And Sometimes You Get Quite A Show

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!

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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.

 
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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.

 
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I have seen them take this defensive position before when trouble was afoot nearby. From here she could quickly jump to the nest to shield her eaglets or rocket skyward to defend her young.

 

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.

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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.

 
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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.

 
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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.

 
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Jim was making his evening rounds, inspecting his realm and assuring that all was right before the setting sun ushered in a few hours of welcomed rest.

He slowly circled low over Eagle Lake

 
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before lowering the landing gear

 
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and coming to rest on a perch just inside of the well field fence.

 
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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!

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm  Comments (6)  

Looking Back Over The Week

Looking back over the week…
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it is easy to see that things have taken a “tern”…
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and spring has finally sprung at Eastwood.

This has been a week full of seeing returning friends and meeting new friends. Just yesterday I saw my first bumblebees, butterflies and caterpillars of the season, but all week long more and more birds are arriving back home at the park. Here are just a few that have brought a smile to my face.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Happy Tree Swallows.

Happy Tree Swallows.

A smiling gull.

A smiling gull.

Clean up crew.

Clean up crew.

Curious Nuthatch.

Curious Nuthatch.

Poaching Osprey.

Poaching Osprey.

Burping Turkey Vulture.

Burping Turkey Vulture.

Singing Eastern Meadow Lark.

Singing Eastern Meadow Lark.

Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird.

Incoming Eastern Bluebird

Incoming Eastern Bluebird

Returning Killdeer.

Returning Killdeer.

Incoming Great Blue Heron.

Incoming Great Blue Heron.

A very wet Great Blue Heron.

A very wet Great Blue Heron.

Yep! He ate it whole!

Yep! He ate it whole!

And that does not include the smiles that were delivered by our local Bald Eagles, Jim and Cindy! I have had fun meeting many new humans at Eastwood this week. The warmer weather, the still-unleafed-trees and eagles actively feeding eaglets are providing a rare (and very temporary) open window for eagle watching and many folks are taking advantage of it. Just this week I have met a young couple and there two dogs, a not-quite-as-young couple from Kettering and I was able to witness the excitement as a young woman experienced her lifelong wish of seeing  a wild Bald Eagle!

But there were also a few frustrations as well. Of course there were periods of heavy, drenching rain and hours of gusty winds that made it difficult to stand let alone steady a telephoto zoom lens. But my greatest frustration came on Thursday. As I sat in my car, waiting to turn left through a seemingly endless line of opposing traffic,  I saw Jim circling just below the treetops while fishing in the near end of the lake. When I finally found a gap of sufficient size in the oncoming traffic and made my way to the lake, I found no eagle! I asked a couple of people standing near the shore if they knew where the eagle had gone. They replied, “What eagle? We were talking and didn’t see any eagles.” Arrrrggg! Really people? He was about eye level and maybe 100 feet away with a 7-foot wingspan and you didn’t see any eagles!?

But later that evening as several of us were viewing the nest just before sunset, we witnessed a very brief flurry of activity. Another eagle had ventured too close to the aerie, quite possibly one of last year’s eaglets. Instantly Jim left his guard post just north of their tree and gave pursuit. As the two flashed behind the nest, Cindy covered the eaglets before rocketing skyward to add emphasis to Jim’s chastisement of the eaglet. Fifteen seconds later Cindy returned to the babies while Jim continued encouraging the youngster to move along. I had seen it all transpire before and although the moment is thrilling, I always feel sorry for the youngster who must be somewhat bewildered by Mom and Dad’s change in attitude.

If you are able to make it to the Eastwood Lake MetroPark at Route 4 and Harshman Road please be aware of what to expect. The nest is 1/2 mile to the east and the view through your camera or binoculars will be something like this.

The view from the lake.

The view from the lake.

But the eagles are flying about every hour or so and if they venture west at all you may see one soaring high overhead or passing by somewhat lower.

Flying high.

Flying high.

Flying low.

Flying low.

If there is a lot of boating activity on the lake or several people fishing around the lake the eagle will likely fish the Eagle Lake east of Harshman Road or hunt along the river. You just never know, but that is part of the fun and challenge when there are just two nesting eagles in the county!

But there is always something to watch as you wait for an eagle to appear and maybe those encounters will bring a smile to your face next Saturday as you find yourself looking back over the week.

Published in: on April 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm  Comments (16)  

Good Parenting Isn’t Easy

Having raised two wonderful daughters of our own, my wife and I know from experience that good parenting isn’t easy. It can be emotionally draining, mentally challenging and absolutely exhausting at times, but it is one of the greatest blessings of life! When you find yourselves alone with your newborn child, you are suddenly hit with the cold, hard reality that the very survival of the tiny, precious baby before you rests squarely on your shoulders. It is sobering. It is overwhelming. It is a wonderful privilege! The weight of that responsibility (along with too many sleepless nights) often drives you to both your wit’s ends and your knees.

Jim and Cindy are very good parents.

This week has again shown just how responsible and up-to-the-task they are. Both eagles have been seen hunting in and on the waters of Eastwood Lake in the past few days. Sometimes one of them will catch a fish and deliver it to their mate in the aerie before quickly returning to the lake for another take out order. I had mentioned in an earlier post that we will not be able to count eaglet heads for a while yet since the chick-sized, fuzzy, white eaglet(s) have some growing to do before they can venture from the nest’s soft brood pocket and scale its sides for their first peek at the world below. But that doesn’t mean that we are totally in the dark as to estimating the size of this year’s family. There are two clues that we are watching for. The first clue is just how much fishing activity we witness. Bald Eagles typically have two eaglets per nesting season. Sometimes it is just one eaglet that hatches and occasionally there may be three or even four. The more hungry mouths that are demanding to be fed, the more hunting  Mom and Dad will have to do. Jim and Cindy have been hunting… a lot!

Roger spotted one of our busy parents fishing along the south shore of Eastwood Lake this week. This is the shore closest to the public roadway. (If you have run across me at the lake then I have probably reminded you to “keep looking up.” That is my mantra. Many times I have seen people intently watching the nest and almost missing the blessing of seeing an eagle flying directly overhead, as happened just yesterday.) Roger chastised me after he spotted this eagle by looking DOWN! It was so close to the shore, flying into a strong headwind, that he was able to catch this image from the roadway atop the bank while looking down at the bird.

Keep looking down?

Keep looking down?

Later Roger was sitting along the southwest corner of the lake watching a number of coots and hoping that a hungry eagle would happen by. (Roger was anticipating an eagle, not the coots. I imagine that they were hoping the eagles would be elsewhere.) As often happens, he was in the right place at the right time and captured this image of Jim as he was about to land on a limb above the coots.

Jim coming in for a landing.

Jim coming in for a landing.

As Jim approached, the coots flushed from the water and scurried into the underbrush along the bank. Jim sat in the tree and appeared to be counting the little black heads peeking up from the dried leaves below him.

Counting coots.

Counting coots.

But hungry babies need food so he decided to snag a catfish instead and take it back to Cindy and the young’uns before returning for another fish.

Catfish for dinner.

Catfish for dinner.

Oh yes, that second clue as to how many eaglets are on the Treetop Palace floor. The second thing that we watch for is to catch both Jim and Cindy simultaneously feeding eaglets in separate parts of the nest. That looks exactly like this…

Feeding time.

Feeding time.

I snapped that image just before sunset yesterday. This image confirms that there are at least two eaglets up there! By feeding the eaglets in this manner Jim and Cindy can make sure that the older, larger, more aggressive eaglet doesn’t consume all of the food.

Here is one final picture of Cindy arriving back at the nest after a very short flight Saturday morning. She left the nest to fly to a neighboring tree and then returned to the nest less than a minute later.

Home again.

Home again.

Although the rewards are unbelievable, the challenges of good parenting can be daunting.  It is tough. It is so necessary for the future. It is a loving sacrifice. It is an art learned from the heart… Good parenting is so many things, but good parenting isn’t easy.

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 1:38 am  Comments (11)  

Learning Through Observation

At one time in our lives, possibly quite a long time ago, we were all infants. We all started out that way. Even before we became consciously aware of our five senses we began observing and learning. Webster’s Dictionary lists “notice” as a synonym for the verb “observe”. Indeed observing and learning are almost synonymous as well. And not all observation is done through our eyes as we can notice new things with each of our senses. We learn as we taste, feel, smell, hear and see the world around us, but almost all sighted creatures rely most heavily on what we observe with our eyes. And it was my eyesight that I relied on last Tuesday.

April Fool’s day is often full of surprises. I began the morning with a nice, albeit somewhat anticipated, surprise. Just before 9 AM I was parked along Eastwood Lake observing the aerie 1/2 mile away. As I watched the silhouetted tree, Cindy flew into the nest to watch over the eaglet(s) and Jim soon departed.

Jim departs the aerie.

Jim departs the aerie.

Now I have been watching them long enough to know that when a parent is relieved from brooding duties they often enjoy a short period of flying and wing-stretching before returning to the well field. A few minutes later as I was standing in the gusty winds meeting with a MetroParks ranger regarding a lake-usage issue, I noticed Jim flying west along the far side of lake.

Heading west in the distance.

Heading west in the distance.

By the time our brief meeting had ended, Jim had left the park and was now beyond the high-tension towers west of the lake, heading towards downtown Dayton.

Natural beauty beyond the manmade ugliness.

Natural beauty beyond the manmade ugliness.

Previous observations had taught me that Jim was patrolling his domain. As he was heading west along the lake he wasn’t circling over the water looking for fish nor was he paying any real attention to the flock of 40 or so American Coots near the lake’s southern shore. He was searching the trees as he flew, looking for any wandering eagles that may have paused in his territory. Previous observations had also taught me that he would soon return. When there are young eaglets in the nest, the adults seldom venture very far from home and are rarely gone for very long. So I sat and I waited. After about 10 minutes I observed him flying just beyond those power lines and returning to the lake.

Coming home again.

Coming home again.

Now that he was more content with the status of the security of his domain and less intent on getting somewhere, he made a few slow circles high above the lake. Another lesson that I have learned from previous observations is that Jim was most likely a bit hungry and sometimes that means that he may fish the eastern-most end of the lake before returning home. As I headed east to try to position myself along his projected flight path, the gusting winds pushed my car along. Just as I parked and started to open my car door I looked up and found that Jim too had allowed the tailwind to move him along. He was now just overhead. I shot the following images through the open window trying unsuccessfully to steady the lens in the high winds. Although the bright sunlight reflecting off his white feathers was more than my unfiltered lens could handle and the camera was obviously vibrating in the wind and therefore blurring the images, the moment was thrilling. (If you have ever enjoyed the experience of watching an eagle soaring in the sunlight, then you know how the white flash of reflected light can momentarily serve as a beacon in locating the bird high in a blue sky.)   After one low circle he apparently saw nothing in the water and headed back to the well field.

Searching the waters.

Searching the waters.

Mastering the wind.

Mastering the wind.

Simply thrilling.

Simply thrilling.

Observation leads to learning. I observed much that day. It was interesting to see how rapidly Jim could fly into the strong headwind and masterfully take advantage of a tailwind. His wingtips and tail moved constantly while his head barely bobbled at all. But maybe I wasn’t the only one making observations on that blustery April’s Fools Day. Maybe the joke was really on me. Maybe Jim was busy observing how he could make that silly man in the gray car zip from one end of the lake to the other. Maybe, just maybe, we were both learning through observation.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Comments (8)  

EAGLETS!?

In our last posting I mentioned how Jim and Cindy are staying close to the nest and conserving energy for the feeding frenzy that is rapidly approaching. Well, one thing that will always thwart that plan is the need to defend the aerie and their territorial claim. Great Horned Owls are a known threat to the eggs, but other owls and hawks can also threaten their home as well as hungry and foolhardy raccoons. But the biggest territorial threat is posed by other eagles. That was the case on the very day of my last post.

 

This is a wandering adult Bald Eagle that encroached on the Eastwood area on Tuesday.

A poor, wayfaring stranger.

A poor, wayfaring stranger.

 

This is the same nomadic bird fishing from the waters of Eastwood Lake minutes later.

Stealing a fish.

Stealing a fish.

 

This is Jim arriving in mere moments to chase away the poaching intruder.

Jim arriving to enforce his NO FISHING rule.

Jim arriving to enforce his NO FISHING rule.

 

Jim, as always, was very successful in defending his domain!

 

Now there was something else that I wanted to mention…what was it? Oh! There it is way up there in the title: “Eaglets!?”

Late Wednesday afternoon, exactly 35 days after Cindy began incubating this year’s first egg, something changed in the palace! The incubating parent became much more restless and stood to inspect the clutch much more frequently than normal. That behavior indicates that an eaglet has broken a small hole in the shell of its egg (a process known as “pipping”) or is possibly farther along in the hatching process! Jim and Cindy have been communicating with the egg-imprisoned eaglet(s) and bonding with them for days and the hatchling will recognize their voices at once. If the eaglet has only pipped, it has some work to do to free itself from the incubation chamber in which it has developed over the last 5 weeks. The little one has become quite cramped in the confines of the egg and will use a temporary growth on its beak to aid it in its escape. This eggtooth, as it is called, will fall off soon after it is no longer needed. Jim and Cindy will watch the hatching process with great anticipation but will not assist the youngster in its struggles. This is a task that it must accomplish on its own. If there are more than one egg in this year’s clutch the process will repeat itself over the next several days until all the eggs are hatched.

In a week or so we may be able to venture an educated guess as to whether or not there are multiple eaglets up there. This guess will be based on how frequently Jim and Cindy bring food to the nest. (The eaglets will be unable to maintain their own body heat for a while as their first coat of white fuzz is a poor insulator, so there will almost always be one adult in the nest brooding over the youngsters. But eaglets grow very rapidly and change daily. That white fuzz will be replaced by a gray down that will be pierced with the prickly growth of tiny feathers. With around 7,000 feathers to grow over about two months of time, the stages pass quickly. The better-insulating, gray down will soon become much like gray, flannel underwear.) Another hint of multiple eaglets will be if we see Jim and Cindy simultaneously shredding fish and feeding from opposite sides of the nest. They are very good parents and this method insures that all of their eaglets are properly nourished. The oldest nestling will have a day’s or more growth on its siblings and this larger, more agile and often more aggressive eaglet can consume so much of the food that a younger and weaker sibling may starve.

It will likely be mid-April before we will be able to get a true headcount for the new arrivals. Although the Eagle-cams have had some real issues this year, they are still the best source of answers for our many questions as we watch the developing story of Jim and Cindy’s 2014 eaglets.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 1:24 pm  Comments (6)  

And That Is As It Should Be

There has not been much eagle activity around Eastwood this week, and that is as it should be.

Jim and Cindy are preoccupied with their incubation duties. They always seem to know when hatching is drawing near and typically become extremely inactive during the last week of incubation. The first egg should hatch tomorrow, March 26, exactly 35 days after Cindy began displaying incubation behavior. After the little, chick-sized eaglet has pipped a hole through the side of the egg, it may struggle for as long as long as 48 hours to free itself from the eggshell. Then the tiny, vulnerable, big-beaked baby may sleep for 24 more hours before it can begin feeding. But its hunger will quickly grow and Mom and Dad will need to invest a lot of energy into keeping the brood of eaglets (and themselves) fed. That is why they pass through this current period of inactivity and rest, staying close to the aerie and far from our camera lenses.

But our cameras haven’t been resting, nor have the other birds of Eastwood. They too are preparing for springtime and all that lies ahead. Since we have no new eagle images to share, I thought I would have a little fun with just a few of my shots from the past week:

The Proclamation

There is a proclamation floating on the breeze,

dancing in the sunbeams, and ringing in the trees.

And all around our feathered friends wait to do their part

to announce the news to everyone and gladden every heart.

For Bald Eagle eggs are hatching,

the great symbol of our nation!

But poor Mallard drake has wet himself

in great anticipation.

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The Red Tailed Hawk is all on edge,

and quite prepared to spring

into the skies to share the news

aloft on outstretched wings!

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The Golden-Crowned Kinglet

will also do his part

to spread the word in joyful song

sung from a joyous heart!

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The Pileated Woodpecker

and his Downy friend

will set the beat on ancient drums

O’er every hill and glen.

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And the flitting Belted Kingfisher,

has donned her chestnut vest,

to spread the word along the shore

with barely a pause to rest.

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The Horned Grebe, with its eyes so red,

sits bobbing on the water,

prepared to dive beneath the waves

to tell beaver, fish and otter.

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And high in a treetop palace, amidst the swirling snow

the eagle, who waits on restless eggs, will soon command them, “Go!”

We all await the happy news, for nothing’s quite as regal

as the beauty, grace and majesty found in a soaring eagle!

And that is as it should be.

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Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 8:12 pm  Comments (14)  

That Would Be Repetitive

One of the challenges that I face each time I settle in to write a new post and stare at the blank screen before me is how to relate to the readers the cyclical story of Jim and Cindy without being repetitive. This blog now has more than 360 followers and many more that check in from time to time but have never entered their email address into the “Follow” box on the right of this page. A new posting can generate around 100 to 150 views per day for several days and our busiest day had 1,155 views. (In total our views have surpassed the 45,000 mark!) Many blogs far exceed these numbers, but I view the statistics not as numbers at all, but as people. And I have nothing to market, no profit to gain, just an amazing story to tell. A beautiful story full of ups and downs (literally), victories and trials, and a grandeur that is difficult to capture in words. Many of you have followed this cyclical story for years. But for a large number of readers this story is brand new. So I face this dilemma of relating the same story in a fresh way. I labor to find a unique method to share, educate and inform some without boring others. That is the challenge that I face this evening.

Jim and Cindy are indeed incubating their precious eggs in that wonderful aerie of theirs. Watching the live feed through the online Eagle-cams, which our partners at The Boonshoft Museum (boonshoftmuseum.org) provide, you can see the eagles’ comings and goings. But where are they coming from and where are they going to? The eagle just relieved of incubation duty typically will leave the nest to fly, feed or fetch nesting material before returning to the well field to stand guard duty in a nearby tree. Sometimes these trips are routine, even mundane, but at other times they are downright thrilling!

Last Thursday as I parked at Eastwood and watched from my car, I spotted a large, dark bird high in the sky over Eagle Lake. The intermittent flash white from the sunlight reflecting off of its head and tail was proof that it was indeed an adult Bald Eagle! As I drove to the east end of Eastwood Lake I readied my camera. When I neared Harshman Road I had lost sight of the bird so I slowly and systematically scanned the pale blue sky, carefully searching for movement. That is when I noticed a dark form, fairly high in the air and approaching my location. Finding the bird in my camera lens revealed it to be a first-year juvenile eagle and not the bird I had just seen so I rapidly scanned the skies again. That is when my eyes locked onto the approaching form of another dark bird, slightly higher and several hundred feet southeast of the juvenile! A brief flash of white assured me that this was and adult Bald Eagle! It was definitely tracking the juvenile and it appeared that their paths would intersect just south of my location! “Friend or foe?” I wondered as I watched. Aiming my camera up through my open sunroof, I began shooting. Although they were still fairly high, I captured these images as the juvenile, and then the adult, passed overhead.

Straight overhead.

Straight overhead.

Straight overhead

Straight overhead

The adult was Jim and soon he had used his higher altitude and gravity’s pull to close the gap between the two eagles. For the next 15 minutes I drove from place to place along the lake to stay within camera distance of the drama overhead.  The juvie’s larger size seemed to indicate that it was a female and the lack of aggression between the two made me think that this was a father/daughter encounter. Jim swooped, gained altitude, swooped again and for a brief moment flipped and presented his talons to the youngster but with no apparent animosity. At times he swooped and turned at the juvenile. Yet at other times the pair soared peacefully along side of each other. For a few wonderful seconds, the juvenile followed Jim, beak-to-tail, as they slowly flapped in complete unison. After the encounter, both eagles returned to the well field, with Jim once again passing directly over my car with his wings partially folded for a rapid descent. Although they were quite high, here are a few of the 333 images that I captured of their airshow.

Up goes Jim.

Up goes Jim.

The turn to dive.

The turn to dive.

Talons!

Talons!

Chasing.

Chasing.

Unison flight.

Unison flight.

JIm's rapid return home!

Jim’s rapid return home!

Although this interaction seemed to lack the fierceness so obvious when Jim is defending the nest, I knew as I watched the spectacle unfolding that in a matter of a few days all of that will change. When the new eaglets hatch from their shells in about 10 days, Jim and Cindy will view last year’s eaglets as a possible threat to the hatchlings and will no longer tolerate their presence near the nest. Maybe what I found myself witnessing on Thursday was the beginning of that process. That always saddens me a bit as the juvenile most likely has no idea why Mom and Dad have grown aggressive towards it.

Then on Friday, Roger captured the following images of Cindy fishing the waters of Eastwood Lake. Now that the ice has thawed and the ice-fishermen have stowed their gear for another season, migratory waterfowl are returning to the lake in greater numbers. Those numbers include many American Coots, a favorite meal for Jim and Cindy. In the chilly morning air, Cindy decided to take advantage of the situation and visited the lake to find her breakfast. No robe and slippers for this gal, whatever she does, she always dresses in her finest apparel! Even when she missed the mark and the prey eluded the hunter, she was fascinating to watch! Whether perched in a tree overlooking the lake, stretching out for a strike or simply flying by, Cindy always puts on quite a show for those fortunate enough to be nearby.

The launch.

The launch.

The approach.

The approach.

This one got away!

This one got away!

One more time.

Try, try again.

So, when they are not on the nest keeping their eggs safe and warm, you may find them on-wing doing eagle things. Whether you are new to this blog or a long time follower, find a reason (an excuse) to spend some time sitting in your car lakeside and praying that you will be blessed with a show of your own. Words and even pictures fail to capture the wonder of a Bald Eagle in the wild. I could confess that I find these beautiful birds inspirational, awesome and thrilling, but that would be repetitive.

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 1:24 am  Comments (12)  

Smiling Every Time

I was talking to someone at our recent eagle event about how to tell a distant, soaring Bald Eagle from a distant, soaring vulture. I explained that the easiest way was to observe the angles of the soaring bird’s wings. Vultures hold their wings with the wingtips angled up while the eagle’s wings present a much straighter, flatter profile. Here are two pictures to illustrate that point.

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Eagles are also much more likely to be soaring alone while vultures seem to love company.

Speaking of Bald Eagles, Jim and Cindy have been toying with me. Monday I was sitting in my car at Eastwood seeing only distant eagle activity so I eventually turned my attention and my camera lens towards the Red-necked Grebes and various ducks decorating the thawing surface of the lake. After 30 minutes and dozens of pictures I ventured back to the east end of the lake and was greeted by this sight.

Blow drier.

Blow drier.

Cindy had just bathed in the waters of Eagle Lake and was allowing the breeze to blow her dry. She then spent the next 40 minutes perched in this tree just inside the well field fence and for 40 minutes I snapped image after image of her contorting herself this way and that to carefully smooth and perfectly arrange each of her 7,000 feathers. Well, maybe not each feather but she was pretty thorough. As I snapped my pictures I wondered if any of the people in the hundreds of passing cars that kept crossing my line of sight even bothered to notice our pretty girl in the tree as they sped by. Since nobody pulled in to join me, I assumed that they were too busy and too preoccupied to notice. What a pity. May I never be that busy. I feel sorry for people who miss the wonder of Creation or simply take it all for granted. Like these folks just passing her by:

Just too busy.

Just too busy.

When Cindy deemed herself properly groomed and presentable she left her perch and flew off to the far end of Eagle Lake. As she passed by I was struck by how sparkling clean she was.

Cleaned and preened!

Cleaned and preened!

Sometimes when watching an eagle soar high in a blue sky they become difficult to track. It is easy to lose sight of them in the vastness of the open sky, but every now and then they will turn or twist just enough that the sunlight will glisten off the bright, white surface of their head or tail and reflect back to earth. The beacon will flash like a lighthouse’s beam on a dark sea and reveal the eagles location for another few seconds of thrills and admiration.

Then yesterday I decided to hike along the south shore of The Mad River hoping to catch a glimpse of a passing, hungry eagle. So I parked my car in the park side of Eastwood, grabbed my camera and hit the trail along the river. After about 15 minutes the trail became increasingly more muddy so I took the next path up the bank. As I arrived at the asphalt bike trail I was surprised to find an eagle soaring directly above my parked car! They were toying with me again! I shot this picture before it disappeared behind the trees and vanished to parts unknown.

Feathered gracefulness.

Feathered gracefulness.

Sometimes eagle watching is like a giant childhood game of hide-and-seek. But just like the vivid memories of those carefree games from so many decades ago, finding a hiding eagle leaves me smiling every time.

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 6:37 pm  Comments (20)  

Birds of a Feather…

Stick together. And together we came.

Saturday was our Five River MetroParks/Eastwood Eagle Watchers 2nd annual meet the Bald Eagles event at Eastwood Lake MetroPark. Last year’s inaugural event was held on February 3rd, a frigid Superbowl Sunday when a few dozen brave souls joined us in the frozen tundra to shiver together and talk eagles. This year there was more time to plan, schedule and prepare. MetroPark’s Lauren Stayer Asquith had contacted me late last spring to see if we wanted to repeat the event in 2014. She suggested a later, and much warmer, date during the time that Jim and Cindy would be incubating their eggs. The March 8th date fit their schedule as well as Jim and Cindy’s and allowed them to advertise the event in their Pathways publication and on their webpage, plus it allowed them to ask people to preregister so we would have some idea of what to prepare for. They dubbed this year’s event Soaring Eagles and Quacking Ducks Along the Mad River. The plan was that The Eastwood Eagle Watchers would open the festivities and then Lauren would address the waterfowl on Eastwood and Huffman Lakes.

As the date approached two unanticipated factors came into play. The first was that the surface of Eastwood Lake was still 98% frozen from the stubborn winter weather. This left only a small section of open water to attract migrating and local waterfowl. The second factor was that recent rains and melting snow had caused the Mad River to flood into Huffman Lake and although the water had receded, the road that accesses the lake was covered with a slippery layer of mud and therefore had been closed to traffic.

The day before the event just under 50 people had preregistered.

I arrived on Saturday morning an hour before the 10:00 starting time and began setting things up. The 40-degree air and hazy skies carried a welcomed promise of spring. Around 45 minutes later the first few cars began to trickle in. Then the trickle became a stream and the stream became a river of cars. As 10:00 approached the roadway along the eastern end of the lake was lined with parked vehicles. I was thrilled!

Before the start of the activities Lauren counted 120 people with many still arriving! As she started the event she asked the assembled crowd how they had heard about the meeting and again I was thrilled when the majority raised their hands to signify that they had learned of the event through this blog. Thank You! (You see, I am a three-finger-typist. Though each post on our blog flows straight from my heart, through my fingertips and onto this keyboard, I often begin a post at 9 PM and find myself hitting the publish button at 2 AM. I am sooooo sloooow. [Of course there is some editing in there and a few cups of coffee, resulting in a few trips to the bathroom, and our silly Golden Retriever can never decide which side of the back door she prefers to be on.] But it is a labor of love. Sometimes in the stillness of the night and the glow of my laptop’s screen I wonder about if my musings are having an impact. Part of the mission of our group is to educate people about the Bald Eagle and to share Jim and Cindy’s beauty and story, so it was reassuring to know that this blog is meeting those goals.) But my biggest thrill came by seeing the faces of the children as they saw how big an eagle really is or as they tried to view the nest through one of the many scopes aimed in the direction of the well field. They are building memories and relationships with their parents, siblings and nature that will bless them for a lifetime. Here are a few pictures that Roger captured as the group arrived.

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As I began typing (an hour and a half ago [I told you I was slow.]) there were 351 followers of this blog! That means that 351 people have entered their email address into the little box on the right side of this page so they can receive an email notice every time I publish a new post. That too makes me smile because when Lauren introduced me she said that Dayton’s pair of nesting Bald Eagles were “the worst kept secret in town”. I have to agree. I talk to so many people who are surprised to hear about Jim and Cindy. Some look at me like I am pulling their leg. You would think that through Boonshoft, Five River MetroParks, The Eastwood Eagle Watchers and having a 7-foot nest in a tree (not to mention two or more birds with 7-foot wingspans flying along our rivers that parallel our highways) people would catch on.

Thank you all for sharing Jim and Cindy’s story with others. Thank you to all of you who were able to join us on Saturday. Hopefully I will get to meet more of you next year. If you were able to join us please let me know how we did by commenting below or contacting us at eastwoodeaglewatchers@gmail.com.

And a big thank you to Lauren, Roger and Martha for your participation in this event.

Eagle People are truly birds of a feather and I am truly blessed.

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 5:08 am  Comments (25)  

Come On Spring!

You never know just what kind of winter to expect in Dayton, Ohio. Some are mild with just a few sub-zero days while others hit hard and just refuse to go away. This winter has been the latter. I’ve always enjoyed the change of seasons but this year I am really looking forward to spring!

And so are Jim, Cindy and their noisy neighbors.

Montgomery County’s only pair of nesting Bald Eagles are once again proving to be faithful incubators. They continue to take turns keeping their eggs warm and turned as the following picture illustrates. It shows Cindy arriving in the background as Jim departs in the foreground. The exchange only takes a minute or two before the arriving eagle has carefully settled onto the eggs.

Changing incubators.

Changing incubators.

 With the cold temperatures the eagles are frequently adding grass and other greenery to the soft brooding pocket in the center of the nest. As they incubate they are continually pulling this material around the clutch to reduce any drafts and better insulate the precious eggs from the chilling air. It is a very careful and quiet process.

More fresh bedding.

More fresh bedding.

In stark contrast though, the Great Blue Heron rookery that decorates three sycamore trees not too far from the aerie is anything but quiet. It is a noisy hive of activity as dozens of heron prepare their own nurseries for this spring’s hatchlings.

The heronry.

The heronry.

All of that heronry reconstruction requires new building material and the Great Blues prefer sticks too small for Jim and Cindy to use. Currently the air traffic is pretty consistent with the birds’ arrivals and departures.

One more stick.

One more stick.

Although these long-necked waders have learned to give the aerie its proper respect, Jim and Cindy will still sometimes need to scream a warning at any Great Blues that venture too close to their palace.

A friendly warning?

A friendly warning?

(Please allow me to add a cautionary reminder: Should you find yourself blessed with the opportunity to view nesting activity, please respect the birds’ privacy and do not venture too close to their nests. The pictures posted here are taken through super-telephoto lenses and are usually cropped and edited. Keeping the eggs safe and warm is a constant challenge and the survival of the fragile life inside those shells depends on it. In the case of eagles and many other birds, disturbing their nesting habitat or causing them stress is also illegal.)

All in all, these nesting activities are sure signs that spring will soon return to the area. The daylight hours are getting longer and that sunshine is a little warmer. (It is even looking like we may have pretty decent weather for this Saturday’s gathering with Five River MetroParks to talk about the eagles and view the aerie through spotting scopes. We will meet at the east end of Eastwood Lake at 10 AM.) Eventually winter’s icy grip will fail and we will break free from its grasp. Crocus, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are working their way toward the surface of the frozen soil. With the fragrant freshness of spring will come the hatching of eggs and the beginning of the feeding frenzy that proclaims the presence of eaglets in the aerie! Come on spring!

Published in: on March 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm  Comments (12)  
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