How Can You Tell?

That is a question that has so many possible answers.

As a stand alone query it makes little sense but in the context of various conversations that simple, little question blossoms into a myriad of variegated blooms. The context determines the facts that determine the answers. Take the weather for instance. If I say, “It’s going to rain.” and you ask that little question, the towering thunderheads may hold the answer. If I lament, “This may take a while.” the crowded restaurant may be a clue. Or if I groan, “This is going to be a long ride!” the answer may lie in the squabbling siblings in the back seat as we leave the driveway. Context matters.

So, if I say that nesting season is almost here, that question’s answer may be all around us. And it is!

With over 1,000 followers to this blog and with so many other viewers to boot, I must remember that for many of you, this is your first encounter with nesting Bald Eagles. Every year I am asked, “How can you tell?” Well, the signs are all there and all systems are go! First of all, the calendar is a clue as late winter is nesting time in Ohio. Eagles nesting in Florida now have eaglets in their nests. Eagles in Georgia are currently incubating eggs. Every year I get excited watching the nesting season move north and the anticipation grows stronger with each passing week! Our Ohio eagles typically welcome eggs in February. Eastwood’s Jim and Cindy (and now Jim and Hope) have always gone to nest (rather appropriately) just after Valentine’s Day. Last year Orv and Willa were a month late but they started nest building several months late and were rapidly running out of time. As first-time-nesters they really did pretty well, but this year both pairs are right on schedule! “How can I tell?” you ask? Well togetherness is a key as breeding approaches and our eagles have been very…shall we say…chummy lately. Last Thursday I took this distant picture of Jim and Hope.

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If you look closely you can see their 2018 nest through the trees, half way up the right side of the image. The other nests are part of a large heronry in the wellfield. Their aerie looks ready to go for another successful year.

That same day I found Orv and Willa once again sharing a limb together in one of their favorite trees.

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(By the way, did you notice that even though both eagles were looking at me, Willa actually had her back towards the camera.) As breeding time draws near the eagles become inseparable. If they aren’t side by side, they are usually within a few hundred feet of one another.

Another sign is seeing Orv leave the nest like this…

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and then return to the nest like this!

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Did you notice a difference? That is a pretty good sign that either he was working on the nest or found a really good deal on an old, discarded Christmas tree!

So by now you may be wondering, “How can you tell when there are actually eggs in the nest?” Well, without cameras above the nest we have to rely on what we can see, especially the behavior of the adults. Here is what we can watch for (and perhaps you can join us as we watch). Mating. OK, that is a pretty obvious first step but you will have to admit that it is absolutely necessary. (I have always thought that it takes quite a bit of faith on the female’s part to allow her talon-clad male to hop onto her back.) Mating can happen any time now (and probably is) as it happens rather quickly, but fairly frequently too. Our eagle watchers only view the eagles a little each day so there is a good chance that we may miss it all together and not really know when mating occurs. But that’s alright because the eagles deserve some privacy after all.

Now for some more technical stuff. The next signs are much more observable as they will all happen at the nest and since Orv and Willa’s nest is in a very public spot, someone will see the following activities. Willa will spend more time in the nest. She will spend less time moving sticks around and more time sitting quietly in the bowl as the egg laying draws near. She will still fly off with Orv to do “eagle things” like add a stick or two, perch and hunt. If they fly off together we know that there are no eggs yet. By far, the most anticipated and biggest clue will be when she stays in the nest bowl for a while, eventually flies off and Orv immediately hops down into the bowl. There is really no reason for the male to just sit in the nest unless he is taking a turn incubating an egg. If the nursery floor is high enough and the walls are low enough, we may see the tail feathers and wingtips of the adult in the nest pointing upward at about a 30 to 45 degree angle. This happens because the parents develop a brood patch near their lower chest to expose the eggs to their warm flesh. With the brood patch towards the egg, the tail feathers and wingtips slope upward. The adult will remain rather stationary in the nest for hours, rising only occasionally to inspect and roll the egg and to gather soft nesting material around the egg. The egg must be kept warm as the eaglet develops inside and it needs to be rotated to keep the embryo from attaching to the inside of the shell’s wall. This rolling also keeps the developing eaglet uniformly warm. Willa will lay between 1 to 3 eggs, each a day or two apart. Typically there will be 2 eggs in the annual clutch but rarely there may be as many as 4. Each egg will hatch in about 35 days, in the order in which they were deposited in the nest. The first hatched eaglet will have a big advantage over its siblings but that story can wait for a future posting. It is absolutely crucial that the eagles are not disturbed during incubation and the first few weeks after hatching occurs! Exposure to the elements will cause the egg to fail or kill a young eaglet as it cannot yet regulate its own body temperature. (When the eagle nest is in a more remote location, human activity near the nest is a real threat to the success of the nesting season. Well-meaning and curious drone operators may not realize that trying to fly a camera over an active nest can be life threatening to the eggs, the eaglets and the protective adult eagle. Disturbing a nesting eagle is a federal crime.) Another sign of eggs in the nest will be if we see the non-incubating adult (usually the male) bring food to the nest for its mate. The rotation of incubation duties is yet another sign to watch for. As one adult leaves, the mate will hop down into the nest. An additional sign is what I call “the egg waddle”. When there are eggs in the nest, the adults will cup their talons up towards the balls of their feet and walk on their knuckles. This keeps them from accidently piercing the eggs and causes them to visibly waddle in the nest. During incubation the adult out of the nest will often perch nearby to protect the eggs and its mate from all potential attacks from owls, hawks or any other threat. (I always warn first-timers that many things can go wrong in this whole process. Allow yourself to enjoy the thrill of watching wild Bald Eagles nest and nurture their eaglets. It is quite an adventure that will draw you into its thrills over the weeks ahead! But always remember that life in the wild is wild. As we saw last year here in Dayton and elsewhere, attachment has its risks as well as its rewards.)

Orv and Willa (and Jim and Hope) are ready to give it ago. It is what they were designed to do and they do it very well. Roger recently ran across Willa and asked her how big her expectations were for the new nesting season. She raised her wings and said, “This big!”

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There is a real thrill in watching a wild American Bald Eagle in flight. Nothing personifies freedom quite like those majestic wings effortlessly gracing an open sky. America will face some challenges in 2019. We always do. But with faith and determination we will soar!

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If you are in Carillon Park, look me up. I am hoping to spend a little time near the nest almost daily, talking eagle to park visitors. You’ll know me by the name badge on my  coat, the camera around my neck, the scope on my tripod, the spring in my step and the smile on my face! Let’s hope for a very successful nesting season! Come on Orv and Willa! You’ve got this!

What’s that? You think I’m excited? How can you tell?

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Published in: on January 10, 2019 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

At The Speed Of …

“Look! Quick! Oh, no! It’s gone! Did you see it? It was amazing! I tried to capture it with my camera to preserve it forever but I just wasn’t prepared. I wish I had been ready. I wish I had been paying better attention, but it got away.”

Similar words are too often spoken in my conversations with fellow wildlife photographers. As we stand together watching a majestic eagle perched in a tree, we wait expectantly in anticipation of catching an image of the bird launching into flight. Inevitably we begin to converse and slowly we move our attention to our words, a wading heron or even just a scampering squirrel and miss the opportunity as the eagle flies off.

But today I am not referring to a wild eagle but to the passing year. “Look! Quick! Oh, no! It’s gone! Did you see it? It was amazing! I tried to capture it with my camera to preserve it forever but I just wasn’t prepared. I wish I had been ready. I wish I had been paying better attention, but it got away.”

Isn’t it amazing how quickly 365 days can zoom by? And the older we get the faster they fly! I knew I was “over the hill” when the days picked up speed as I began the downhill run, and the momentum just increases every year. It seems like just yesterday I was worried about spelling tests and arithmetic exams and now the tests are called “stress tests” and the exams are called “colonoscopies.”

2018 held many surprises for me personally, some joyous and others sorrowful. (I begin 2019 with one less sibling as I lost my little brother in October. Once we were 6, now we are but 4.) But the year started off on a happy note with the arrival of Orv and Willa on January 1st. They spent the winter along the Great Miami River downtown.

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and perched high in the trees nearby.

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By the end of January they were building a home in Carillon Park.

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And then by June they were feeding eaglets!

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July held the brief and tragic story of beautiful Flyer, a story of promise as Flyer took that first leap of faith…

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and then spent 5 wonderful days in the trees and on the rooftops of Carillon…

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before tragedy struck. Some moments of 2018 seem shockingly brief.

And then there is the ongoing story of our young adult eagles, Orv and Willa, currently strengthening their bond of mutual devotion to each other.

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The discovery of the West Carrollton nest and the continued success of Eastwood’s Jim and Hope have added much to the vanishing year.  Now that the leaves are no longer hiding Jim and Hope’s current nest, Roger was recently able to capture a distant image of Hope evaluating their housing needs for the new year.

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But some of the greatest surprises and unforeseen blessings of 2018 were the new friendships kindled on the levees and within the park. New friends with a common admiration and wonder, bonded together by shared loss and by growing expectation of what secrets may lie in the future, concealed in the pages of a new calendar.

The story, your story, continues. Each year is a chapter, each month a paragraph and every moment a sentence that holds mysterious wonders and possibilities that will unfold with time. Few things are as precious as time. We must be ready to make the most of it all, to invest every second wisely in the lives of those we meet, those we love. There is no commodity more priceless, more fragile or more precious than time. Look! Quick! Oh, no! It’s gone! Time moves on at the speed of life.

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Happy new year!

Published in: on December 31, 2018 at 4:37 am  Leave a Comment  

The Blessings of the Season

Time marches continuously forward with no respect for persons or things. That universal truth serves as a reminder of how precious time really is.

Having just passed beyond the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (in hours of daylight), we look forward to the “longer” days ahead. But the winter solstice in North America always leads into Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year! For most Americans the Christmas celebration is full of family, friends, tradition and food. But the deeper meaning of Christmas is a celebration of hope.

As you pass through yet another Christmas season may your heart and your home be illuminated by the miraculous reality of Immanuel, God with us.

The past year has been filled with so many blessings. Orv and Willa have become so much a part of our daily encounters that it is almost hard to believe that they first arrived in Dayton on January 1st of this year. 2018 brought new beginnings, hopes and some heartbreaking disappointments. But through them all our local eagles have triumphed and grown as they have become a part of us. Now they are welcoming winter by spending time together. On a rare sunny day we found them sharing a branch and a view of the river.

 

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Before we know it mating will begin! Throughout January and early February we will witness repeated encounters that will eventually lead to February’s eggs. We will keep everyone posted on their activities.

But until then Willa and Orv will celebrate togetherness and deepen the strength of their pair-bond. Willa is proving to be a bit of a diva, ruling the roost and calling the shots. During the cloudy weather she has become rather fond of singing the soprano part of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus! But, unfortunately, she tends to get a bit sharp when she hits the high notes, which sometimes hurts poor Orv’s ears!

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However you celebrate, may you be surrounded by family and the love and hope that permeates the air like the aroma of fresh evergreen at Christmas time. And may your heart embrace the blessings of the season!

Published in: on December 23, 2018 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Unwrapping of a Gift

Christmas is a time for reminiscing.

The entire winter season calls for the slowing down of the pace of life while quietly sipping from a mug of hot chocolate by the fireside. A cozy sweater or a colorful holiday blanket helps fight off the nipping chill in the air and a faithful pet contently sleeping by your side deepens the calming music of the crackling fire. Winter is a chance to sigh as nature sleeps. But nothing adds more to the peacefulness of the moment than replaying the cherished memories of Christmases past.

As a child my siblings and I anxiously awaited an annual arrival, not of a jolly, old elf in a red suit but of a plain cardboard box from our maternal Grandmother in Chicago! Dad would place the large box near the decorated tree where it stayed taped tightly closed until Christmas Eve. Finally, when we could hardly bear the suspense a moment longer, he would open the box and it would give birth to the most brightly colored boxes one could imagine! Each box bore the name of someone Grandma cherished. Every child (even those who were so old that they pretended not to care) craned their necks to spot their particular parcel. What treasure would the gayly wrapped package reveal? The big box was suspenseful enough but now our curiosity was overwhelming! I always hoped for a toy of some sort but a shirt or sweater was nice too. When the long awaited time arrived, Dad would hand out the presents. One by one, we would each tear off the bright paper and rip open the box and rejoice over the surprise inside! Looking back all these years later I cannot recall even a single gift but remembering the anxious anticipation and the love that surrounded that Christmas tree still brings tears to my eyes. Grandma, Mom, Dad and two of my five siblings are gone now but in the stillness of my winter’s memories they are all here with me. Christmas is a time for reminiscing.

In God’s loving grace, nature is like a mysterious Christmas package. You just never can tell what blessings God has hidden under the beautiful wrapping.

That was never more true than last month. The trees of southwestern Ohio had taken on the colors of autumn like red, yellow and golden wrapping paper. The woodlands became a giant, although early, Christmas gift! As the days grew shorter and the weather grew colder, the leaves grew dry and brittle. Soon brisk winds slowly began to reveal the  surprises concealed beneath the leafy wrappings. One by one the leaves fell like shreds of tattered paper on the living room floor. That was when local eagle watcher, Heidi, spotted a previously hidden surprise. Just 5.72 miles south of Orv and Willa’s nest Heidi discovered another eagles’ nest!

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This nest is on the south edge of West Carrollton, Ohio and is not within the corporation limits of Dayton like Jim and Hope’s nest or Orv and Willa’s nest, but it is further proof of the continued recovery of the Bald Eagle population. We have seen eagles sporadically in this area over the last few years but you can never tell if the eagles seen along a river are nomadic roamers or even known nesters wandering a bit farther along the river. But this nest appears to be at least two years old or more. Granted, some pairs go all out when nest building and suitable materials on this Great Miami River flood plain are plentiful, but still there appears to be at least two layers of material in this nest. Here is a picture of the owners/contractors of the new nest.

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Now, one more thing must be said: There is a slight possibility that this may be a second nest of Orv and Willa’s. Eagles sometimes will build several nests within their territory to serve as emergency backup locations (Jim and Cindy maintained 3 nests in the wellfield.) but 5.72 miles is a pretty good distance. The only images that we have been able to get of this new pair are a bit wanting but they do show that the male has some darkness on his beak similar to Orv. But even with that slim possibility, we are like a curious Lois Lane wondering why she never has seen Clark Kent and Superman at the same time. Therefore we are documenting the timing of our sightings of each pair because even eagles can’t be in two different places at the once. That being said, I am 99.5% sure that this is a different pair. As the population rebounds, more nests will be spotted and smaller streams and lakes will become nesting sites as well.

What a fun time to live in the Dayton area!

Speaking of reminiscing, the end of November marked the second anniversary of the loss of our beloved Cindy, the original Queen of Eastwood. She too was an unexpected gift that brought many smiles and thrills our way. She is missed.

Life is full of surprises. God loves to see us smile. Like that big box delivered every December to my childhood front door, each season, each day, is a gift for which I am thankful. I hope to post again before Christmas but as your celebrations (and your quiet times) continue, peel back the paper slowly and enjoy the moment for whether removing colorful paper or colorful leaves, you never know how your life may be changed by the unwrapping of a gift.

Published in: on December 7, 2018 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

So Many Blessings

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us again! Either the clock is ticking faster these days or I am moving a bit slower making time appear to zip by.

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering. Families gather around the table to share a feast together. We pause to gather our thoughts as summer’s demands are behind us and another holiday season lies just ahead. We gather together a list of the many blessings that have found their way to our doorsteps and our hearts. Gathering takes time, energy and determination. Gathering is work. Gathering is joy!

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So many blessings initiate gatherings of their own. The gathering of eagle watchers was initiated by Jim and Cindy flying into Dayton in 2008 ending that 7 decade absence of nesting Bald Eagles here. And that blessing was doubled this past January with Orv and Willa’s arrival in Carillon Park. Their accessibility and visibility brought about another gathering of eagle watchers and the kindling of new friendships within the park and along the adjacent riverbanks.

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So many blessings have come from the gathering of comments on our blog or the gathering of newspaper and TV reporters publicly sharing our eagles stories here at home and around the nation. The gathering of school children on fieldtrips and of families visiting Carillon Park has resulted in the blessings of wide-eyed amazement and excitement as eagles pass overhead.

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We are surrounded by so many blessings and yet it is so easy to become so busy that we fail to notice them all. But, when we pause, when we take the time to contemplate how blessed we are, we cannot help but smile. Sure, there are some blessings that are now gone, blessings that were ours for a brief season, but there are so many blessings here today and even more on tomorrow’s horizon.

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As I pause and count my blessings tomorrow they will include you, our readers. It is truly our blessing to share this adventure with you. You are a vital part of the eagle’s story for a story is meant to be embraced and cherished. The loved ones who gather together around your table tomorrow are also a vital part of your ongoing story, a blessing for a brief season meant to be embraced and cherished.

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The eagles have brought us together but it is God’s blessings that has brought us the eagles.

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May your table, your home, your day and your life be filled with smiles and laughter as you rejoice with so many blessings.

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 11:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Beauty of Autumn

If you are blessed to live in a part of the world where the glory of nature changes from season to season, then you are familiar with the anticipation that each season brings.

You may know well how the serene silence of a winter’s snowfall blankets your world with a muffled beauty of glistening white. A world where a warm fire and a warm beverage brings a comforting warmth of a deeper kind to your soul. Then winter fades away and bows to the promise of the new life of springtime. The change is a gradual one as crocus and tulip bring a sprinkling of color to the waning white. Soon the fragrant breezes blow gently through the trees where buds pop and squirrels hop. The landscape seems to burst with expectation of renewal and potential. There is a unique enchantment to the soft colors of spring leaves and fresh grass that is somehow both soothing and exhilarating. Then as the days grow warmer still, summer arrives bringing with it dark green foliage that provides comforting shade to a heated reality. These are the days that bring challenges to man and beast alike. Labor becomes hot and toilsome and a cool wind, a cool drink and a cool ocean wave restores and refreshes an overheated, tired body. Finally the hot days of summer give way to cooler weather with the arrival of autumn. Days grow shorter and the landscape sighs. We begin to look forward to a slower pace and longer sleeves. We await the explosion of color that will soon paint the trees and create an artist’s masterpiece through which we can leisurely stroll. Autumn is the doorway for homecomings and family gatherings. A nip in the air may remind us of another winter’s return as we bask in the beauty of autumn’s splendor and the sound of rustling leaves. How boring life would be without the anticipation and wonders that each season holds.

Autumn’s full glory has enveloped Jim, Hope, Orv and Willa’s domains. Everywhere you look red, orange, yellow and golden leaves proclaim autumn’s arrival. The grounds of Carillon Park are ablaze with color!

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High in the changing leaves, Orv sits and watches over his domain with a wary eye.  He knows that fall is the season when young adult Bald Eagles begin nest building, claiming a territory of their own. But Carillon is his territory! Any intruding adult with an eye on his land will be quickly escorted on his way.

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Like a sentinel at his post, Orv is faithful to his duties.

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Willa too stands guard. She still prefers a post on one of the nearby electrical towers as opposed to the trees.

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But when a passing eagle catches her gaze, it must instantly have second thoughts about hanging around!

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She is almost always watching from somewhere. Even an Osprey fishing from Willa’s river gets a taste of her wrath as she spots his thievery from a distant tower.

But it is not all work and no play. Willa likes to catch up on the local gossip by chatting with the neighbors.

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(This must be where the phrase, “a little bird told me” originated.)

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And of course there is always those long meaningful conversations between mates.

And, speaking of mates, I recently caught a rare glimpse of Dayton’s other Bald Eagle pair, Jim and Hope, sitting together deep within the wellfield.

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All in all, the colors of autumn are fleeting and will soon give way to barren branches making time spent eagle watching in the park a lot more fruitful. But for now, the colors are captivating.

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And you never can tell who might pass low overhead as you stroll through the park, breathing in the fragile beauty of autumn.

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Published in: on November 6, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Do you remember Fred Rogers from the iconic children’s television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? I do. In an age when educational TV was blossoming with shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company, Mr. Rogers offered a slower, more peaceful and comforting style of learning. In his neighborhood everyone was welcomed and adventures were kindled in the fires of a child’s imagination. He provided a more traditional view of family and education with his soft-spoken stories, purposely pregnant with long pauses to allow young minds to fill in the blanks by using their own curiosity and thought processes. He featured no fast-paced music or noisy poems voiced by brightly colored giant puppets, no constant flow of adults and guest stars and no loud street scenes. His own puppetry was reminiscent of Shari Lewis’ puppets of my own childhood. His neighborhood was a calming, quiet place, unassuming and safe.

I thought of Fred Rogers’ neighborhood while visiting our Carillon Park eagles recently. I remembered how the beginning of each episode featured Mr. Rogers entering the house while quietly singing and humming the theme song. Carefully he slipped off his jacket, neatly hung it in the hall closet, donned a cozy sweater, then sat down to take off his shoes and slip on his house shoes, all the while making eye contact with the camera and thereby with the millions of children watching. Each glance said, “You’re important. You’re safe. You’re loved.” While viewing children could watch the fun happenings on Sesame Street, in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood they didn’t just watch, they became an important part of the community.

Community is a big part of Carillon Parks philosophy too. Everyone from the CEO to the least public volunteer are focused on being warm, welcoming and helpful to all who pass through the park’s interesting and varied exhibits. Outside the park there is a growing community of friendly eagle watchers stationed along a mile long stretch of The Great Miami River. Some with cameras or binoculars, some with children or dogs, but each willing to share the adventure with others and eager to point out where the eagles might be at any given moment.

Even above the park the community is growing. The long-time resident Red-Tailed Hawks are still not very happy about Orv and Willa’s presence in their community. The past ten months have held many rather hostile and aggressive swoops by the hawks as the eagles passed by. Now the park’s bell tower has attracted a pair Peregrine Falcons that are even more aggressive in their attacks on the eagles! Peregrines prey on birds but the much larger eagles are a bit more than they can chew. The falcons have speed on their side as they can dive at speeds over 200 miles per hour! They sometimes appear out of nowhere and make repeated swoops at our bathing eagles. During midair encounters an eagle looks like a cruise ship trying to out maneuver a speedboat. If they stay, the Peregrines could pose a threat to the young eaglets this spring so Orv and Willa will need to be on their toes. Though the territorial disputes are mostly for show, there is a chance that the hawks or falcons might harm one of the eagles if they should collide with them or strike the eagle in the eye. But mostly they are just an ongoing nuisance.

Here are a few recent, random images of the Carillon Park neighborhood.

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Willa is “ruling the roost” and very serious about the redesign of their nest. Every home in the neighborhood makes a statement about its owners.

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There is plenty of work to be done! Every morning they toil together, harvesting sticks, delivering them to the nest and then carefully placing them where Willa directs.

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But as the sun sets each day they act more like lovebirds than construction workers. These hours spent together will strengthen their bond for the demands that lie ahead as they increase the neighborhood’s population.

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Most neighborhoods have a iconic structure that adds identity to the community. It may be a building, a statute, a lake or even a greenspace. Orv and Willa’s neighborhood is marked by the Deed’s Carillon Bell Tower that gives the park its name. It is high in this 70 year old musical monument that the pair of Peregrine Falcons have decided to stay.

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They seem to be the neighborhood bullies as they continually harass both eagles and hawks. For obvious reasons, I have begun to call them Ding and Dong.

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As pretty as they are fast, these SSTs of the avian world seem to really dislike the other neighborhood birds of prey. Peregrine Falcons feed mostly on pigeons and smaller birds, Red-Tailed Hawks feed mostly on rodents and snakes and Bald Eagles hunt mostly fish, so there is little conflict between them over the food supply. That being said, the peregrines are extremely aggressive and territorial.

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And boy are they fast as they zip in, create a ruckus and zip away again! Almost every neighborhood has its issues though.

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Orv and Willa would much rather concentrate on home improvements and everyday activities like bathing…

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but as the neighborhood grows, so does the number of the rather unfriendly encounters. The following series of images well illustrate the animosity and competitive territorial issues that we are seeing almost every day. In this case, a roaming immature Bald Eagle passed by and was hassled by nearly everybody before Orv escorted it away from his domain.

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Jim and Hope’s neighborhood is a bit quieter and much more remote. They are well but I have become even more conscious of how many dozens of hours went into capturing just a few images of the Eastwood pair. The Carillon eagles, by comparison, are visible every day and often in very public settings. As the leaves fall their daily work on the nest will become more observable.

But as for me, my favorite feature of the Carillon Park neighborhood is our beautiful Willa. Sometimes she poses in the morning sun and I just cannot resist her stunning smile!

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Fred Rogers always ended his theme song with an invitation when he sang, “Please, won’t you be my neighbor?” Sometimes the riverbank just outside the park has as many 8 or more eagle watchers gathered there to watch the skies and the treetops. These friendly folks are also a part of the neighborhood. They are a community within a community. It is a big riverbank so there is always room for more. Be a part of the community fun and join us! Please won’t you be my neighbor?

All in all, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Published in: on October 24, 2018 at 1:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Embrace The Approaching Dawn

The cycles of life spin slowly as we anticipate tomorrows full of hopes and dreams, yet somehow, looking back, the years seem to have flashed by with amazing speed. We sometimes find ourselves a bit bewildered as we think about past years we have left behind (or maybe more accurately stated, past years that have left us behind).

Just as our lives pass through cycles, so do the lives of the wildlife around us. Our Dayton eagles are in a season of rest after the work of nesting, brooding and eaglet raising. Jim and Hope are occasionally seen perched in the wellfield’s treetops or fishing nearby. Once in a while we might catch a glimpse of a 2018, Eastwood juvenile perched nearby or scouting out the territory along The Mad River. The following picture was captured just the other day near Dayton’s Children’s Hospital. Although the picture was taken from some distance on a cloudy day, it is the best I have to offer of the youngster and it illustrates well this time of curiosity and exploration of youth.

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There is so much to learn.

At the southern edge of town Orv and Willa are also enjoying this momentary pause in demands, perching in the trees near Carillon Park. We have come to learn that Jim prefers the trees near the Great Miami River…

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while Willa likes to perch high above it all on the electrical towers.

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Often they will perch at opposite ends of their nesting area and stand guard over their domain, watching for any threat to their sovereignty. We have seen no intruding eagles but every so often they will confront their neighboring Red Tailed Hawk or an Osprey that has been fishing from their river.

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But things aren’t always that hostile. Usually the day passes calmly. Hours spent perching are followed by a quick trip to The Great Miami Refrigerator and then a leisurely flight over the park and their nest tree.

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Soon the lush leaves of summer will be painted in an explosion of color before growing tired and brittle and falling to the ground. Jim and Hope at Eastwood, Orv and Willa at Carillon, will spend more time quietly perching side by side or dancing across the clouds and sliding on sunbeams.  As the trees grow bare and the days grow cold our hearts will grow full and warm as we watch their pair-bonding intensify.

This has been quite a year. Sometimes the cycles of life don’t rotate as smoothly as we would like. Sometimes there are surprising disappointments, tragic losses and unwanted pain hidden within the cycle. This year has held all of that. On a recent business trip to Lake Tahoe, local eagle watcher Greg came across a natural rock formation that caught his eye. I believe the following image is a poignant reminder of a truth that the eagles seem to know so well. Grief too is a cycle, a cycle that sometimes stalls. Occasionally we need a friend to nudge us to get the cycle moving again and sometimes we need to be the friend that does the nudging, the one that comes along side of one who is hurting and quietly shares the burden that has slowed the cycle down. Grief can be a stone-cold place but there is a certain beauty in a heavy burden shared with others who have known the strain grief brings.

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In this image Greg and I see the backs of two eagles, bowed in grief, silently sharing a heavy burden together, bonding in sorrow but facing a distant horizon together, ready to embrace the approaching dawn.

 

Published in: on September 13, 2018 at 5:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Feathered Fortitude

Isn’t it strange how something can unexpectedly knock you for loop?

After 10 years of closely monitoring our Dayton Bald Eagles and reporting on their trials and triumphs I have come to expect the unexpected. I have seen a lot and have learned a lot from Jim, Cindy, Joy, Hope, Orv, Willa and a total of 19 eaglets over the years. Rescues, joyful releases, tragic losses, days of unanswered questions… have all served as educational experiences. But even though I knew the possibilities, the loss of young Flyer was really hard. Maybe it was the almost daily visits to the park, the hundreds of volunteer hours, the closeness of the nest or all of it added together that made the bond and admiration for Orv, Willa and their offspring so deep and strong. Personally though, I believe it was the excitement and  hope in the eyes of the hundreds of folks that I met in the park who were watching a wild eagle family for the very first time that drew me in. I so wanted them to see this chapter play out in a happy and victorious way. I always felt like a bit of a Debbie Downer as I cited statistics warning them of the potential for tragedy. I didn’t want to dampen the flames of hope in their hearts but I did want to prepare them for the possibilities. But in that process I somehow failed to guard my own heart. This one hurt.

A few days ago I ran across this simple poem that I penned almost a decade ago as Jim and Cindy dealt with the loss of their eaglets. The message it carries touched me and nudged me out of the lingering shadows of grief. Loss of anything or anyone we hold precious is hard. If you are passing through the gloomy valley of loss today, I hope this simple message stirs the embers of hope that still smolder in the aftermath of your private storm.

 

 

The Eagles Grief (by Jim Weller)

 

On feathered wings of majestic grace

They soar o’er the River Mad

Untethered from all earthly bonds,

Their freedom makes hearts glad.

They claimed their home when autumn leaves

Blazed in radiant glory.

Midst winter’s snow they added on

To their nest and Dayton’s story.

(Amidst this world of trials

There is an awesome thing

That fills a heart with smiles:

An Eagle’s soaring wings!)

We watched their tender nurturing

Of the new eggs in their care

Then we watched their gentle rearing

Of their precious, feathered pair.

Hope abounds and grows each day

For the young life in the nest…

But hope is dashed when that fragile life

Does not survive the test.

Yet high aloft again they soar

For life goes on you see,

And with the dawn of each new morn

Comes opportunity.

Disappointments, sorrows,

Won’t weigh these eagles down

For those are bonds that fetter

And chain man to the ground.

Again they soar and hunt and play

Across the azure blue,

And scream a song of challenge

Earthward to me and you.

“Life is hard and troubles come,

But here’s an awesome thing…

God can free from anchoring pain,

And let your heart take wing!”

So when storms and trials buffet

And days seem dark and long,

Remember the hope and promise

In the screaming eagle’s song.

Release your weighty burdens,

You need carry them no more

For God can loose those heavy chains

And free your heart to soar!

 

Jim, Hope and their 2018 juveniles are doing well. They can usually be spotted in the evening’s setting sun perched in trees along Eagle Lake east of Harshman Road. Orv and Willa are being seen daily along the river near Carillon Park. They are guarding their territory so I fully expect them to begin nestorations this fall in preparation for next year’s eggs.

I will end this post with several recent images of Orv and Willa as captured through Roger’s big lens.

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Resiliency, necessity, determination… American Bald Eagles are the personification of feathered fortitude!

Published in: on August 24, 2018 at 11:38 am  Comments (28)  

The “What Ifs” of Life

There are few things that can eat away at the human heart like the “what ifs” of life.

After last Sunday’s tragic loss of our eaglet Flyer, the “what ifs” have been my constant companions. Their presence is apparent in the eyes and words of many of the staff, volunteers and eagle watchers of Carillon Park. These caring friends have followed Orv and Willa’s unfolding story every day for the last 6 months or more, and their faces tell me that I am not alone in my grief. I am sure that many of the readers of this blog have been visited by the “what ifs” as well. I mentioned in my last posting that I have walked this road before and have come to know the bittersweet kiss of an unexpected loss. I chose those words in the realization that although this loss is bitter, the sweetness of having watched young Flyer’s life lingers on and that bittersweet experience touches our hearts with all the intimacy of a kiss. But this week I have discovered that familiarity with loss cannot prevent the stubborn haunting of the “what ifs” of life.

I spent some time talking to people who are surprised by how deep their admiration for Flyer had grown. This opportunity to watch wild eagles in their daily struggles was completely new to them and they were shocked by how deeply her loss had penetrated their defenses. Sharing our mutual loss with others brings about healing and hushes the maddening “what ifs”.

That realization is what awakened me at 3AM and motivated me to write this post this morning. Maybe the unanswerable “what ifs” have haunted you this week but you have no one with whom you can share your grief.

You are not alone.

Anyone or anything to which we become attached makes us vulnerable to the pain of loss and disappointment. But as painful as loss can be, life would be miserably bland without those attachments. People who refuse to allow themselves to become attached, so they can avoid the potential pain, are usually isolated and bitter as a result. Several people have commented, “Nature can be so cruel.” but I have to disagree with that statement. Nature reflects God’s nature which is never cruel. The natural world around us isn’t cruel, it is broken. It is suffering, largely due to human influences. It is in that broken environment that the “what ifs” of life thrive.

Last Saturday morning as a few of us stood on the south riverbank, young Flyer left the park passing just feet above our heads. She landed atop the north riverbank near a tree that Orv and Willa often perch in. (What if she had stayed in the park?) Within 3 minutes Orv had caught a fish and landed on that same bank, a few hundred feet east of Flyer as if to coax her away from the highway. (What if she had flown towards him?) After a few minutes he brought the fish to her. (What if he had waited longer?) All that day she stayed on that bank just east of the busy traffic. (What if she had flown back to the park?) We could see the threat posed by the freeway and even discussed trying to shoo her away but she very likely would have flushed towards the traffic instead of away from it. (What if we had tried?) What if they had nested elsewhere? What if she had flown more to the east? What if she had not missed that perch? What if she had flown higher? What if…

“What ifs” are indeed unanswerable questions. The more important question is “What now?”

Orv and Willa have spent a lot of time this week looking for their Flyer. Just hours after her loss Chong, one of the many new friends we have met in the park this year, captured this poignant image through her lens. It shows Orv and Willa searching and listening for their missing eaglet.

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This is the very spot where Flyer had been fed on Saturday. As heartbreaking as this image is it speaks volumes of the young pair’s devotion and loss. Life in the wild is a constant battle for survival and that struggle forces wild creatures to move on. Slowly this week their searching has lessened as their bonding has continued. Yesterday they were spotted perched together, farther downstream. This is near a spot where the pair had spent many winter mornings enjoying each other’s company.

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This is how wildlife survives. Eagles are resilient by nature, consistently doing what needs to be done. They suffer loss, they mourn and then they move on. They overcome. They fly. They soar. They cannot afford to be weighed down by the “What ifs” of life.

Published in: on July 28, 2018 at 6:59 am  Comments (40)