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)  

The Fears, Joys and Thrills of Eagle Watching

Every year more and more Bald Eagles are passing through the southwestern Ohio skies in search of a territory of their own. Several of our larger bodies of water are now claimed by a nesting pair of eagles. One local body that seems to be struggling a bit is the lake behind Englewood dam, just north of Dayton, not far from Clayton, Ohio.

A few years ago a young pair of eagles constructed an aerie in a tree near the west side of the lake but later abandoned the nest. In the ensuing years other eagles have shown interest in the abandoned nest but have all moved on. The shallow lake itself has seen sporadic flurries of eagle activity providing some wonderful photographic opportunities, but the eagles always seem to disappear as quickly as they had come.

Late spring and early summer was such a time at Englewood. Several juveniles and a pair of adults were fishing its waters and perching in the surrounding trees. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. On Sunday, June 29th, a severely injured adult Bald Eagle was discovered in Clayton. Personnel from the Glen Helen Raptor Center reported that the bird had sustained severe electrical burns from apparent contact with power lines in the area. The injuries were so serious that the decision was made to euthanize the animal. Unfortunately, as the Bald Eagle population continues to recover these reports are much too common, here, in Decorah, Iowa and across the nation.

This morning I received an unnerving call from Betty Ross of Glen Helen. She had received a call from Jeff, a well field worker, concerning a grounded eaglet within the well field. Since I was near the area, Betty asked me to contact Jeff and visit the well field to evaluate the situation. Over the phone Jeff told me that he had seen one of our three juveniles sitting awkwardly in the grass for several hours. He further reported that this eaglet’s two siblings were perched side by side in the top of a tree nearby. (When we lost the eaglet named Spirit in 2011, his sister, Pride, spent the day perched atop a pole near her injured brother.) Jeff stated that the eaglet was hopping around but apparently unable to fly. I asked him if the eagle was possibly simply holding prey in its talons, if it was dragging a wing or if it appeared visibly injured in any other way. He responded that it looked otherwise healthy.

Fifteen minutes later I was watching the bird myself. The scene was just as I had been told, two juveniles in the tree and one more looking very out-of-place on the ground. As novice flyers, recently fledged eaglets are easily grounded at times. It takes a lot of strength and a bit of practice, to get airborne from the ground, but this 15-week-old bird was not even trying. A grounded eagle is subject to parasites and predators and will eventually starve if not fed. After watching our subject for 10 minutes or so as it was heckled by a persistent Red-winged Blackbird but showing little reaction, and then seeing it hobble 20 feet deeper into the grasses of the field I noticed that its right wing was being held slightly farther from its body then the other wing. I called Betty and asked her to meet us.

In about 30 minutes she arrived with her assistant, Molly. In the meantime the eagle had continued its awkward trek along a 40’ wide stretch of grassland between two reservoirs, heading in the general direction of a wooded area.  It had by now wandered yet another 150’or so, so I repositioned my car to a spot between the eagle and the grove of trees hoping the juvenile would remain in the grassy field where it could be more easily captured. Throughout this time we had stayed quite a respectable distance from the bird. As Betty’s car approached the eagle hopped up three steel stairs onto the concrete base of pump #40, a platform about 3’ above the ground. Then, as Betty and Molly approached from the west, I approached from the east. We were still about 70 feet away when the juvenile fluttered, hopped and using the drop from its platform flew low over the ground, across a narrow reservoir and swooped up into a tree!

Although it did appear to be favoring its right wing a bit, it had flown. I suspect that in one of the early morning downpours it had fallen from a perch or had been knocked down by the wind and rain. Once grounded, it had been unable to get airborne again and the slight elevation provided by that concrete platform was all it really needed to fly.

I have been part of a rescue where the juvenile did not survive its injuries and part of one where things turned out well but the best rescues are those where the rescue never really happens because the eagle rescues itself. The well field workers are always watching for any signs of trouble and it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.

Not having my camera with me (Sorry Roger.) I was only able to snap this image with my cell phone.

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All in all, today was a good day amid the fears, joys and thrills of eagle watching.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Comments (8)  

A Smile on a Sunny Day

It seemed like it would never end. The long, grey, gloomy, wet days crawled slowly by like a long freight train crossing a roadway. “Will it ever end?” I asked myself as yet another thunderstorm warning was issued. With nearly every break in the weather I would make my way to the place where eagles roam the skies but as I arrived so did the clouds and then the rain. We always seem to have a bout of severe weather, just after the eaglets have fledged each year.

The first couple of weeks after leaving the nests the novice flyers stay secluded in the trees of the well field being tenderly cared for by Mom and Dad. Seldom will they fly above the green, leafy canopy during that time. Our best chance of catching a glimpse of one of the young ones is when one of them decides to return to the nest and wait for food. But by now, the nest is just a place where eaglets once lived.

Finally the forecast changed and the skies cleared!

And the eagles came!

Tuesday, was the day of transition as the downpours became more intermittent and the clouds began to thin. The freight train was finally clearing the crossing.  As Roger waited and watched he saw an adult Bald Eagle headed towards him and the waters of Eastwood Lake, and it was being shadowed by a juvenile! He snapped this image of the approaching adult.

Passing By

Passing By

Then he snapped this image of one of Jim and Cindy’s three 2014 eaglets looking mighty pretty as it passed by.

Big, Beautiful Baby

Big, Beautiful Baby

As the youngster circled above the lake, the adult did an interesting thing. Do you remember how your primary teachers tried to make learning fun by turning it into a game? That was pretty sneaky of them, but it was a pretty successful ploy. Well the adult eagle found the front half of a fish floating on the water but rather than snatching it with its talons, as it skimmed the surface of the lake it flipped it up into the air behind its tail feathers. Not once, but three times! All while the juvenile circled overhead. It seemed to be daring the youngster to pick it up. (Eaglets in the aerie know that Mom and Dad fly in with food but they have no idea where it came from. Most animals, say an owl for instance, will see their food scampering or slithering across the ground but a Bald Eagle’s main dish is hidden beneath a wet blanket in a world quite different from their own. They have to learn where to find the prey as well as how to capture it by watching Mom and Dad hunt.) Although the youngster did not take the bait, Roger did take this picture.

A Sneaky Lesson

A Sneaky Lesson

Today the sun was out in full force! Four of us gathered to see what the early morning rays might bring. They brought Jim! He flew in and landed in the tall, dead tree at the northeast corner of the lake where he sat for a few minutes searching the waters below him. I captured this image just before he left the perch, plucked a large fish out of the water and flew back to the well field.

Early Morning Hunter

Early Morning Hunter

Within half an hour he returned to the same tree. He looked pretty regal sitting there scanning his domain, like a king on his throne!

His Royal Highness

His Royal Highness

But what is a king without a queen? Right behind him came Cindy! If Jim looked regal Cindy looked absolutely stunning in the sunlight!

Her Royal Highness

Her Royal Highness

And together they were breathtaking!

Love Birds

Love Birds

As I stood a mere 100 feet from where they were perched I realized again how thrilled I am that Bald Eagles have returned to Dayton. The babies are growing up and Jim and Cindy were able to leave them unattended for a time, but not for long. After some brief royal chatter between the two of them, Cindy was off and winging her way back to the well field.

And then, just for icing on the cake, as I was leaving Eastwood around 7:30 this evening I saw two juveniles playing in the air above the trees of the well field. As I watched from a distance, they were joined by a third! I saw them swoop at each other a bit as I attempted to drive closer but they dropped into the trees and disappeared.

Watching our eagle family always brings a smile, especially on a sunny day.

Published in: on July 10, 2014 at 6:06 am  Comments (8)  

Eaglet Update

It has been a while since I have posted due to some storm related internet issues and a general lack of news to report. As you have probably already discovered the Boonshoft Eagle-cams have been deactivated for the year. So here is the latest.

All three eaglets have fledged the nest and all three eaglets have returned to the nest. That is very good news. The fact that they all have returned to the nest means that not only did they all survive the initial flight but that they are all healthy and able to fly where they desire to fly! Jim and Cindy are still bringing food to the nest to feed the trio. The nest will soon lose its attractiveness as the youngsters grow more experienced at perching in trees. As in years past, the family will move deeper into the wooded areas of the well field and enjoy their solitude. In a few weeks we will see more of the youngsters as they begin soaring with Mom, Dad and each other. We hope to get some pictures of the juveniles then.

Jim and Cindy are again making daily trips to Eastwood Lake, often while being harassed by Eastern Kingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. I took this picture of Jim high over the lake yesterday as a kingbird rode him through the sky.

Hitchin' a ride.

Hitchin’ a ride.

High over Dayton.

High over Dayton.

Then today Cindy passed overhead escorted through the hazy skies by yet another pesky kingbird.

Annoying!

Annoying!

The smaller, territorial birds have been particularly persistent this year, never missing an opportunity to make their presence known.

Really? Again

Really? Again?

Just Ignore him.

Just ignore him.

Even the Common Grackles were getting into the act with the local Red-tailed Hawk.

Pushy, pushy.

Pushy, pushy.

It was 3 years ago today that Jim and Cindy’s first male eaglet, Spirit, was critically injured in a failed landing attempt on a wooden utility pole. As far as we know he is the only fledged juvenile that they have lost. Let’s hope this year is uneventful.

Boy, this update has been factual, informative and bland so allow me to call on a slightly smaller feathered friend to brighten things up a bit.

Roger's friend Bubba.

Roger’s friend Bubba.

 

Published in: on July 4, 2014 at 4:28 am  Comments (18)  

One Small Step

Do you know what it is like to be an eaglet about to fly from the aerie for the very first time? Neither do I. But let’s try to experience that moment in our imaginations. Actually, it may not be all that hard to imagine because we have all been through a similar experience before.

Do you remember your first step? You had mastered the art of rolling over, sitting up and even crawling, but that just wasn’t enough. You wanted more. So with a certain determination you began to experiment. You made your way to the nearest table, chair or couch and grabbed on! Perhaps in your mind you envisioned yourself simply crawling up the piece of furniture but your knees just could not find traction on a vertical surface, so you added this newly learned fact to your ever-growing storehouse of knowledge. Next you reached as high as your little hands could reach, grasped onto something and tried to pull yourself up. This effort proved slightly successful as you became a bit more erect but your arms just were not strong enough to keep you upright so you tumbled back to the floor. Remember? But you were determined to improve your mobility so you kept trying. Days passed. When you were awake and not being fed, or carried, or tickled, or having your annoying diaper changed, you were practicing. Alone in your crib you discovered that if you pulled yourself just right and tried real hard, you could move those two, long things hanging out of the bottom of your diaper into position to brace you upright for a few seconds and those chubby things at the bottom of those two long things (those things that Mommy insisted on tickling and kissing all the time) made pretty good platforms to stand on. You then learned that once you were standing upright you could bounce up and down and giggle with pride in yourself! Slowly you were leaning the basics, always adding to that storehouse of knowledge. What you did not realize was that as you stood bouncing and giggling, grasping tightly to your support, your muscles were growing stronger and stronger and you were developing a sense of balance. Finally on one glorious day you released your grip on the furniture and with your arms sticking out on either side of your body and your hands (for some unknown reason) making tiny circles in the air, you moved one foot and then the other and then fell onto your soggy diaper with a SPLAT! Mom cheered and applauded. Dad cheered and applauded. You cried. But you had done it! You had walked! Remember?

That is what I envision our trio of eaglets are doing right now. We call it “baby steps” for a reason. They have peered down from their aerie and seen people, machinery, deer, foxes, coyotes, groundhogs… They have looked into the sky and watched planes, heron, song birds, vultures, clouds… Everything around them seems to be going somewhere. Everything but the three of them that is. So they have been practicing. They hop and jump and flap their beautiful wings. Each movement strengthen their muscles and adds to their coordination. With every repetitive action they add to their own storehouse of knowledge. This week they will release their grasp on the safe and familiar and take that one small step towards freedom!

One may have taken that step already! Late Sunday afternoon I saw two very interesting things on the eagle-cam. The first was only two eaglets in the nest. Lately all three have been clearly visible on the rim of the palace. The second thing was Jim bringing food to the nest. Now the missing eaglet could have been lying down and Jim brings food to the nest every day but I have observed over the past four nesting season that every single time an eaglet fledges from the nest Jim or Cindy will immediately bring food into the nest if another nest-bound eaglet is present. It is as if the parents are trying to keep the unfledged eaglet content while they tend to the novice flier.

The oldest eaglet is 82 days old today and Jim and Cindy’s past eaglets have fledged between 83 and 86 days. I was so encouraged by the eagle-cam tonight that I fired off an email to our friends in the well field to let them know that there may be a flying eaglet in the trees near the nest. The crews there are very protective of their eagle family and will keep an eye out for any grounded or injured eaglets.

The fledging process is a dangerous one and the eaglets have many things to learn. As they fledge they will hopefully land safely in a tree. If an eaglet should land on the ground, it is much more vulnerable to predators and parasites and it may have difficulty getting airborne again as it will need to run and flap and lift its 10 pound body out of the tall grass. From a tree limb gravity will assist it in getting airborne again. The eaglets’ landings will be awkward and rough for a while as they learn this art and as they learn what size limb can be trusted for support. Jim and Cindy will keep watch over the flying youngster and bring it food as well. Eventually it may try to fly back to the nest and its siblings so if you see three eaglets in the nest, one may be smiling just a bit.

RGP342

I can only try to imagine what an eaglet goes through as it fledges but I know that instinct drives them to try just as it drove each of us to walk. They were designed for flying. They too were fearfully and wonderfully made. I may not be able to soar like an eagle but I can rejoice with them as they discover the wonders of flight. From the ground to the heavens they journey untethered. What freedom! What beauty! What gracefulness and liberty will be theirs! And it all begins with one small step.

Published in: on June 16, 2014 at 4:40 am  Comments (6)  

An Open Window

Here we are yet again, sitting and watching as the window of opportunity stands open. The eaglets are ready to fly but not quite willing to do so, yet. All 7,000 feathers are in place, their skeletal frames are sturdy and healthy, their muscles are strong and capable, but it takes a bit of courage to take that first step when that step is 60 feet above the ground.

The eldest of the trio is 77 days old today so the youngest is around 73 days old. The fledging-window is between 70 and 92 days of age so they are all three able to fly. I do not want to rush them but I tend to grow a bit impatient as I sit at that window and watch. This point was driven home again this morning as I met with a group of Raptor Campers from The Glen Helen Raptor Center and viewed the aerie from Eastwood Lake. All three eaglets sat at various posts on the rim of the massive nest and looked totally bored with their finite world of sticks and dry grass. First one and then another would spread out their wings and flap vigorously enough to lift themselves one, two or three feet into the air and then drop back down to the safety of the nest. Jim and Cindy were nowhere to be seen but I am sure they were perched watchfully in a nearby tree possibly eating a fish and enticing the youngsters to “go for it”. This is both an exciting and dangerous time. Many eaglets do not survive that first step. It is reassuring to know that The Glen Helen Raptor Center’s personnel are watching with us and are less than an hour away if they are needed.

As I watched I was reminded of the simple little poem that I penned on June 16, 2011 as I impatiently watched and waited as Jim and Cindy’s first eaglets, Pride and Spirit, were about to fledge. I share it with you each year as we watch and wait together.

 

Two Little Eaglets

 

Two little eaglets

way up in the tree.

Two little eaglets,

looking down at me.

You sit there in your aerie

staring at the sky,

and every time you flap your wings

my heart lets out a sigh.

Silly little eaglets

hovering o’er the nest,

Don’t you know that you can fly?

Your wings will stand the test.

Do you care that I’m waiting here

to see you soaring high?

I’m tethered to the earth below,

but you, you own the sky!

If I were an eaglet

and could do what you can do,

without a moment’s hesitation

I would launch into the blue.

(But wait! One’s perched upon the edge!

It leans into the breeze!

It spreads its wings! Then hops back down.)

You’re such a little tease.

I know that you are old enough,

your wings are sure and strong.

Dancing high across the sky

is where Eagles belong.

You’re made for inspiration.

You can make the mute heart sing,

rejoicing in your majesty

borne on outstretched wing!

“Why don’t you fly?” I ask out loud,

“When will you learn to soar?

I know that you are ready.

What are you waiting for?”

Then deep within my spirit,

the eaglets speak somehow.

They say, “We’ll take that leap of faith

when we hear God whisper, ‘Now!’ “

Smiles, frowns, gasps, tears… You just never know what expressions might come to your face as you sit beside an open window.

Jim and Cindy's Spirit in 2011.

Jim and Cindy’s Spirit in 2011.

Published in: on June 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm  Comments (6)  
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