Dayton, Ohio has only one pair of resident Bald Eagles. Just one pair. Unlike Alaska, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, The Great Lakes, coastal Florida and several other places around the North America continent where these majestic birds are much more plentiful, we have only Jim and Cindy. Now, I am not complaining because one pair is 100% more than we had from 1938 to 2008, but with only two resident birds to watch, you just never know what you are going to see out there. Sometimes you see nothing and sometimes you get quite a show!
That is what made Saturday, April 19th, quite a day. It was warm and sunny, more like early summer than early spring. The persistent, light breeze out of the west and the low humidity added a refreshing touch to the warm air as I spent an hour during the late afternoon chatting with some delightful people. A young couple from Beavercreek and his or her parents who were visiting from Indiana had come to Eastwood Lake to view the nest and (hopefully) flying eagles. As we chatted and watched we could clearly see Jim and Cindy at the nest. Eventually one of the eagles took to the air and (to my surprise) the other one joined it!
Now even though it was a beautiful day we knew that they would not leave the vulnerable eaglets unprotected for very long. Sure enough, less than two minutes later one of the eagles returned to the nest. That brief but important flight was all about reinforcing the strong pair-bond between Jim and Cindy. A few circles alone together in the open sky is like a quick date night for human couples, an opportunity for a couple to leave the demands of parenting and just enjoy being together. Even though the flying duo stayed east of Harshman Road my companions were thrilled to be able to see wild Bald Eagles doing what Jim and Cindy do so well. After several more minutes the four visitors left with the younger couple promising to visit again soon.
Now there is that unwritten rule in eagle watching that the eagles seem to fly just after one of the watchers leave, so I noted the time as they drove away. Eight minutes later, this happened.
Cindy flew overhead, stretching her wings and drifting on a thermal. She was lovely. I thought of how much those two couples would have loved to have seen her from this perspective. She made several passes overhead before slowly gaining altitude as she rode the updraft higher and higher, eventually disappearing into the sun. Soon I was joined by others taking advantage of the nice weather to get in a little eagle watching. We kept scanning the western sky looking for Cindy but to no avail. The next time that we spotted her she was back on the nest with Jim. (They are mighty big birds but they can be awfully sneaky at times.)
Some time later, Jim left the nest and headed west over the Mad River. This flight was different. It was a flight of speed and purpose. As he disappeared behind the trees we could just make out the shape of another large bird behind the budding treetops. Had he seen a poaching Osprey trespassing in his domain? Was there a third eagle in the area? I looked back at the aerie and Cindy had repositioned herself to the branches above the nest.
In a few minutes we spotted a juvenile eagle flying from the direction that Jim had gone and heading towards the nest. It was very possibly one of their own youngsters heading towards what had previously been home.
It would not be well received with babies in the nest. I could not hear Cindy’s alarm call from where I stood but apparently Jim did. Eagles have excellent hearing and as Cindy dropped to the nest Jim crossed back over Harshman Road rushing to the rescue.
After seeing several flashes of fleeing and pursuing eagle wings through the distant branches, the properly chastised youngster reappeared over the roadway and drifted off to the west once more. Cindy remained in the nest while Jim disappeared somewhere within the confines of well field.
Once again the group of eagle watchers stood in the early evening air and watched. About thirty minutes later, wave after wave of Double Crested Cormorants passed overhead heading towards the golden glow of the descending sun.
They had begun arriving in great numbers two weeks ago. Most will soon venture further north but a hundred or so will spend the summer here. As we watched yet another approaching wave we noticed a different, larger shape among the stragglers.
He slowly circled low over Eagle Lake
and coming to rest on a perch just inside of the well field fence.
And there he sat as the day slowly ebbed away. With the last parting rays of golden light he spread his mighty wings and returned to the nesting area beyond the trees. There, safe under the watchful eyes of their faithful mother, at least two three-week-old eaglets are bedded down to rest, unaware of the threats and challenges of life. Their day will come soon enough. For now they are safe, sheltered and protected by their majestic parents who rule their domain with precision, teamwork and a pair-bond that will last a lifetime.
Eagle watching is indeed a fickle thing. Sometimes you see nothing at all. Sometimes you get quite a show!