Make a Difference

Every now and then we are given an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Those opportunities seldom seem like monumental moments of great accomplishments. The truth be told, they rarely seem significant at all but, to the one who needs encouragement or assistance, they can have an extraordinary impact.

As I was thinking about that truth an ice cream soda came to mind.

My wife was raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother loved ice cream sodas. While she was in her eighties and nineties we would often pop in unannounced and bring her a simple Dairy Queen ice cream soda. Judging by her reaction you would have thought we had presented her with a priceless jewel. That lady really loved ice cream sodas! (And we really loved that lady.)

I thank God that Grandma was there for a neglected four year old girl after her parents’ messy divorce. I thank God that there are wonderful, caring people in this world who see a need and take action. They get involved. They intervene.

Such an intervention occurred on January 8, 2017 in the life of a young, transient female Bald Eagle. This Bald Eagle.

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Late one evening, in early January, our good friends at the Glen Helen Raptor Center received a call about a Bald Eagle that someone had spotted earlier in the day. The bird had been seen in the vicinity of Huffman Dam and it appeared to be unable to fly. Due to the lateness of the hour and the approaching darkness, the decision was made to try to locate the eagle early the next day. When the rescue team arrived that next morning they had no luck in locating the eagle. (Although eagles are large birds, they are awfully good at becoming inconspicuous when they are grounded. Hungry predators prowl the darkness and shadows become places of concealment and protection. An eagle on the ground that is healthy enough to put up a fight will do just that but without the ability to fly it cannot escape the threat posed by a hungry coyote. Without the ability to fly starvation, illness, dehydration and even parasites will eventually take their toll.) Unable to find the eagle the team returned to the nature center, disappointed and empty-handed.

Perhaps the bird was just temporarily stunned. That is not an uncommon condition in the avian world. Perhaps it had just been feeding on something.  But perhaps, by now, something else was feeding on it. (Unanswered questions can be reassuring or frightening. It is disheartening to leave on a rescue mission with great anticipation and then return without success.) The only option for the team at this point was to await another report and to hope for the best.

Then several days later, there was another sighting of the injured bird!  A Five Rivers MetroParks officer had spotted a grounded eagle near the top of Huffman Dam. Contact was made with Glen Helen and our Eastwood Eagle Watchers group. (As I was in Florida for the week my calls went to voice mail, but thankfully Roger was available. Huffman Dam is just less than a mile east of The Treetop Palace and there was concern that the downed eagle may have been one of our own.) Upon arrival at the dam the bird was still sitting in the grass just behind the guardrail that runs along either side of the bikeway that spans the large earthen structure.

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A plan was quickly formulated as to how best to approach the eagle. As the team moved toward the bird she became weary of the gloved, net-bearing, blanket-toting humans and glided down the hillside to the field below where she landed in the snowy grass. (The glide down the hill instantly gave the rescuers a few clues. 1. She was strong enough to be feisty.  2. She could glide.  3. She did not flap her wings so there may be an issue there. 4. This not going to be as easy as they had hoped.)

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The team slowly worked their way down the slippery slope where they were able to surround the bird successfully capture it without inflicting any further injury.

(Now I know that many of you have already wondered if this injured female could possibly have been Joy, the young lady that Jim had been seeing in December. Well we wondered that too. This bird appears to be the same age as Joy so the coloration is similar. She seems to be the same size as Joy. She was found just east of Jim’s nest. She was found about the same time that Joy disappeared and Hope arrived. But Jim and Joy had been seen together many times during the days just after this injured eagle had first been spotted. To settle our curiosity a close comparison was made between close-up images of Joy and this young female and there were distinct differences in the coloration of their beaks and head feathers therefore we concluded that this bird was not Joy.)

Examination of the eagle showed that she had suffered a fractured cortoid which had already begun to heal. This bone, similar to a human clavicle, is a needed skeletal structure for a bird to raise, lower and rotate their wings in flight. The fact that it was already healing showed that the injury had happened some time ago and reassured the Glen Helen staff that this was the bird that had been seen on the ground days earlier. For the next several weeks the bird was treated, hydrated, nourished and monitored at the raptor center where she responded well to the care.

This past week she had recovered sufficiently to be released back into the wild! The Glen Helen staff decided that Caesar’s Creek State Park was the best place for the release. Usually eagles are released as close as possible to where they were rescued if that area is practical for their survival. With Huffman Dam being so close to The Treetop Palace and Jim and Hope being close to nesting, releasing the female there may have led to an eagle to eagle confrontation. The Caesar’s Creek reservoir, some 30 miles southeast of Dayton, is a large lake within the state park. Although eagles are often seen on the lake, there are no known active nests in the immediate area. Arrangements were made with the park and last Wednesday, February 15th, several of us gathered for a short caravan to the release site. Knowing that few people are able to participate in such an activity, grab a jacket and ride along with me!

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The air is brisk and biting as we make our way to the car. This promises to be an exciting day and our enthusiasm overpowers the chill in the air! We have started off on this adventure early enough to allow for a quick swing by Eastwood Lake to check on Jim and Hope. As we turn into the park we see that we are almost the only vehicle around. In fact, ours is the only car except for that familiar black Jeep at the other end of the entrance road. That Jeep tells us that Roger has beaten us here again. We make a quick stop to view The Treetop Palace where we find Jim and Hope tugging on sticks. On our way west, back on the entrance road, we pass Roger who reminds us that he will not be able to make it to the release but his “better-half”, Marcia, will be there. At the western end of the lake we find one lone juvenile perched atop a dead tree enjoying a fishy breakfast. As we pass he glances our way and then turns his attention back to his morning meal.

As we exit the park to begin our 35 mile drive to Caesar’s Creek we begin a wandering conversation about the growing eagle population in southwest Ohio and how blessed we are to witness it all. As we skirt around Xenia, Ohio we see a number of Red-Tailed Hawks hunting from perches along the roadside. There was a time when Red Tails seemed large to us but now they don’t seem quite so large as they once had. Perspective changes things and the recent upsurge in the eagle population has given us a different opinion of what “large” looks like. Making our way south on 42 we pass near Sugarcreek and comment on the eagle nest there. On the outskirts of the little town of Waynesville we notice a dozen or so White-tailed Deer in a farm field to the east of the roadway, foraging through the stubble of last year’s crop. As we turn east onto 73 and pass the first sign for Caesar’s Creek our anticipation grows. The sky is a crystal blue and the few clouds floating by look like puffs of cotton drifting in the wind.

We have arrived a bit early so we drive on past the visitor center, our designated meeting area, to check out the dam. There I spot a solitary adult Bald Eagle perched in a tree overhanging the lakeshore. “Do you see him?” I ask.

 

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It takes a few seconds but soon you too can see the eagle as he sits quietly in the morning stillness adding to the solemn solitude of the scene.

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The parking lot of the visitor’s center is filled with pickup trucks labeled ODNR Wildlife Officer. Apparently there is some type of meeting here this morning. We circle the lot and find a place to park. Soon we hear a familiar voice. Deanna, another eagle watcher, has pulled into the adjacent parking space. She is a Five River MetroParks Officer and was instrumental in the rescue of the injured eagle. As we chat we see Marcia’s pickup pull in. We greet each other briefly before retreating to the heated interiors of our vehicles. All eyes are on the driveway as we wait for the arrival of the feathered guest of honor!

Soon a familiar Subaru pulls in. Through the hatchback’s rear window we see a large travel crate covered with a blanket! Our pulses quicken for we know of the treasure hidden within it. The whole group now files into the visitor center where we are greeted by a friendly staff and introductions are exchanged. A short conversation follows, maps are laid out and an exact location for the release is agreed upon. Back in the cars we begin to form a small caravan led by a Caesar’s Creek van, then the Subaru with the precious cargo safely secreted inside.

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The frostiness of the air is enhanced by the moisture of the nearby lake and the roadway is as barren as the leafless trees, except for our little caravan. Near the dam a hinged section of the guardrail is unlocked and the caravan ventures off road onto an old river levee where we find a suitable place to park. We step out into the chilly air and notice that there is a pretty stiff breeze blowing. All in all it is pretty nice weather for a mid-February day in Ohio, but it is chilly none the less. As Glen Helen staffers remove the crate we ready our cameras.

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Another brief discussion begins as to how to best position the crate in the wind. By now almost everyone has produced some kind of camera, even if it just a cellphone. Employees, volunteers, eagle watchers all want to capture the moment when freedom is returned to one so perfectly designed to embrace freedom.dscn3317es

Now there is a bit of art and necessity built into this part of the process that causes things to move rather rapidly. As soon as the blanket is pulled back the apprehensive eagle within the crate will sense freedom. She will need a moment to acclimate herself to the surroundings and to face the doorway, but too much delay may allow her to injure herself. Human fingers are also in danger as the door is unlatched and opened. The eagle inside usually does not stay around to say “Thank you.” to her rehabbers but they understand. Their goal has always been to provide the proper care for her restoration with minimal contact, looking forward to this very moment! This is it! The blanket is pulled back. The eagle stirs and moves to the door. The door is opened. The eagle rapidly steps out of confinement. One or two more steps may be taken as wings are unfolded and takeoff is achieved. A few strong flaps and the eagle disappears back into the wild where it belongs. In the few glorious seconds that are about to pass we will witness something that few are privileged to see. The anticipation is almost unbearable. Rebecca, the director of The Glen Helen Raptor Center will have the honor of setting the captive free!

And then it happens! Just…like….this!

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We watch as strong, capable wings gracefully carry the young eagle higher into the air, up and over the nearby treetops. We may never see this particular eagle again but we will remember her forever. Grateful hearts are happy hearts and as we turn the cars around, pass back through the guardrail and onto the roads that will take us home, we are grateful that this young eagle is now home where she belongs. Home in the wild. She is home because of the many loving hearts that were willing to make a difference.

 

Published in: on February 21, 2017 at 11:59 am  Comments (33)  

It’s Impossible

Perry Como crooned a song by that title. It was a song about a certain man’s inability to live without a certain woman’s love. The lyrics mentioned a number of things that were impossible (or in some cases requests that were impossible to be fulfilled): “tell the sun to leave the sky; ask a baby not to cry; for the ocean to keep from rushing to the shore…”

For me however, it’s impossible to not be inspired when I see an eagle fly!

Eagles move me. Their grace and beauty, power and strength, focus and determination are unmatched in the animal kingdom. They are the epitome of freedom and liberty. They challenge me to be more faithful, resilient and appreciative of the many blessing I have as an American and as a human being. They dare me to let go of the petty cares and concerns that preoccupy my mind and tether me to the ground and to allow myself to soar.

This week I have had the privilege of watching Jim and Hope as they all but finished the preparation for this year’s eggs. After completing their daily work on the nest they danced their way across the sky in wide, independent circles that intersected with flips and twirls where they reached out for one another, talon to talon. As I watched those wide circles seamlessly merged into a singular arc of two eagles flying side by side, wingtip to wingtip. My human ears cannot comprehend the silent melody to which they dance but they embrace the age-old refrains with complete ecstasy, becoming totally enraptured in one another’s presence. Simply amazing! Eloquently breathtaking! Purely inspirational!

On one of those occasions I grabbed a bank deposit slip from my car’s console and scribbled down these words.

Together

Way up high in a cloudless sky a love story unfolds,

On gracious wings where two hearts sing despite the winter’s cold.

A majestic eagle and his mate frolic in the air,

Enraptured by each other’s form, they dance without a care.

Each movement brings them closer and strengthens lifelong bonds

That will see them through tomorrow, the next day and beyond.

The bonds that they are forming will be tested day by day,

But through testing they’ll grow stronger

While they strive to find their way.

Together the will conquer!

Together they will cope!

Together they’re victorious!

Together they have hope!

High across the heavens they dance on outstretched wings

While, here below, I stand in awe as my spirit soars and sings!

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If you have never been captivated by the sight of courting eagles consumed not by their fight for survival but by their devotion to one another, put it on your bucket list. Find the time, make the time to see something so beautiful and so spectacular that it may take your breath away. The love, beauty and majesty of The Creator is reflected in every chord of the silent melody that is heard not with the ear but with the heart and embraced through the eye as we watch the dancers slowly dissolve into the gentle, azure skies.

Can someone watch the dance and yet miss the inspiration that uplifts massive wings,  carrying them higher in the sky and deeper into the human heart? I suppose so, but for me it’s impossible.

 

 

Published in: on February 11, 2017 at 5:47 pm  Comments (44)  

A Broken Record

Like the consistent ticking of the grandfather’s clock that stands like a wooden sentry just across the room from where I sit, life at The Treetop Palace moves on in a never ending cycle. It is as predictable as it is unexpected.

“Predictable and unexpected” may seem like an oxymoron but in this case the terms are more complimentary than conflicting. From study and years of observations we know the cycle well. It is easy to predict what will happen next but we never know quite when the next event will take place. That is why we watch and wait. When the predictable does happen it is like encountering an old friend. One’s mind is flooded with the memories of past events within that cycle. Old questions answered long ago return seeking answers that are yet to be revealed this time around. I am sure that in a lot of ways my postings may seem like a broken record as each year the same story unfolds. If you have followed our musings over the years you already know what lies ahead to some extent. If you are devotees of a local nest in your hometown you surely see the similarities in our happenings here in Dayton and the adventures you embrace there. It can be a bit of a challenge to share the same story time and time again without sounding like the repetitive scratchy notes of a broken record. (It just occurred to me that some readers may not have any idea what I am talking about. A “record” is what we older folks used to call the recorded discs now known as “vinyl”. Once scratched, the phonographic needle would bounce back, replay a few notes, hit the scratch again, bounce back again… and therefore play the same segment of music over and over. Those were the good old days.) But new readers are always finding our blog and we have over 880 followers now so for many of you this may be your first time joining us on the cycle. Welcome aboard and hang on tight!

This year I do note a difference as the memories are a bit bittersweet since the loss of Cindy in November but I realize that life in the wild is wild and it must go on. Jim and Hope are now the stars of the story and I look forward to the privilege of watching their story as it unfolds!

So where are we in the cycle?

Right where we should be. The January nest building frenzy has slowed to a casual pastime. Jim and Hope are chasing each other across the sky in a carefree romp of devotion and enthrallment as their bond grows. (I will share more about them next time.)

But one of those inevitable events has just taken place over the last week and that is where I would like to turn our focus for the remainder of this post. The arrival of the juvenile and sub-adult eagles this past December was predictable for they come every winter now, but what was unexpected was the number of youngsters. Two years ago there were around three, last year maybe four or so, although there may have been as many as six one day. This year we were seeing as many as nine on a regular basis and I believe that there may have been as many as a dozen on the most populated day! They were usually found dotting the trees on the westernmost, and most remote, end of the Eastwood Lake. And since eagle watchers are usually terrible at keeping secrets, there was no shortage of photographers with big lenses to document the activity. The steady increase in the numbers of young, unattached eagles on the lake shows how the population continues to rebound from their recent brush with extinction. The decades of declining numbers are just another memory but those memories serve as a warning and a lesson about the frailty of wildlife struggling for survival with all of the manmade challenges that confront them.

But the inevitable, recent event of which I spoke was Jim’s reclamation of his territory from the youngsters to make the area safe for the yet to arrive 2017 eggs and eaglets. Most of last week, if Jim wasn’t chasing Hope, he was chasing youngsters. He flushed them from trees along the lake, he flushed them from trees in the well field and he even flushed them from trees in the park portion of Eastwood. Like a Roto-Rooter repair man, Jim has this flushing thing down! Once he had them airborne he escorted them away from the area. I am sure some of the youngsters were his own and perhaps his 2016 eaglets were part of the group as well. I assume that they must have wondered why Dad’s attitude suddenly changed towards them but that is life in the wild. While they were here they were so fun to watch. Often they would chase each other above the lake or steal food from one another. Sometimes they would steal a fish from an unhappy gull. (Often the gull would chase after the eagle but I have to wonder what in the world they would have done if they had actually ever caught up with one!) I am hoping that as the cycle continues we will have even more youngsters to enjoy next December, but for now, here are a few of the hundreds of images captured of this year’s group.

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They were awkwardly clumsy at times, occasionally missing perches, dropping fish, slipping on the ice… Icy landings were not always graceful and the younger juveniles looked a little perplexed as they watched the fish swimming somehow out of reach just under the ice on which they were standing. We had seen most of it before, but not in these numbers. The cycle this year rotated in some unexpected directions but we recognized the soundtrack that accompanied the action. The songs were familiar although the harmonies were new, but it made me realize that nature is filled with beautiful music, even when it comes from a broken record.

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 8:21 pm  Comments (38)  

Embracing Hope

Hope.

What a simple little word. Only one syllable. Only four letters (and one of them silent).

“Hope” is truly a very simple little word in its construction but hope is crucial for our survival. That simplicity of its construction conceals the enormity of its meaning. As a verb, the dictionary defines hope as “to desire with expectation of fulfillment” and as a noun “the object of one’s confidence”. How crucial is hope? Without hope people perish.

To be hopeless is to be in dire straits. Hopelessness is a vast turbulent sea of dark despair whose waves can sweep us away, toss us to and fro, and batter us around like an old rag doll. Hopelessness can utterly consume us.

But just as a ray of sunlight instantly shatters the darkness of night and just as the soothing voice and loving embrace of a mother’s arms dispels the nightmarish fears of a sleepy child, hope can be restored to the hopeless in the twinkling of an eye.

In the illustrations above, the sunlight or the mother are “the object of one’s confidence”. They are simultaneously both hope and a source of hope. To receive the hope of sunlight, the one in darkness must open their eyes and, likewise, the fearful child must accept her mother’s arms.

Hope must be embraced.

Jim has embraced Hope.

(In our last posting I asked for your help in finding a name for Jim’s new mate. Over the week I have received dozens and dozens of comments with nearly 80 different suggestions. Every one was quite interesting and many of you included a small explanation for your suggested name. But Hope was suggested 3 times more than any other name! Thank you all for helping in this process.)

Jim and Hope are looking very much like a bonded pair. Work on the nest has slowed as now is the time for wooing. Yesterday I watched as they danced across the sky together, flipping and spinning and reaching for one another as only eagles do. I also watched as Jim chased several juveniles from the area. He is becoming more engrossed in his new mate and more protective of his territory as the nesting season draws near. These are very positive signs, signs full of hope.

But the most hopeful image of all is seeing their bonding grow as they perch, sing, chatter, scold and proclaim their claim to their territory together. I give you Jim and Hope, Monarchs of The Treetop Palace.

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Join Jim and The Eastwood Eagle Watchers in embracing Hope.

 

Published in: on February 4, 2017 at 9:23 am  Comments (35)  

This Road to Tomorrow

I know a few things about eagles. They have always fascinated me. From the time that I was old enough to read I was drawn to books that related their life and struggles, their challenges and conquests. I hungered to learn more about their instincts and anatomy, their habits and their character. But books can only take you so far down the road of knowledge.

Since there were no eagles in Dayton, I went to them. Captive eagles in zoos added to my appreciation of these majestic, winged wonders. I can still recall my first glimpse of a wild eagle during a trip to The Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Later, road trips to the southern shore of Lake Erie allowed me to witness their nesting activity and interaction with each other. I went to where the eagles were to learn more about them and learn more of them. Learning upon learning, fact upon fact, knowledge upon knowledge, each another paver on the road to discovery.

But it wasn’t until the eagles came to me that I truly began to learn from them.

Over the years, Jim and Cindy became a part of my life as I came to know them as individuals. Observing them daily from a respectable distance they taught me about their power, their resiliency, their devotion and their tenderness toward one another.

Those were the roads of my past, the roads of knowledge and discovery. But the funny thing about knowledge and discovery is that they soon make you realize how much you do not know, how much you have yet to discover.

Although I may know a few things about eagles, I may never truly understand them for that is a different road entirely.

When we lost Cindy in November, Jim did the predictable thing and searched for her and when his searches proved to be in vain he returned to his favorite perch and waited. Before long we noticed the young female we came to call Joy perching nearby, waiting and watching Jim. When he flew, she flew. She made her presence known but was never pushy or intrusive, she was just there. Eventually Jim seemed to sense the unavoidable reality of the severing of the life-bond that he had painstakingly developed with Cindy over their years together. That was when the tables turned and he began to follow Joy. Together they began to build a new bond through perching near each other, soaring together and working side by side on The Treetop Palace.

But then, unexpectedly, young Joy disappeared.

Around the beginning of the new year we found Jim in the company of a more mature female. We saw their bonds beginning to grow. They too are now soaring together, perching together and daily working on the nest together. Had Joy simply left? Had she been vanquished by this fully mature female? These are just a few more items on the long list of things that I do not know. Perhaps the answers lie a little farther down the road. But Jim apparently has found yet another queen. Allow me to introduce you to Queen What’s-Her-Name of The Treetop Palace.

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She is a beautiful monarch! We can tell that she is at least 5 years old, maybe more. We have no idea if she too had lost her previous mate or if this is her first pair-bond. We have no idea where she came from. All we really know is that she is here and she has Jim’s approval and that is what really matters. We also know that for the last 8 years (2 unsuccessful years followed by 6 successful years) mid-February was egg laying time and history has taught us that this mild winter may move things ahead a bit. Yesterday Jim was seen in a nearby cornfield gathering remnants of last year’s corn husks and leaves to carpet the floor of the palace nursery. Then today there was some mating going on!

Meanwhile things at Eastwood Lake have been jumping…or more accurately, soaring! It is fairly easy to notice a perching eagle in a nearby, leafless tree but even when the trees are on the far side of the lake and you are looking through scattered snow flurries, it is really hard not to notice 9 eagles perched together!

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And that’s not all! The Eastwood MetroPark complex is dissected by The Mad River dividing it into 2 sections, Eastwood Lake on the north and Eastwood Park on the south. Up until this past month the eagle activity has always centered around Eastwood Lake but now these wandering juveniles are also perching in the trees of Eastwood Park! This means that there are often eagles perched directly above picnic tables, hiking trails, fishing ponds and parking lots! That means that with a decent camera and lens you may capture an image like this from a distance of less than 100 feet!

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It also means that your encounters with these youngsters may bring chuckles and some unexpected behavioral observations. Here is one such encounter from last week that I simply must share. I had observed one young male that seemed to be quite a ladies’ man. Several times I had notice two females that were in the habit of chasing one another from the tall tree that this particular male was fond of perching atop. (They reminded me of two high school girls squabbling over the “boy of their dreams” who was completely oblivious of their fondness for him.) One day as he sat quietly minding his own business with one of the females perched about 10 feet below his position, the second female came flying across the lake heading for their tree. As what I assumed to be some unkind words were screamed, the oncoming bird swooped at the perched female flushing her from the tree. The young male looked on with little concern about all of the commotion below him and contently watched as the second female chased her rival across the lake. He continued to watch as the second female broke off her pursuit, circled above the water, caught a fish and headed back towards his tree. (Now I do not know if what happened next was intentional or coincidental. I will let you be the judge.) When the female carrying the fish reached the tree she appeared to be landing on a limb slightly below the young male but she either missed the limb or never meant to land there at all. Instead she jerked abruptly upward causing the young male to duck as she almost hit him in the face with the fish before dropping it from her talons and allowing it to fall to the ground. Then, without a second glance, she headed on to the other side of the park! I could almost see the “Hey! What did I do?” expression on the clueless young male’s face.

The many roads to learning are adventurous ones. You can never tell what may lie around the next bend. Like Queen What’s-Her-Name…(That reminds me, “What’s-Her-Name” is not a very regal name for royalty. Joy may be gone but joy is still abounding at the palace and hope fills the air! We need a name for our new queen so I am turning to you, our faithful readers, for recommendations as to what her name should be. Please comment below if you have a suggestion so we can give our royal lady a proper name.) Now, as I was saying, the road to learning is an adventure. You can never tell what may lie around the next bend. Like our new queen’s arrival and Joy’s sudden departure, things can change quite rapidly. We cannot write the story, we can only report it but as we travel this road we travel it together. We cannot know if this is the road to tears or the road to smiles but we can travel on in hope knowing that each step takes us a bit further on this road to tomorrow.

Published in: on January 29, 2017 at 10:47 am  Comments (7)  

Way Back

Once again we sit on the threshold of another year looking ahead with wonder and anticipation (and possibly a bit of dread) for what the new year may hold. Time is a funny thing. It creeps by so slowly and consistently that we barely notice its passing until we encounter someone or something that captures our attention and focuses our minds on the changes that time has brought. Then the evidence is hard to ignore. “Oh my! Where has the time gone?” we ask in startled musing. As a child the days leading up to Christmas, a birthday or summer vacation from school seem to drag on forever but as adults the years seem to fly by. (I wonder if that is where the expression “over the hill” originated. Once you reach a certain age time seems to speed up as you zip downhill after years of struggling to reach the summit.) Time hasn’t changed, our perspective has.

As we look back over the past, perspective is so very important. The reality of known facts, free from the temporary emotions of the moment, can refine that perspective. Once feared “monsters” that loomed so ominously on our horizons now look like little bumps in the road behind us. We discover that we wasted a lot of anguish and energy on challenges that proved not so challenging at all. Hindsight is 20/20 without the mental and emotional fog of the present.

As we pass through the fading end of 2016 lets look back, way back, and get a little better perspective on where we are today in the amazing world of Bald Eagles here in Dayton, Ohio and across the country.

My wife’s great, great, great…grandfather was born in 1737 in colonial America and eventually served as a colonel in The American Continental Army during The Revolutionary War. In his day there were more than 200,000 Bald Eagles that populated the American countryside, most of which was still pristine wilderness. Some estimates go as high as 500,000! Virtually every lake, river and large pond hosted a nesting pair of eagles and the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines were dotted with aeries as well. In the mid to late 1800s the population began to decline largely due to habitat loss, hunters, eagle bounties put up by mistaken farmers and ranchers and other human interference. With the added addition of chemical threats and electrical lines the Bald Eagle population had dwindled to less than 500 known nesting pairs in 1963. In the mid to late 20th century laws were enacted to protect the remaining Bald Eagles which were threatened to the point of nearing extinction and our national symbol was added on the Endangered Species List. Certain chemical compounds like DDT, a crop pesticide, were also banned and the resiliency of The American Bald Eagle was given the opportunity it needed to soar! A decade ago the Bald Eagle was delisted as population numbers climbed and now there are thousands of Bald Eagle aeries across the lower 48 states!

Our local history reflects the national story. Although Jim and Cindy were the first eagles to nest within Montgomery County in 70 years, their arrival in 2008 was just the beginning of the repopulation of territory that had been unclaimed for decades. Every county in the region now is home to at least one Bald Eagle nest! Skies that were once eagleless are now graced with these majestic birds once more. I have seen more eagles on our rivers and lakes in 2016 than ever before. In fact, at least during this time of year when young eagles wander, young adult eagles search for mates and young pair-bonded eagles look for territory, it is hard not to see an eagle if you spend a few hours by a lake or a river!

To reinforce this point and too further refine our perspectives, let me share one more amazing fact. Yesterday there were nine eagles soaring, playing and frolicking together over Eastwood Lake! NINE! What a thrill! What a blessing! There were seven juveniles of various ages along with Jim and Joy in the group. Later in the day Jim and Joy were seen flying high over the lake with a third adult. Every day for the last two weeks there have been three to six young eagles fishing and perching around Eastwood Lake. A decade ago there were none!

Here are a few images from the last few days of excitement.

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Of course, as I look back over 2016 I also remember the untimely loss of Cindy, the original queen of The Treetop Palace. In looking over the group of juveniles I have to wonder how many of them are Jim and Cindy’s offspring. Surely some must be. That thought makes me smile as I know that Cindy’s legacy and characteristics will live one for generations to come much as my wife’s distant grandfather lives on in our own children and grandchildren.

Time heals. Time sharpens our perspectives. The new year offers many opportunities to soar. Looking back allows us to see the many blessings of the past and encourages us to embrace hope for the future. I am thankful for my many blessings and that includes the ability to look way back to see that The American Bald Eagle is well on its way back too!

Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:17 pm  Comments (24)  

Oh There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays!

Christmas is a time for memories.

Memories of past holidays shared with loved ones flood our minds. Familiar aromas, traditions and decorations anchor our hearts to the glow of the past and long forgotten smiles find their ways to our lips once more. But as far too many of us know, the hardest Christmases are those following a loss of someone we held dear.

Elvis crooned, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.”

Now, I know that the wildlife around us is driven by instincts but we have all seen love and devotion in the eyes and behavior of animals. The excited wagging of a dog’s tail as we enter the house at the end of the workday, a horse galloping across a meadow toward the sound of a familiar voice, or even a cat curling up on your lap as you read by the fireside. We bond with our domesticated animal companions and they bond with us.

In much of the same way, eagles bond with their mates for a lifetime. Those bonds are strong and quite observable to those who take the time to watch and are blessed enough to have the opportunity to do so. Dancing together across the sky, locking talons together in freefalling bliss, perching side by side on a favorite perch, bringing its mate a fish, tapping beaks…all driven by instinct but obviously bonded together in a very special way. So it only make sense to assume that an eagle suffers a real loss when those deep bonds are severed by death.

And so it has been with Jim. He has visited all of his familiar perches over the last few weeks but unfamiliarly alone.

 

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Jim is truly an urban eagle. As such there is always much activity to see as he sits in the cold winter air and watches the world around him. He sees joggers puffing down the bikeway like human locomotives, traffic snarled on the bridges, Canada geese fertilizing everything in sight… He spends some of his time fishing too. He even recently took time to voice his concerns to a passing Peregrine Falcon…

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who was busy showing off its diving speed while flushing pigeons from a nearby highway overpass.

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But mostly Jim just sat and watched the world go by.

But then there is another Christmas carol the begins, “Joy to the world!”

And for weeks now, Joy has never been far away from Jim’s world. Quietly and quite intentionally she has followed Jim like a distant shadow. But not too distant. If you could find Jim flying by, she was usually not too far behind.

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Sometimes she would perch just across the river or a few trees away, but always where Jim could see her. She made here presence and availability known but not in a pushy way. She gave him space. It reminded me of my own seasons of grief when I have needed space to mourn and adjust to a new reality but I also needed to know that others were nearby if I needed them. Occasionally she would venture into his tree where they would sit for hours.

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But  Jim never chased her away.

Then this week His behavior began to change. This week Jim began to follow Joy! He joined her in her favorite perch above a well field Great Blue Heron rookery. He circled above her as she fished from the unfrozen corner of Eastwood Lake. As Joy headed to the well field it was Jim who followed along. The pursuer has become the pursued. (I once heard a woman joke, “I chased my husband until he caught me.”) It is good to see Jim moving on with his life, driven by instincts backed by devotion.

Now, every morning, The Treetop Palace is undergoing nestorations once more.

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The palace may have a new queen.

Holding too tightly to a longing for what once was may cause us to miss the joy of  what might be. A house of sticks or bricks is just a house until love and devotion makes it a home and there is no place like home for the holidays!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us to all of you!

 

Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 2:02 pm  Comments (33)  

Joy Is On The Horizon

“It is hard to keep a good man down.”

I have heard that expression many times in my life and I have known many men who have proven its truthfulness. Now I can say that I have seen that truth exhibited in the life of a Bald Eagle as well.

This Bald Eagle.

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This is Jim as Roger found him visiting one of his favorite riverside perches yesterday. It has been quite a week for him since his tragic loss of his mate, Cindy. He has done a lot of perching and searching of the skies this week but that is nothing new. Eagles are always perching and searching the skies. They are willing and able to defend their territories from any and all threats. But knowing that eagles pair-bond for life and having seen the mutual strength and dedication of those bonds manifested in actions many times over the last eight years, I have to wonder if he searches of the skies with a slightly different focus this week.

But eagles are wild creatures driven by instincts and pair-bonding is a part of that instinctive motivation that serves their survival well. And in the wild it is always all about survival. Jim is a survivor in the truest sense of the word. Survivors do what is necessary to continue on, to succeed and to flourish!

We humans can easily get tangled up in our emotions. Loss and pain can become snares that trap us for years, decades and lifetimes. But those emotional and mental traps in the wild would spell certain doom. Although we project our feelings onto wild creatures, if those wild creatures were as deeply bound by emotions as we humans can be they would face a threat of a far greater nature.

But eagles were meant to soar.

Enter Joy.

“Joy” is what we are calling the unattached young adult female Bald Eagle that has been following Jim around for the last few days!

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She has been staying quietly near Jim, and roosting near the nest. She even has been seen in the nest with Jim adding and rearranging sticks. Now we cannot say if Joy is a possible new mate, an offspring from a past nesting season or both (which happens sometimes). Really, we can’t even say with absolute certainty that Joy is a female as her larger size suggests. But we can say that Joy is being tolerated by Jim who at least sees her as a companion. They are often found in each other’s company as the following image shows.

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But we can proclaim with complete certainty that Joy is on the horizon!

(I have never added a personal postscript to a blog posting before but this time I must. This week has been a bit challenging for me at times [Remember those “emotional challenges” I spoke of above?] and the outpouring of lovingly supportive comments from you, our blog family, has been overwhelming and comforting. Thank you all. Secondly, many of you have suggested over the years that I might consider writing a book or two. After Cindy’s terrible accident I thought that writing a book may be a way to generate some funds for some type of memorial to Cindy to mark her historic return to Dayton after a 7 decade Bald Eagle absence. I have written a short children’s book for young readers (possibly the first of a series) to share a part her story along with some embedded eagle facts with the hope of encouraging children to become more involved in wildlife, nature and the outdoors, as well as to build future support for Bald Eagles conservation. I have never attempted such an endeavor before and I have little idea how to proceed. Before I invest my limited personal funds self-publishing or seeking a publisher I was wondering if there was a “market” for such a book. I am guessing it would sell for $15.00 or so with a portion of the proceeds going toward the memorial [which also has to be worked out still]. Please drop me a comment below with your thoughts. Thank you again and keep looking up! Jim)

Published in: on December 8, 2016 at 10:49 am  Comments (69)  

The One I Never Wanted to Write

This one is hard.

This one is a post that I hoped that I would never have to write. But it must be done because it is such an important part of the story.

Today The Treetop Palace has lost its queen.

I have often said that “life in the wild is wild” and that was never more true than it was today. My emotions are churning and I have no idea if my fingers can even put into words the thoughts that are swirling around in my head.

The overlying purpose of this blog is to share the stories of Jim and Cindy’s adventures in a way that is both factual and entertaining. But just as important is our goal to educate our readers on the realities of life in the wild. Jim and Cindy have met challenge after challenge and they have overcome each one. But some challenges are just too big. Sometimes the challenges win.

I apologize if the following record of the days events are painful for you. They are for me as well. The images captured by various people today are graphic and may be disturbing but I owe it to Cindy and to you, our readers, to share this day’s happenings for they too are a part of the struggle for survival that goes on all around us. It would be unfair of me not to share these events with those who lovingly follow Jim and Cindy. Let me assure you that this is not the end of their story for Cindy will live on in the lives of her many offspring. Jim is young, healthy and has a well established territory. It will be difficult to watch him over the next several days and weeks as he waits for his mate’s return but eventually he will realize that she is not coming home this time. Every year more and more young adult female eagles pass through his domain looking for a mate to bond with and we will continue to share Jim’s adventures as they unfold.

But now for today’s tragic events as I understand them:

Life has a way of becoming ordinary, even to the point of being mundane. Every day we each follow familiar routines as we rush off to work, school or wherever. And so it was this morning. As the crews of The Mad River well field began their never ending duties of maintaining wells, servicing pumps, clearing away debris and such, Cindy was busy with her normal duties as well. She was on the hunt for yet another stick to add to the aerie in preparation for this winter’s eggs. She had found a nice long stick, one any eagle would have been proud of, and headed back to their sycamore tree. That is when tragedy struck. Apparently just around 9:00, the ends of that long stick made simultaneous contact with bare wire conductors that carry electricity through the well field. Now we all know that wood is a non-conductive material but water is an excellent conductor and this stick was quite water-laden. The electrical current flowed along the stick, into Cindy’s left foot, passed through her body and exited her right chest. She was gone in an instant. Work crews nearby heard the electrical buzz, lights flickered and breakers kicked off. Workers nearby rushed toward the direction of the flash and their worst fears were confirmed. There, on her back, on the barren ground, they found the lifeless body of Queen Cindy still clutching a portion of her prized stick. The following image is both poignant and sad.

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What a tragedy. What a loss.

Our local utility company has been pretty proactive in protecting our eagles by installing avian protection devices on many of the poles within the well field but the conductors between the poles are always an unseen threat to our eagles. I have often mentioned that the well field crews take the privacy and protection of their resident eagles very personally so I can only imagine the disappointment and the emotions that flooded their hearts as they realized that there was absolutely nothing that they could do. Grown men can cry too. Here before them on the cold ground lay the still form of unmeasurable beauty and grace. A “friend” they had cherished for over eight years. One whom they had encountered in summer’s heat and winter’s snow. One they had grown to admire and respect for her fortitude and resiliency. One many had even come to love.

Word of the tragedy spread rapidly across the well field as phone calls were made. Betty Ross and Rebecca Jaramillo, our dear friends at The Glen Helen Raptor Center were notified of their need and they responded at once. We have relied on their expertise often to recover injured juveniles from Jim and Cindy’s nest. Just a few years ago I stood here with Betty and others during the release of a rehabilitated fledgling and we had rejoiced together as Cindy appeared out of nowhere, swooped low under a tree and escorted her no-longer-missing youngster into the sky. Now tears flowed down the cheeks of many of those awaiting their arrival.

All stood in solemn silence as Rebecca quietly and respectfully placed Cindy on a towel and swaddled her snuggly.

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Later in the afternoon Roger and I made our way to the raptor center to say our last goodbyes to this wonderful creature that we had grown to admire so.

 

We had spent hours watching her from afar, recording her story in images and words and sharing it with others. We wanted to…no…we needed to finally hold her in our arms and show our appreciation for all that she had meant to us over the years, all that she still means. She had never failed to make us smile, never failed to encourage us to allow our hearts to soar. Many people think that it is funny to become so attached to a wild creature but there are so many folks in Virginia, Iowa, Florida and across the country that understand that allowing yourself to become attached to a wild eagle carries far more blessings than heartaches, far more joy than pain.

Cindy was truly the queen of her domain. The Bible says that God’s unseen attributes are clearly seen in what He has created. Cindy never failed to reflect God’s glory, power, majesty and grace to my heart. The memory of her beauty will bless my heart forever as it does now as I share a posting that I never wanted to write.

 

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Published in: on December 1, 2016 at 5:34 am  Comments (184)  

Blessings Upon Blessings

As you count your blessings tomorrow know that each of you are being counted among ours. We are truly grateful for all of our followers and visitors and for the blessing of being able to share Jim and Cindy’s adventures with all of you.

Most of you have read of how as a child I would lie on a hillside and search the summer skies for a glimpse of a passing eagle but there were none in the Dayton area to be seen. I still count it a marvelous blessing to be able to see them almost daily now! May we never grow so accustomed to the blessings that God sends our way to take them for granted and cease to be thankful.

May tomorrow be filled with love, laughter and smiles and may our every glimpse of an eagle remind us that God is watching over us.

From Jim and Cindy and all of the Eastwood Eagle Watchers, happy Thanksgiving and remember to keep looking up!

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Published in: on November 23, 2016 at 6:32 pm  Comments (7)