the loons that felt the wrath of one avenging bald eagle.

Cathartes aura
Wikimedia Commons

“It’s not the first time a housing resettlement has gone awry in DC.” mused McTavish. “I guess it’s a good thing for the locals to have a powerful friend or two.”

The next day, Johnson returned with a convoy of trucks. The loons had done well overnight, and the buzzards were still dining upon their unlucky brethren.

“I have a plan for temporary relocation,” Johnson commanded. “We will put the loons into these well-padded cargo spaces on the back of each truck. Then we will take them to a holding area over at Poplar Point, just across the river. After that… well, I'll get that figured out this afternoon.”

McTavish and crew got the loons into the padded cargo holds and closed the doors. Off they went with Johnson and his staff, to a safer place to be sure. McTavish wondered what would ultimately become of them, but he was grateful that they were no longer in his building, as these loons smelled bad and had even worse hygiene – something that Johnson had mentioned was typical for the species.

Weeks passed, and McTavish often gazed across the Anacostia wondering how the loons were doing at Poplar Point. The carcasses, once picked clean, eventually found their way downstream into the Potomac River. A burial at sea, quite fitting, he thought. The phone rang across the room.

“Call for you, Chief! Fish & Wildlife!”

“Hello, Chief McTavish, this is Miss Simpson from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Deputy Assistant Director Johnson asked me to call you and inform you as to the ultimate disposition of the loons at Poplar Point.”

“Go on, Miss Simpson. Where are you going to send the loons?”

“We actually have already moved them. About two weeks ago, we transported the birds from Washington to Asylum Point Park, Wisconsin. It’s a beautiful location on Lake Winnebago, not too far from their usual migratory base.”

“Where is their usual migratory base?”

“Glad you asked, because there is more to the story. It turns out that they actually left Asylum Point and migrated to St. Paul, Minnesota. They currently inhabit the banks of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Looks like they are there to stay! We wanted to extend our sincere thanks to you for your assistance!”

McTavish hung up the phone and walked to the nearest window. The loons had finally found a home. A wry smile spread across his face as he saw the view below. There were several buzzards feasting on local vermin, and perched above them on some scaffolding was the bald eagle. McTavish proclaimed softly, “It looks like both are here to stay, united at Buzzard Point in a very interesting way.”


Note from Series Editor David Rusk: “Tales from Buzzard Point” includes historical fiction and should be considered a work of homage or parody. No birds were harmed in the writing of this entry.

All members of the B&RU Commentariat are invited to submit manuscripts of their own researches into the history and traditions of Buzzard Point to davidrusk@verizon.net. All must a) involve Buzzard Point, b) have some relationship to football/ soccer, and c) demonstrate that Buzzard Point is hallowed ground for D.C. United, and our MLS opponents are doomed to never come away from Buzzard Point with a result.