A Day Full of Surprises

Pour a cup of coffee and join me as we revisit this morning eagle-watching outing. Oh! You might want to grab a coat.

The chill in the damp, predawn air confirms the 40° reading on the thermometer as I leave my home. After getting into the car, securing my camera and properly adjusting the heater, I reach into my pockets for my gloves. As I begin the two-mile drive to Eastwood Lake I half-heartedly chuckle to myself for getting up earlier than the sun. But this is Dayton, Ohio and there are only two resident bald Eagles in the city. Therefore to get a decent picture of a local Bald Eagle occasionally a photographer must be in place before the eagles begin to stir. Yesterday, Roger had captured a few images of the eagles passing directly overhead, just after daybreak, on their way to the Eastwood area.

Cindy overhead.

Cindy overhead.

After a quick swing through a nearby drive-through for a fresh cup of coffee, I find myself sitting at the locked gate at the park’s entrance. In the glow of my headlights I can see the form of a lone whitetail buck as he nonchalantly crosses the entrance road and then silently vanishes into the underbrush. After ten minutes or so the sky to the east begins to show a hint of the silhouetted treetops. Another ten minutes later the empty park roadway is clearly visible in the dawning light. Soon Roger’s Jeep turns into the driveway behind me. As we wait in the hazy stillness we watch several lines of Double-crested Cormorants pass overhead and we talk about our eagles.

Before long, a MetroParks maintenance worker arrives to unlock the gate and with the path now cleared we make our way to the edge of the lake. A lone Red-Tailed Hawk is already perched on the limb of a nearby tree intently surveying the ground below for any potential morsel that might dare to move in the first rays of the day. We know from experience that the eagles will leave the wellfield to venture out on their morning patrol of their territory. We hope that they will follow their customary route over the east end of Eastwood Lake, so that is where we park and wait. From this vantage point we can also view the aerie just 1/2 mile to our east, now clearly visible against the glow of the cloud-masked sunrise. The aerie is unoccupied.

There are large birds leaving the well field and heading in our direction. Some are flying solo and others are flying with a companion, but they are not eagles. They are just some of the many, ever-present Great Blue Heron approaching the lake in search of breakfast. My first glimpse of an eagle comes some 30 minutes later when I see movement at the nest. As I focus my camera on the activity that has caught my eye I am pleased to see that Cindy has landed in the nest and is apparently placing a new stick in its ideal location. I smile. Knowing that this is Courting Season I can be sure that Jim is near the nest for he would not venture far from his mate. After about ten minutes in the nest, Cindy hops up onto what we have come to call the front porch.

On the front porch.

On the front porch.

This is the section of the nest’s rim where the eagles usually sit just before departing the nest. After another 2 minutes she spreads her wings takes flight.

Focusing on the tree line along the south side of Eagle Lake, just across the road from Eastwood, I soon catch a glimpse of Cindy flying northward 20 feet above the water. This may be our chance. Often they will fly in that direction, make a sharp left turn and cross over to Eastwood Lake. But Cindy seems to be determined to continue on her northbound course as she reaches the northern shore of Eagle Lake. I then notice the dark form of Jim passing over the lake trailing after her. As I stand beside my car with my camera at the ready I glance a hundred feet or so down the roadway and see Roger’s big lens also tracking the eagles’ movements. To our dismay both eagles cross over Ohio Route 4 and vanish beyond the adjacent high school.

Now as I have previously mentioned, we only have these two eagles so we have become quite familiar with their habits and patterns. We surmise that today they have decided to begin their morning security check by heading north to scope out The Great Miami River as it parallels Rip Rap Road. Both Roger and I begin to drive in that direction. It is only a 6 1/2 mile drive by car but quite a bit shorter as the eagle flies. Roger makes the left turn onto Harshman Road and leads the way as I impatiently wait for a gap in traffic. Several minutes later I turn right onto Rip Rap Road but I see no sign of Roger’s Jeep. I do however notice two large Bald Eagles flying above the river to my left, just slightly ahead of my car. I smile and think to myself that at least Jim and Cindy haven’t outsmarted me again. I can feel my right foot growing a little heavy on the accelerator as I attempt to reach a parking lot a mile farther up the road before the eagles pass it by.

I do. But as I place the car in park, grab my camera and open the door, Jim and Cindy emerge from behind a nearby tree. The lighting is still poor as the shutter begins to sing. It is just about at this time that I become consciously aware of the adrenaline flowing through my body. I lean on the top of the still opened car door to help stabilize the camera as I focus on the flying eagles. They are within just a few feet of each other when they land in a tree on the far side of the river as it flows just beyond the nearby soccer fields. I smile again.

Across the soccer fields.

Across the soccer fields.

“Now is my chance for a decent picture!” I think as I reach back into the car to turn off the ignition. I stuff the keys in my coat pocket, lock the doors and begin walking towards the river. The grass of the soccer field is tall and heavily laden with thick dew. I know that the eagles can see me much more clearly than I can see them, so every hundred feet or so I pause to capture a few images of the pair just in case they would decide to move on. About halfway across the soccer fields another thought crosses my mind and I check the battery of my camera. I’m glad that I do. The current battery is almost exhausted and I would never forgive myself if I missed this opportunity, even with the hazy light, just because I forgot to switch batteries. I pause near a midfield goalpost and quickly install a fully charged battery in the camera before continuing on my way.

I am aware that Jim and Cindy are very intelligent birds and I am sure that over the years they have seen me frequently enough to know that I pose no threat. At times I have jokingly suggested that by now they have most likely memorized the numbers on my license plate. Living in an urban setting they are accustomed to human activity so this morning I decide to not try to hide my advance but to approach them with a straight and determined pace. I can see through my camera lens that they are indeed looking directly at me as I approach.

"Look! There's Jim again."

“Look! There’s Jim again.”

The river will provide a natural barrier and, as always, I will maintain a respectable distance from the pair. After several more short stops to capture images, I am reassured of their comfort with my presence as they begin to casually preen their feathers.

Preening.

Preening.

I am extremely pleased when I reach the asphalt bikeway that follows the east bank of the river. Just about now I wonder why it is that we never seem to have the proper combination of nearby eagles and adequate sunlight for decent photography.

For ten minutes I capture image after image of our beautiful Jim and Cindy. They are being extremely cooperative and I repeatedly reposition myself while trying to make use of the available lighting and the existing background clutter. After a while the preening abruptly stops and I notice both Jim and Cindy assuming a more upright and alert posture while intensely staring off to the east. I am so concentrated on the regal pair in the treetop that it never crosses my mind to turn around to see what has demanded their attention. Just then Jim lowers his head and sounds an alarm-call, leaning forward in a very agitated and annoyed manner.

Looking very annoyed.

Looking very annoyed.

In the blink of an eye he flies off and within ten seconds Cindy is headed in the same direction.

Time for action!

Time for action!

With my lens trained on the flying eagles I pivot to my right, while carefully following their movement. Their flight is purposeful and determined. As I glance away from the viewfinder I am surprised to see two more adult Bald Eagles approaching from the east! And Jim and Cindy are flying right at them! I cannot believe that I am seeing four adult Bald Eagles battling for territory right here in Dayton, Ohio! I watch in awe for a moment or two before I remember that I’m holding a camera. I adjust the lens to try to capture a few images of all four birds in one frame.

Encountering the intruders.

Encountering the intruders.

It really isn’t much of a battle as the two intruders immediately turn and head northward with Jim in close pursuit of one and Cindy, a few hundred feet away, in close pursuit of the other. I stand there, mesmerized and watching them fly above the distant treetops.

Once the eagles have disappeared from sight I become acutely aware of my cold, wet feet and my shivering bare hands. As I make my way back across the soggy field I realize that this might be why Jim and Cindy have been frequently spotted perched along this area of the river during the past few weeks. I wonder if these intruding Bald Eagles are the same eagles that have begun nesting a few miles to the north in Tipp City/ Troy, Ohio area. If these neighboring eagles have been encroaching on Jim and Cindy’s domain, then perhaps Jim and Cindy have been making daily trips to insure that these birds understand that this river is already claimed. This entire encounter happened within a mile of Roger’s home. It turns out that he was parked a short distance down the road looking for Jim and Cindy.

After a short phone call and a quick meeting with Roger, I make my way back home with the car heater set on high, 439 new images on my camera and another big smile on my face! The day is still young but already it has been a day full of surprises!

 

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  

The Musical Score of Life

Every movie that is produced today includes a musical score. Music is so important to the final film that trophies are awarded for the best musical score in a motion picture. This was not always the case. Before the development of the technology that made it possible to record and synchronize sound with moving pictures, movies were soundless. In the era of silent movies the moviegoer had to physically read the script as it appeared on the screen and each theater hired an organist to play music designed to appropriately enhance every flickering scene. A well-written musical score stirs our emotions and carries us into the images that are passing before our eyes. Barely perceptible but yet so crucial, the score can build fear and suspense or carry us away to a feeling of blissfulness and peace. And so it is in real life.

Each autumn I become aware of the silent, ever present musical score of life. It is a melody too divine for human ears to hear but easily perceived by the open human heart. Each note is pure perfection and the orchestration is flawless. It is carried on the wind, repeated in the rustling leaves and echoed from the heavens. All of nature dances to its strains. Can you hear it? Sometimes the noise of traffic, our own busyness, and the demands of everyday life can drown out the sweet notes of the score. But the music plays on.

Jim and Cindy hear it and embrace it! It moves them to new heights. They dance together to the melody. Its beauty is reflected in their movements and their movements are reflected in its beauty. They instinctively know each measure of the song. They perceive each rest and rejoice in each crescendo.

I heard the music again just yesterday, while I sat in solitude and watched our local Bald Eagles act out the latest scene in their ongoing drama. This scene was a love story. Cindy left the protected confines of the well field and ventured once again into the area of Eastwood Lake while Jim, longing to be near his mate, followed closely behind. Together they flew along the far shore of the lake.

Cindy, Jim and Old Glory.

Cindy, Jim and Old Glory.

Together they perched in a barren tree.

Perched together.

Perched together.

Together they danced across the sky. Together. Always together. Bald Eagles are monogamous and this Courting Season behavior is both a renewing and a strengthening of the pair-bond that exists between them. I watched them for twenty minutes as they followed the instinctive script. For a time they danced together, just above the water’s surface,

Dancing above the water.

Dancing above the water.

then they slowly rose upward. As they circled in the sky above the lake there were times when they flew wingtip to wingtip.

Wingtip to wingtip.

Wingtip to wingtip.

At other times they danced one above the other

Above and below.

Above and below.

while constantly drifting farther away from me, but always growing closer and closer to each other in this bonding ballet. As they drifted off into the distance the music faded and for a moment they appeared to become one bird, side-by-side, but bonded together for life.

Two as one, side by side. (Jim's left wing, Cindy's right.)

Two as one, side by side.
(Jim’s left wing, Cindy’s right.)

Captivated, I strained my eyes as they slowly dissolved into the distant sky and the music hushed into a faint whisper. I smiled at the realization that as I had unexpectedly once again been carried aloft by the graceful majesty of their movements, I had been uplifted by the silent and beautiful musical score of life.

 

 

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 7:21 pm  Comments (10)  

Majesty Personified

I try to choose my words carefully. Sometimes I nearly hit the mark and sometimes I fear that I have missed it by a mile. But once in a while, I find just the word that I was searching for.

When I started the Eastwood Eagle Watchers group in 2008 I realized that we needed to have a defining statement that captured the core essence of what the group was all about. After wrestling with various phrases and concepts I settled on, “Addicted to the power, beauty and grace of Dayton’s majestic American Bald Eagles!” If you are a fan of the Bald Eagle then you have a pretty good idea of the image and emotion that I was hoping to capture.

There are few things in the entire animal kingdom, and even fewer among the avian world, that exhibit the pure power of the eagle. Whether it is hunting prey, soaring to amazing heights, or defending its nest, its young or its territory, the eagle is the ultimate image of power. Whenever I encounter a Bald Eagle, whether in the wild or in captivity, I am immediately struck by the beauty of this creature. And there is nothing quite as graceful as witnessing a Bald Eagle’s steady glide inches above the water, its unwavering focus, the slow purposeful extension of those mighty legs and talons, and the effortless way that it grasps its prey as it continues on its unbroken path. Watching a mature eagle gently rising on a thermal of air and rapidly ascending into the heavens without a single stroke of its wings is the picture of gracefulness. All of these adjectives apply to this bird and never fail to come to mind each time I witness an eagle doing what comes so naturally to them.

But the fourth adjective I chose for that statement encapsulates the other three and so much more, “majestic”. Webster’s definition of majesty is “grandeur or splendor”. “Majestic” describes the Bald Eagle’s character, demeanor, appearance and movement more than any other single word. I find grandeur and splendor in every inch of this beautiful bird of prey. Maybe that is why civilizations have so often chosen the eagle as their emblem. Ancient peoples witnessed their majesty. Pagan civilizations worshiped and adored them. Literature is replete with images of eagles. Empires, armies and political movements have replicated their images on uniforms, flags, shields, currencies, buildings and statues for centuries.

In the animal kingdom it seems like nothing, with the possible exception of the African lion, comes close to inspiring humans like the eagle, but even the mighty lion lacks the grace and the freedom exhibited by an eagle in flight.

 
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I started that statement with the word, “addicted”. That too was intentional. When I unexpectedly encounter an eagle I must stop and watch. I find myself almost mesmerized by them. I find myself repeatedly captivated by their power, beauty, grace, grandeur and splendor. For me, the American Bald Eagle is majesty personified in feathers.

RGP777

Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 11:48 pm  Comments (12)  

Slow and Lazy Circles

 

Slow and lazy circles,

Traced across the skies.

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Slow and lazy circles,

Bring contented sighs.

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Slow and lazy circles,

May seem like simple things,

But they thrill my heart with majesty

When traced by eagles’ wings!

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Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm  Comments (4)  

Every Year It Happens

Every year it happens! Every year I say it’s not going to happen, but then it happens just the same.

I am the father of two daughters who are now grown and in their 30s. I can remember those times during their teenage years when they were developing some independence that took them beyond my control. We did all the things that loving parents always do. We set down guidelines. We set up consequences for not following those guidelines. We enforced those rules. And, of course, we prayed… a lot. But even with all of the parameters in place, we still worried. These were the days before cell phones and instant communication, but our girls knew that if they were going to be late for some unforeseen reason they were to find a phone and call home to inform us of the delay. Every time that they left the house I would promise myself that I would not worry, but before long I would be glancing more and more frequently at the clock or looking out the window whenever I heard a car slowing down. I can remember the feeling of relief each time that they opened the door at the end of an outing.

And so it is with Jim and Cindy.

Every year it happens. Every year when the eaglets have proven themselves to be self-sufficient, Jim and Cindy go on a sabbatical of sorts. We have no idea where they go, or even if they both go in the same direction, but you can count on them disappearing in late summer and not coming home until some time in September. And every year I lie to myself and tell myself that I’m not going to worry. Then every year I do, especially this year. All throughout September on my daily checks of the area, I fully expected to see them in some tree top or spot them fishing from one of their lakes. As the month wore on without seeing them, my anxiety grew. I did receive sporadic reports of a lone adult eagle or even perhaps two eagles perched in a well field tree, but with all of the roaming eagles passing through the area this year I could not be sure that the birds being spotted were our eagles.

Then, several days ago, Jim returned. He was spotted repeatedly in his favorite perch overlooking Eagle Lake. Jim typically returns a few days before Cindy so with his arrival, I was sure that Cindy would not be far behind. But day after day, I could only find a solitary eagle looking so very lonely as he searched the skies.

I know that statistically there are so many things that could go tragically wrong. The numbers prove that life for an eagle is often cut short by unforeseen circumstances. Automobiles, power lines, windstorms, wind turbines… the list of potential dangers is quite large and always seems to grow larger. With that statistical knowledge tucked away in the recesses of my memory I looked forward with great anticipation for the return of both birds.

Finally, on Wednesday, October 1st, I found two adult eagles perched in Jim’s favorite tree! Then yesterday I was able to snap the following picture of Jim and Cindy looking very healthy and very cozy in that same tree. What a relief!

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This is the beginning of courting season. For the next few months Jim and Cindy will be inseparable. They will perch together, hunt together, soar together and dance across the sky together! During the next few months they will reinforce the already strong bonds that exist within pair-bonded adult Bald Eagles. Soon they will begin renovations on the aerie in preparation of February’s eggs. Finally I can relax and enjoy eagle watching again until next summer’s sabbatical.

Next year I will not worry! (But don’t bet on it!) Maybe I should get them a cell phone.

Published in: on October 4, 2014 at 4:57 am  Comments (22)  

Sometimes Words Aren’t Needed

Since Jim and Cindy are still on their sabbatical, please allow me to share about a recent encounter with our second Montgomery County, Ohio bonded-pair of Bald Eagles.

 

This morning had become a beautiful late summer morning by the time I arrived at Englewood MetroPark. The long streak of hot, humid weather had finally broken overnight and there was a slight hint of autumn in the air. The damp, shadowy grasses beneath the towering trees were aglow with the glimmer of the sunbeams that had struggled through the branches on their way earthward, golden rays that almost sang out praises as they pierced the darkness. It was one of those special mornings when you can taste the change of seasons in the air and you realize that you have grown tired of the heat and humidity. Dew-laden spider webs danced in the slight breeze, refracting the filtered sunlight like natural stained-glass windows. In fact, the beauty and serenity that bathed the landscape made the park almost cathedral-like as I paused to embrace its solitude. All was right with the world, or so it seemed.

High in the branches of a nearby tree a small drama was silently unfolding. There, side by side, sat two, young-adult Bald Eagles. Many have grown rather fond of this pair over the last month. We have watched them almost daily as they have become more and more a piece of the park, hunting its shallow waters and defending its boundaries from other passing eagles. They have become increasingly territorial as if they are planning to stay and make Englewood their home. We have begun to refer to the pair as Liberty and Belle and as we watch them this morning, Liberty seems sorrowful and downcast. He had flown to this tree alone but soon Belle was at his side. There is no chatter between them, only silence and understanding.

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Liberty appears almost overcome with grief or concern. His head is bent low and Belle can find no words of encouragement and comfort. As a young, bonded pair of only 5 years of age, this is likely their first nesting season. Perhaps the promise of the changing season has caused the young male to ponder the magnitude of all that lies ahead. The hours of nest building, the demands of 35 days of incubation, the responsibility of rearing eaglets… maybe for this moment it is all just too much for him to shoulder.

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Belle looks my way and as our eyes meet I see the expression on her face and read a message in her eyes. She somehow knows that the future events lie securely in the past. They were uniquely designed for this moment and equipped with all of the tools necessary for what lies ahead. Her confidence seems unwavering, her determination sure. But I also see a touch of bewilderment as she sits beside her forlorn mate. She is trusting that her presence alone is enough to buoy Liberty’s spirits.

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As they sit together I almost feel as if I am intruding on a very private moment, but the story is too captivating for me to turn away. After what feels like a very long few minutes, Liberty’s mood begins to lighten. Slowly his head begins to rise. Maybe Belle’s quiet presence has soothed away his fears, maybe it is enough for him to realize that he is not in this alone. Maybe, just maybe, he realizes that together they can soar higher than he has ever imagined and overcome any obstacle that may arise. Belle refuses to look away. She want’s her mate to sense her devotion, to share her strength, to be upheld by her faith.

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Slowly Belle inches to her right. I watch in amazement as she extends her right wing across Liberty’s chest as if to embrace him. He responds by turning his head and lifting his eyes, for the first time since my arrival, to gaze at his mate. The crisis has passed. Both eagles appear proud and strong once more.

I openly admit that I have added my own interpretation to what I saw transpiring in that treetop this morning. But it was a blessing to have seen it and to have witnessed my first eagle hug. Bald Eagles are monogamous and that pair-bonding in birds can run deep. As a teenager I watched helplessly as a Mourning Dove starved herself to death next to the spot where her mate had died after being hit by a car, even though I had removed her mate’s body after finding her standing next to it for over a day. Two days later I found her lying in the same spot. Many animals crave companionship and having someone special in our lives can make a world of difference. My love and admiration for eagles grew even greater today.

Sometimes words can encourage us, calm us, challenge us or move us in so many other ways, but sometimes there just are no words. Sometimes words aren’t needed.

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm  Comments (23)  

Of Watching Wild Eagles At Play

When I started the Eastwood Eagle Watchers blog several years ago it was with two basic objectives in mind. The first of which was to share the ongoing story of Jim and Cindy with anyone who was interested in our Dayton, Ohio Bald Eagles. The second was to vent my passion for these majestic birds. There were several other secondary goals fell under these two objectives. Over the course of the years we have attracted many new followers that have clicked the “Sign Me Up” box on first page of our blog and each of them now receive an e-mail every time I add a new post. Currently we have 427 followers and I am grateful for every single one. There are many more folks who visit this blog but have not clicked the “Sign Me Up” box. Our most active day recorded 1,155 hits on the blog. During the past few years I have published a total of 190 posts. Now I know that these numbers are small in Blogland but each person is precious to me and each post holds a piece of my heart. Thank you all for tagging along with us.

As I’ve mentioned before, I fear that I too often repeat myself (no pun intended). But with the cyclical nature of Jim and Cindy’s annual activities and in light of all the new followers, repetition is sometimes necessary.

I have openly confessed, here and elsewhere, that I have been fascinated by the American bald eagle for as long as I can remember. I have great admiration for their fortitude, their dedication to one another, their strength, their tenderness, their natural beauty and abilities, and their gracefulness. They never cease to inspire me, and to challenge me to work on flaws in my own wavering character. In fact, they so inspire me that it is often a challenge to remember to update everyone on their activities and not just sing their praises.

So what exactly is going on currently with Jim and Cindy and their two juveniles? Well, they are still hard to find. Whether by remaining deep within the wooded recesses of the well field or traveling to other places within their domain, they are not making their presence known. But other Eagles are!

Recent online conversations have reminded me that many people have yet had the pleasure of watching an eagle in the wild. Let me take you along on a virtual eagle-watching outing. Join with me now as we take a brief excursion 25 minutes northwest of the Eastwood nesting site to Englewood MetroPark, the site of Montgomery County’s most recent eagle activity. As we enter the park from the gate at US 40, near the east end of Englewood Dam, we slowly descend the shaded winding roadway that leads to the lake below. The lake is just a shadow of its former self. This once vibrant and active body of water was the site of many picnics and fishing trips during my childhood. Today it is just a few inches deep. Bright white egrets grace the tree tops in sharp contrast to the dark green foliage on the trees. Great Blue Heron slowly stalk fish along the shoreline. Killdeer noisily dance along the damp mud ringing the lake while sandpipers hunt for tasty morsels nearby. The late summer leaves are not only deep and dark, but they are becoming a bit brittle as well. As we exit the car an Indigo Bunting flits from branch to branch in a nearby tree and a hummingbird buzzes past our heads. The shallow water makes fishing and boating impossible, so the scene is quite natural, undisturbed and serenely still.

Methodically scanning the distant trees along the far shore of the lake we spot the bright white head of an adult Bald Eagle! It’s perched almost completely motionless as it attentively watches the other birds flying by.

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After 15 minutes the eagle flushes from the tree and makes a large, low circle above the water before paralleling the shoreline and slipping effortlessly through the shadows and then up into the dark, shaded recesses of different tree.

Up to its mate.

Up to its mate.

As we focus our binoculars on this secluded hideaway, we are surprised to find not one, but two Bald Eagles perched side-by-side! The female is slightly larger than the male, and still has some fading darkness visible in her head feathers while the male’s head and tail are a brilliant white. We surmise that the female is quite possibly a five-year-old bird and the male may be slightly older. Here together they sit enjoying the coolness of the shade for the next 30 minutes.

Shady hideaway.

Shady hideaway.

But then they are off circling low over the water in opposing rotations, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. They pass just in front of us and our hearts skip a beat as we see their 7 feet of wings and we get a close look at those piercing, yellow eyes. We know that they are aware of our presence but they seem to be unconcerned as they pass by.

 

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Their arcs are large and as they gradually ascend. As we watch they rise 20, 40, 60, 100 feet above the water. Now one changes directions and they circle together just a few feet apart. We’re thrilled as one bird flips onto its back in midair and extends its talons towards its mate.

 

I wanna hold your hand.

I wanna hold your hand.

 

There is no contact this time and in a moment they are both upright again. We continue to watch as they complete a few more circles and engage in a little more flirting. By now their arcs have grown smaller as they complete a larger circuit above the trees that surround the lake, while occasionally and gracefully swooping at each other.  Eventually one of the eagles folds its massive wings and descends towards the water. When it is 10 feet above the lake it spreads its wings again and slowly glides lower until it is just 6 inches above the water.  We watch with anticipation as it makes one low pass and then another. On the third pass the eagle is more focused as it slowly drops its legs and extends its feet forward as it drifts effortlessly towards its prey.

 

I've got this one.

I’ve got this one.

 

Then in a flash there is a splash as its talons pierce the glassy plain beneath it and emerge grasping tightly to a wriggling, shimmering fish. The eagle’s course continues unwaveringly toward the distant shore and then flies up and alights on a barren limb. It is only then that we notice that its mate has already perched in that same tree.

What a sight! What a thrill! We stand there watching the Bald Eagles perched before us, replaying the last few minutes in our minds and wondering how this day could get any better. But then, unexpectedly, it does! A shadow passes before us! In unison we look up to see a third eagle passing slowly overhead!

The newcomer.

The newcomer.

 

This is a large bird with a distinctive dark band edging its white tail and a partially white head. It is a four-year-old eagle and she is calling out as she glides towards the others. She makes one pass by the tree, before she pivots and lands just a few feet from the perched pair. Instantly an argument begins as the pair screams and chatters at the newcomer. They are quite fond of their lake and seem unwilling to share it with this intruder.

 

Three is a crowd!

Three is a crowd!

 

In less than a minute there is a flurry of wings as one of the adults launches from the tree with a sheer look of determination in its eyes. It noisily chases the four-year-old from the tree.

 

Comin' at cha!

Comin’ at cha!

It is immediately joined by its mate and we watch in amazement as the trio of eagles crosses the lake and disappear beyond the trees to the north!

 

And away they go!

And away they go!

That was my experience last Wednesday and Thursday and it still brings a smile to my face. To see that activity right here in the Dayton, Ohio surpasses my wildest dreams. I have lived most of my life not knowing this thrill and I know that many eagle fans across the country are still awaiting the eagles’ return. As their population continues to recover, take heart. They are coming! Keep looking up and you too may soon have sweet memories of watching wild eagles at play.

Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 5:07 am  Comments (12)  

A Season of Silence

Can you hear the silence? It is almost deafening as it blankets Jim and Cindy’s domain. Its velvet tones peal from each treetop and echo through the stillness of the late summer air.

As the annual cycle of our Bald Eagles’ story progresses we have entered that time of rest, freedom and rejuvenation. The mad rush of the nesting season with all of its demands is behind us and the harsh reality of winter in the wild is safely concealed in the calendar’s unturned pages. The eaglets have fledged and are now self-sufficient. Life is slow and easy…and good. These are days that are meant for hours of perching in the shaded boughs of a favorite tree. The warm skies are meant for soaring and experiencing freedom beyond the bounds of earth in a way that a man can only  know in his dreams.

This is a necessary season for restoration and recuperation from what lies behind and preparation for what lies ahead. In a month the idle aerie will begin to whisper their names. Slowly it will summon them home. They will begin toying with its weathered sticks while adding a new stick every now and then. October’s shortening days and November chill will trigger courting behavior and the rekindling of the fires of deep devotion formed through pair-bonding over the years. December and January will be full of real work as the aerie grows larger and deeper in anticipation of February’s clutch of eggs…

But this is August! These are the times when our eagles go unseen for days as they disappear and wander off to parts unknown. These are the times when other eagles begin to appear as they too wander across the region. We have recently spotted several nomads in the area. Englewood MetroPark is currently hosting a pair of young adults and a few juveniles. Our current lack of rain has caused the lake water behind the dam to become a large wading pool for egrets and heron. The visiting eagles may move on as the water evaporates along with its supply of fish. If a nomad should venture farther south into Jim and Cindy’s realm they will eventually be asked to leave. Without eaglets to protect, Jim and Cindy are a bit more hospitable but this territory is theirs and they will not share it with strangers.

Roger did manage to capture this image of Cindy enjoying her breakfast at Eastwood.

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Even though Jim and Cindy may be hard to find lately, their palace serves as a witness to their claim on their kingdom. A few years ago I wrote the following poem as an ode to their abode.

 

The Eagle’s Nest Stands Silent

By Jim Weller (June 17, 2013)

 

The eagle’s nest stands silent

Her annual labor done

She’s proven herself trustworthy

Each battle fought, she’s won.

 

As wandering eagles see her

Without a word she’ll say,

“This territory’s taken!

You’d best be on your way!”

 

Through the blistering heat of summer

While standing high and proud

She’ll chant of former glories,

But not a word aloud.

 

Crowning autumn’s canopy

She will breathe a quiet sigh

As her master and her mistress

Dance across the sky.

 

Speechless through the snowfall

Atop that barren tree

She’ll patiently anticipate

The things that are to be.

 

Then just before the springtime

She will end her time of rest

And sing anew a song of joy

With new life in her breast!

 

The eagle’s nest stands silent

Yet has so much to say

If we just pause to listen

As we hasten by today.

 

If we will just pause to listen, there is much to be heard in this season of silence.

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 4:23 am  Comments (12)  

Absorbed By Their Story

The last chapter of July, 2014 has come to a close. As the last paragraph was written, I found myself in a melancholy mood and I knew not why. As I pondered my situation in the stillness of the midnight hours, I gradually realized that my heart was in the mourning for a young life that I had barely known.

It is funny, I thought, how expectations and anticipation can capture your emotions. As I was counting down the 35 days of incubation while waiting for the first eaglet to hatch, I was unknowingly being drawn into (and becoming a part of) their story. As I watched and waited for the trio to fledge I became even more engulfed in the happenings at the aerie. Without noticing, the observer was being absorbed into the drama. Perhaps you have had similar experiences. Isn’t it strange how attached one can become to a wild creature? Isn’t it silly how nature can consume us? Isn’t it wonderful when it does?

When tragedy struck two weeks ago and one of the eaglets was lost, I was away on vacation. The story had sorrowfully advanced and although I was aware of the changes, I was separated from the events. In an odd way, I needed to mourn. I needed to deal with those deep emotions and move on. What I really longed for was a chance to see the two surviving eaglets prospering.

So as I opened up the cover of August, 2014, I found myself standing yet again in the summer grasses of Eastwood, a prisoner of gravity, intently peering skyward, waiting and watching. Turkey Vultures meandered through the sky and a lone Osprey made hungry circles above the lake. From deep in the distant recesses of the well field, a dark figure slowly emerged from the trees. It was silhouetted against the eastern clouds as it rose and the level profile of the massive wings indicated that it was a Bald Eagle. The overall darkness of the bird further confirmed that it was a juvenile. Then, just as it began to gain altitude, a second, identical figure emerged from the trees. These were our eaglets! Slowly they circled, consistently gaining altitude. Even at a distance of nearly a mile and several hundred feet high in the air, the young raptors were magnificent. My mood began to lighten as I carefully followed them across the clouds. After 10 minutes the soaring duo began to drift westward towards me. As eagles so often do, they had become mere specks high in the sky. Each juvenile’s individual orbit eventually began to intersect its sibling’s and before long they were soaring together. Then the inevitable happened. Like two children on a playground, they began challenging each other by repeatedly calling, swooping, diving, flipping and grasping for each other’s talons.

 

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They were pretty high up there and quite a distance away, but it was thrilling to witness! As I watched them drift ever closer to Eastwood, Roger, with his characteristic good timing and uncanny good luck, was half a mile south of the park and had managed to find a position directly under the pair.

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Although they never actually made it over to Eastwood Lake, their aerial antics continued for just under an hour. The juveniles were simply honing skills that they will need for hunting, courting, soaring and just surviving, but at the same time they were being a blessing to me.

As I type these words, I am comforted to know that the gloom has lifted. I trust that the book of August may be a very good book indeed. And somewhere deep inside of me I am acutely aware that again today I became even more deeply absorbed by their story.

 

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 1:54 am  Comments (28)  

Reality Bites

I am afraid that I have some terrible news to share with all of you. (If you follow this blog with your children you may want to read through this posting first to decide if it is appropriate for your child.)

Jim and Cindy lost one of their three eaglets today.

As you know, just two days ago one of our eaglets was seen on the ground, hopping around for hours. It showed no signs of injury other than holding its right wing slightly different from its left wing. When the good folks from The Glen Helen Raptor Center approached it to capture it, it flew up into a tree. (I covered this event in more detail in my last posting.) Well yesterday the observant and protective staff of the well field noticed another grounded eaglet. It may have been the same bird or one of that bird’s two siblings, we just don’t know. I was on the road to Georgia and eventually Florida for vacation with my family when I received the call about this second eaglet so I was unable to observe the downed bird personally, but Roger captured the disturbing image below that clearly shows that the youngster had somehow severely damaged its right wing.

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I just cannot get over how bewildered, desperate and just plain out-of-place this eaglet looks. Betty and her assistants from the raptor center responded and captured the injured bird. The eaglet had suffered traumatic injuries to its right wing. Parasites had found the wound and had done additional damage. The injuries were so severe that the eaglet died before it could be examined by the vet. What a loss.

I often site statistics (maybe too often) but they are so very important in understanding the plight of the Bald Eagle. Juvenile Bald Eagles usually do not fare well. As many as 70% to 80 % never see their first birthday. As far as we know, of Jim and Cindy’s 10 fledged eaglets, only 2 have been lost. I suspect that number may be higher but we will never know for sure. Even with the careful monitoring and swift intervention by caring people when a crisis does occur, life in the wild is wild.

Jim and Cindy were aware of the eaglet’s situation and were seen bringing it food but its fate was sealed when whatever happened happened. Even though I am far from home I know that both parents, especially Cindy, will be seen flying through the area searching for the missing eaglet for the next several days before turning their full attention back to their remaining pair of juveniles. That breaks my heart. But what a wonderful and touching testimony of their devotion to their offspring.

Sometimes you beat the odds but, eventually, the odds beat back. Reality bites, and sometimes it bites hard enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 4:11 am  Comments (6)  
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