When Words Fail Me

There are precious moments in every life when words are simply inadequate.

How do you describe the moment you hold your newborn child for the first time? What words can capture the melancholy joy of walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day or the loss and bewilderment in your heart as you hold the hand of a parent as they take their last breath.

Words fail us.

Our hearts are capable of embracing emotions that are indescribable. Loss, pain, fear, joy, exhilaration, surprise, love… the list is as endless as the experiences that ignite them within us and indelibly etch new memories upon our hearts. Those moments define us and change us. They flavor our lives. They are unexpected blessings and even when words fail, we are eternally grateful for every moment.

This past 2 weeks I have spent nearly 100 hours in or near the park awaiting the eaglets’ first flights, then following up on their safety and progress. Happily my emergency crate has gone unused. As I have talked to park patrons I have experienced indescribable moments with many of them.  I have heard them gasp at the size of Orv and Willa’s nest and I have heard their cheers as an eaglet takes wing.  Every single time I feel that thrill again! Visitors just casually strolling through the historical buildings and exhibits, unaware that there are eagles in the park, have become energized by the discovery of Orv and Willa’s presence. Some then end up spending hours lying on the grass, watching for activity in the nest. Others come specifically to see the eagles. They are the folks with binoculars, lawn chairs and cameras. Friendships are initiated and strengthened as we watch together. And many of the sights we have seen were beyond words.

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DSCN6611etsRSCN6634e2sOften I have pointed out that eagles need their space to thrive and that federal laws prohibit encroaching on eagle nesting sites or harassing wild eagles. I practically beg people to stay away from isolated nests where human activity is uncommon because human presence may stress the eagles and even cause reproduction to fail. Many times I mention the wonderful opportunity that the Carillon Park nest presents as Orv and Willa are well acclimated to human activity in the park where we are like deer to them.

Over the years I have shared the wonders of the adventure as it has unfolded before us. Both triumph and tragedy have marked their story bringing tears of joy and tears of sadness. But the thrilling encounters that lie within the 65 acres of historical exhibits, now enhanced by Orv and Willa’s presence, cannot be expressed in mere words. Eagle watcher and photographer Doug Ottman captured several images today that well illustrate the possibility of witnessing unexpected majesty within the park. I will share two of his images here. There are moments in life that will take your breath away and that you will remember forever!

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These are the moments when words fail me.

Published in: on June 27, 2020 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

The Courage To Soar

I find great enjoyment in the observation of all things big and small, and not just hummingbirds and eagles.

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There is beauty and wonder everywhere we turn. A swan gliding across a foggy pond, a droplet of dew dangling from a rose petal like a glistening chandelier, a towering thunderhead, or even an annoying mosquito all carry a unique beauty and wonder of their own.

But beauty and wonder are not found just in the things we see. Everything in Creation is full of both attributes for they all reflect the beauty and wonder of God.

The cry of a loon from a moonlit lake; a distant train whistle piercing the stillness of night; the aroma of fresh baked bread or sundried sheets; the soft, gentle kiss of a summer breeze; the gentle nuzzle of a dog waiting to be petted; the taste of a freshly picked strawberry or a salty tear… and God in His graciousness has given us senses to enjoy them all!

There is beauty and wonder in time as well.

As I sat with a few dozen people awaiting Prop and Rudders time to fledge I wondered where they find the courage to take that initial leap. The nest is all they have ever known. How do you leave the comfort of confinement and find the courage to soar? That thought brought to mind the confinement that the current Covid virus restrictions has placed on us all. After months of isolation and fear of contamination our homes can seem like a comfortable haven in the midst of a raging storm. How do we find the courage to reengage with life and society? We may not be quite there yet but I pray we will be soon. But walls that provide a barrier of protection could become prison bars to those that have become fearful of stepping outside of their homes.

I pondered those questions as I watched the eaglets in the nest. They peered down at the social distancing onlookers (some masked, some not) with curiosity. Then they resumed their preflight exercising above the safety of the nest. That was when it dawned on me that they were setting an example for us all. While in their temporary isolation they were staying engaged with the world around them and they were contemplating and preparing for the world beyond their walls. Their whole lives had been a preparation for the next step. It wasn’t something new or foreboding, it was simply the next step. Each step is a part of a continual adventure in beauty and wonder and the eaglets were anticipating the experience that awaited them one more step away!

And then it happened!

At 11:08 last Thursday morning Prop stepped boldly into the unknown! We could see it in her eyes. This time there was no timid hesitation in that initial wingbeat. This time there was power and determination showering like a monsoon from her wings! She launched skyward and onward to the cheers of about 38 people seated on benches and folding chairs below.

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Cameras were clicking in a triumphant chorus of admiration – until she missed her first landing attempt. (Eaglets have no way of knowing that a twig-sized branch cannot support a 10 pound bird, but they soon learn that truth.) Quickly regaining her composure she righted herself and headed towards the more promising limbs of a large sycamore tree.

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We watched as she lowered her legs and prepared for her very first landing! We watched as she flew into the tree’s upper branches! We watched as she grabbed for the limb with entirely too much momentum and missed her intended perch! We watched as she impacted the tree trunk with a resounding thud. The cheers stopped, replaced by shocked gasps. Down she fell bouncing from limb to limb like an arcade pinball, finally emerging below the lowest limb and sliding across the concrete sidewalk on her chest. There she came to rest in the grass. Prop and her human witnesses were all glad that the fall was over and that she at least was standing upright.

A gentle rain began to fall. Some in the crowd of onlookers were crying now. Others were pressing forward to see. I reassured them all that birds have a wonderful ability called a stun reflex. Upon impact they go limp which protects them (somewhat) from harm. Much like a drunken driver in a car accident might emerge unharmed, we needed to give Prop time and space.

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As we waited I tried to evaluate her condition after her nasty fall. There was no visible bleeding and she was able to stand but she wasn’t moving. It usually takes several minutes for a stunned bird to recover their senses though. She was only twenty feet away and she was beautiful. It wasn’t until I heard cameras clicking that I remembered that my own camera was in my hand so I started snapping pictures of her head to look more closely for any signs of trauma.

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She looked remarkably well, considering her recent ordeal. Any internal/skeletal injuries would only become apparent as she moved and now, 5 minutes after her fall, all we could do is wait. I do remember telling the folks to notice the difference in the texture of her head feathers as compared to her body feathers. This was most likely a once in a lifetime opportunity to view an 85 day old, wild American bald eagle from a few yards away. I also remember asking someone to move so she would have a clear path to the green area and trees of the park when she was fully alert. And right after Prop flew, Orv and Willa each brought food to the nest. I had seen this behavior at previous fledges and I believe it is the parents’ attempt to keep the younger eaglet content in the nest while they deal with the novice flyer below. (In all honesty, I was so caught up in matters at hand, possibilities and contingencies, that I do not remember much more about those moments.)

Over the next 15 minutes Prop began to gradually regain focus. She took a bit of an off-balanced step forward. (That concerned me some because an eagles legs and feet are necessary for survival as they are used in perching, hunting and defense. But it could have been that she had been standing in an awkward position and as her senses returned she had simply adjusted her stance.) She slowly began to look around and evaluate her surroundings.

I had noticed a bit of red substance on her beak so I snapped a closer image and determined that it was likely meal scraps and not from an injury.

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After about 20 minutes Prop had a “Well that didn’t go like I planned it.” look on her face and decided that she had had enough of these funny looking gawkers and spread her beautiful wings and flew into the green area as her admires cheered again and Roger captured these images!

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Her flight covered well over one hundred feet and had peaked at about 12 feet in altitude as she passed over a small shelter! Unfortunately she missed another perch and found herself grounded once more. This led to about 30 minutes of pacing along the miniature ride-on railroad that winds throughout the western end of the park. This put her literally on the wrong side of the tracks as Interstate 75 flows just beyond the fence!

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The onlookers kept everyone clear of the greenspace so the eagle would not be disturbed. As she explored the ground she proved that her feet, balance and overall mobility seemed fine! Eventually she flew again and finally landed successfully on a tree limb causing more cheers! There she perched through a driving, late afternoon downpour, resting until nightfall.

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The next day Prop explored the park and worked on honing her landing skills. Her biggest challenges seem to be picking an appropriate limb and remembering to slow down to land. As Prop explored, Rudder looked pretty lonely in the nest.

Then Saturday came! Young Rudder had apparently learned a thing or two from watching its sister’s flight and plight. On June 20th, American Eagle Day, Rudder fledged from the nest at 7 AM, quite appropriately “by the dawn’s early light”! Carillon Park had not yet opened for the day and limited lighting made it impossible for those watching from the parking lot to photograph the event but Rudder headed south to the cemetery that abuts the park. There Rudder perched on a too-small branch for several hours before taking flight again. Eagle watcher, Jack Louden, captured this image of Rudder.

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So both eaglets have successfully launched and Orv and Willa have their talons full. They will watch over and provide food for their youngsters until they learn how to hunt for themselves. As we all know,  babies can be very vocal when they are lonely or hungry.

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The fledge from the nest is arguably the most dangerous act of a young eagle’s life. There are so many things that can go wrong but to stay within the confines of their nest forever defeats their purpose for living. I have always thought that stepping over the rim of the nest and seeing that long drop below would be daunting. But I noticed something that applies to both eaglets and post-Covid humans. When stepping out into the unknown, the eaglet doesn’t look down. They look up! Maybe that is where we all can find the courage to soar.

Published in: on June 23, 2020 at 10:33 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s About Time

Time is a funny thing. They say that time moves at a constant speed but anticipation of an upcoming event seems to slow time to a crawl while looking back we are often amazed at how the years have sped by.

Each day gives us another 24 hours (or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds) to use profitably or wastefully. Time can be initial as in “That’s the first time”. Time can be repetitive as in “Time and time again”. Or time can be final as in “That’s the last time!”

Every time I think of time like this, I realize that I must have too much time on my hands.

Well now is the time to let you all know that Orv and Willa’s eaglets have names! Carillon Historical Park has named their resident youngsters Prop and Rudder! In keeping with their connection to the Wright Brothers National Museum which houses the original 1905 Wright Flyer III and is directly below the Orv and Willa’s nest, the new names refer to parts of an airplane. Prop and Rudder join their previous siblings (Soar and Flyer in 2018 and Aero and Prairie in 2019) in carrying on the intelligence, determination and innovative mindset that allowed the Wright brothers to make history 117 years ago.

It is also time for fledging! Both Prop and Rudder look healthy and ready! Today I caught them each trying to convince the other to go first!

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But that first step is a doozey! Rudder peered confidently out of the aerie with a look of bravery and daring (while safely grounded in the nest).

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And Prop’s massive wings were proudly displayed for all to see that flight was possible, just not yet.

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This time things are a bit different for all of us as life slowly returns from Covid19 restrictions. Just yesterday Carillon Park announced its reopening scheduled for June 15th, right in the heart of the fledging window! So now the eaglets are getting a little air above the nest as they build muscle strength and coordination in preparation for fledging. Every time one mounts the rim of their Hillside Condo and leans into the wind those watching from outside the park aim our cameras to capture the moment but then the eaglet jumps back into the nest and snickers at us. It is a story as old as time itself.

Now, I know that God’s timing is always perfect, but still I grow impatient as I watch and wait. Every year at this time I share a poem I wrote way back in 2011 when Jim and Cindy’s first two eaglets were about to fledge from Eastwood’s Treetop Palace. If you have ever watched an eagle’s nest awaiting the big moment you will know these feelings well. And when the eaglets finally lift into the sky you have quietly muttered, “It’s about time!”

Two Little Eaglets

 

Two little eaglets

Way up in the tree.

Two little eaglets,

Looking down at me.

You sit there in your aerie

Staring at the sky,

And every time you flap your wings

My heart lets out a sigh.

Silly little eaglets

Hovering o’er the nest,

Do you even know that you can fly?

Your wings will stand the test.

Do you care that I’m waiting here

To see you soaring high?

I’m tethered to the earth below

But you, you own the sky!

If I were an eaglet

And could do what you can do,

Without a moment’s hesitation

I would launch into the blue.

But wait!  One’s perched upon the edge!

It leans into the breeze!

It spreads its wings! Then hops back down.

You’re such a little tease.

I know that you are old enough

Your wings are sure and strong,

Dancing high across the sky

Is where eagles belong.

You’re made for inspiration.

You can make the mute heart sing

Rejoicing in your majesty

Borne on outstretched wing.

“Why don’t you fly?” I ask out loud.

“When will you learn to soar?

I know that you are ready!

What are you waiting for?”

 

Then deep within my spirit,

The eaglets speak somehow.

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

When we hear God whisper, ‘Now!’”

 

 

 

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Bigger Picture

Isn’t it strange how small our worlds have become?

Most of us have spent the last several weeks isolated within the walls of our houses, separated from friends, family and our usual routines. If you think about it, there are periods of sudden isolation in all of our lives but those periods are mostly internal isolation caused by an unexpected diagnosis, a sudden job loss, a phone call telling us of the tragic loss of a loved one or some other shocking event. Upon the news we withdraw into ourselves as we process the pain and the changes that suddenly lie in our paths. But, after the initial shock fades our first step to recovery is to reach out to others to share our grief, seek advice and prayer, and to find comfort beneath the foreboding storm clouds of despair.

But this storm is different and we are all eager for it to pass.

Who would have imagined that a microscopic virus could impact us so? Incomes were stymied. Vacation plans were scuttled. Jobs were lost. Access to food and supplies were limited.  Home mortgages were threatened. Retirement accounts plummeted. Families were severed. The list of tragic consequences goes on and on. (We often hear the old adage that claims the only sure things in life is death and taxes, but even tax deadlines and funerals had to be postponed!) And this is not the reality for just you and me and our neighbors but for our state, our country and nations around the globe! Now we are told that the “new normal” will not seem normal at all as social distancing requirements will remain and every aspect of our lives from dining and shopping to education and worship will take on new forms and restrictions. And all because of a microscopic virus.

That is the big picture of our current reality.

But there is a bigger picture!

Outside of our human concerns as important as they are, the world around us ticks on without missing a beat. The sun illuminates our days and the moon reflectively oversees our nights. The seasons change and life in the wild progresses. Like a silent testimony of our true place in Creation, nature reminds us that human ills and concerns are rather small in the grand scheme of things. The struggle may not feel small to us but our big picture is dwarfed by the bigger picture of God’s love and provision. He paints the morning skies with promise and the midnight heavens with hope. We need that reassurance in our lives, perhaps now more than ever.

As the earth continues its rotation our eaglets are growing. Each day the change is amazing! Here is an image of our eaglets at 6 weeks of age.

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Here is what they looked like at 7 weeks.

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And here is what one looked like today, only 8 days later!

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My how fast they have grown!

Mom and Dad have been extremely busy meeting the eaglets nutritional needs and this image of Willa landing in the nest shows how crowded it will become as the youngsters start exercising those growing wings.

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But, as soon as Willa lands, Orv leaves on yet another grocery run.

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Now, I often mention how Orv and Willa have voluntarily become urban eagles by nesting in Carillon Historical Park where park patrons can view the eagles’ adventures up close. Even though the park is currently closed due to virus restrictions the close up viewing can still be found. The Great Miami River flows just outside of the park and it is there that Orv and Willa usually go for groceries.

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Photographers and eagle watchers can often be spotted standing 6 feet apart, near the bikeway that follows the top of the river levee. Sometimes the eagles pass high overhead but not always. There are times when the eagles pass just over the bikeway and the adjacent Carillon Boulevard resulting in up close encounters like this!

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How is that for close?

And the action can be quite frequent at times during nesting season when the nursery is full and demands are high. And it isn’t just food they are harvesting. Nests are in constant need of repair and Willa can outshine the brawniest lumberjack!

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But some other challenges remain, as do intentional challengers. There are almost daily confrontations with area red-tailed hawks. These skirmishes result in aerial backflips as the eagles present their talons to the approaching threat.

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Unsurprisingly and understandably, this approach seems to work quite well.

Another challenge is the torrential downpours that can go on for hours or even days. Although the soaking rain provides the nest-bound eaglets with a refreshing drink or two, waterlogged feathers are heavy and uncomfortable. Properly preened and oiled feathers have a natural ability to shed water but sometimes the rain is just too much and the sunshine seems so far away.

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When the sun finally returns and the feathers dry out, it can be a reason to sing a song of joy and gratitude.

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But the primary duty of any parent is the care and nurturing of their offspring. Orv and Willa are wonderful parents and demonstrate a sacrificial devotion that is inspiring. Nest to river, river to nest, the process repeats itself throughout the daylight hours. Squirrels, ducks, turtles and an abundance of fish are escorted back to the hungry eaglets.

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But there is one greater devotion that guides the lives and actions of our bald eagles. A devotion that will last not just for an annual nesting season, but for a lifetime! It is Orv and Willa’s mutual devotion to one another. Pair-bonded eagles find the time, make the time, to escape from the rigorous demands of childrearing long enough to sneak off together and dance!

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Even high in the cloudiest of skies the strength of their bond shine through. As they circle with one another you can feel the damp chill lessen and the heavy air grow lighter. The dance is a short one for now because one of the dancers must return to the needs of their young family, but that momentary break is full of promise and hope.

This daily opportunity to be a part of their story thrills me still. I am blessed to watch it unfold as are so many others standing 6 feet apart along the river levee. Whatever our “new normal” may be, this part of our reality will remain free and unfettered by the cares of this pandemic. The eagles are a constant reminder that joy, strength and unrestricted freedom can be ours when we lift our eyes and see the bigger picture.

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Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Well, Shut the Door!

That expression of sudden discovery is not as popular today as it once was. When I was a child I would sometimes poke fun at my day by purposely taking him too literally. If he was reading the newspaper and happen across some new information he might say, “Well shut the door! Listen to this…” and I would jump up and open and close the door. I could never tell whether to fear the frown on his face or to trust the twinkle in his eye at such moments, but I thought it was pretty funny at the time. (Yep, I was one of those kids.) But there were times when that expression escaped his lips with a little more emphasis and was followed by, “Were you born in a barn?” and demanded my immediate action of closing a door I had left open. (In all honesty, I sometimes felt like responding, “Gee Dad, I can’t quite remember my own birth. I think it was at a hospital and I think you were in a waiting room nearby but I bet Mom will remember where I was born.”  Now mind you, I never responded that way though because Dad always threatened to ‘box’ my ears when I got sassy and I didn’t want to ever discover what that meant!)

Now days “Shut the door.” is likely to by a government order to protect us from the current pandemic. Stay inside, wash your hands, don’t gather in groups, wear a mask and put on gloves… it seems like everyday there are new precautions put upon us all. Nonessential businesses are closed and unnecessary commuting is discouraged. If a business is open, we are often advised to stay in our cars. ATMs, drive up tellers, drive through fast-food services, drive up slow-food services, grocery pick up and many other activities are now automobile outings. I recently picked up two 80 pound bags of concrete mix that I had ordered online. I parked in the lot of the local Home Depot, called the number posted on a sign and in a few minutes a young woman appeared with the bags of concrete in a grocery cart. I asked her to allow me to hoist the bags into the car but she insisted that she could manage and since there was no way to help her and maintain a six-foot separation I reluctantly consented. The bags had to weigh well over half of her body weight but she was determined and eventually she succeeded! Well, shut the door!

Speaking of closed doors, Carillon Park is still closed as well along with both of its restaurants. That makes it very difficult to see what is happening in Orv and Willa’s nest. From the river levee just outside of the park the nest is viewable but leaves are emerging and even that opportunity is disappearing. No longer will you find groups of photographers huddled together. Most of us stop by for a while but try to park where we can watch from the confines of our cars, hop out when something happens and then retreat back into the car a few minutes later. My visits are much fewer and further between than in past years. Usually late March through mid May fieldtrip groups from regional schools tour the park and I talk eagles to hundreds of children, teachers and parents. But not this year.

So here is the latest on our Dayton eagles. (‘I so late’ in updating you all because isolation has slowed the process.)

Jim and Hope are feeding eaglets in Eastwood’s Treetop Palace and Carillon’s Orv and Willa are feeding eaglets as well!

Orv and Willa’s first eaglet of 2020 hatched on March 18th, well within the expected window of within a week of Valentines Day. By now the little ones are able to self-thermoregulate their own body temperatures and should be fairly mobile so we hope to see more of them soon. I am using the plurals because some have reported glimpsing two eaglets. I have only seen one (possibly one at a time) and so far no one has captured a decent still image of either eaglet.

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Mom and Dad are hyperalert to their surroundings which is to be expected once eaglets are present. My personal observations have not seen a lot of hunting activity that would indicate more than one eaglet but the babies are just entering their second and third months when hunger peaks. But yet we have seen a few successful hunts! Roger captured this one!

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Without a camera above the nest we are severely hindered in our assessments at this time. Usually our conclusions are based on long hours of observation noting things like feeding frequency, catching a glimpse or two of the eaglets through openings in the sticks of the nest or an eaglet’s head above the nest rim. Timing is everything. Over the course of several hours we might have just a few minutes of indicative behavior or sightings. The current restrictions have changed all that so there will be more waiting than seeing this year. However, we have seen some beautiful scenes as we have waited outside the park. The budding trees remind us that these current challenges will pass.

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Orv has noticed the buds of promise as well.

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And he reminds us all to keep looking up as we await that times when doors will open once more.

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These current restrictions can seem stifling at times and might bring despair or even depression to some. We all miss the interaction with loved ones. The longer the isolation goes on, the greater the challenge to our outlooks. Hope is essential to human survival. God has this. He is still in control. As we have been forced to slow down and change our way of doing things it is tempting to focus on the trials rather than the blessings that still surround us. If we keep looking up it will be easier for our hearts to soar upon the uplifting winds of promise and hope. It is my prayer that if you should find despair and depression on the doorstep of your heart, our mutual struggles and the eagles’ inspirational support might give you the strength and encouragement you need to, well, shut the door.

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Published in: on April 15, 2020 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Watching and Waiting Still

Every year for the past 12 years I have spent time watching and waiting near an eagle’s nest. Once incubation begins we know that 35 days of watching and waiting should bring new anticipation and excitement to our hearts. As I sat below Orv and Willa’s nest this week I have shared those expectations with both fellow eagle watchers and visitors who were unaware that wild bald eagles were nesting in Carillon Park.

On Wednesday I approached one group of visitors and asked if they had noticed the large, eagle’s nest above them. After a few moments of looking into polite but blank faces I realized that this group did not speak English and there seemed to be no interpreter with them. So I showed them an image of Willa on the screen of my camera and blank faces became illuminated with smiles, gazes quickly turned upward and several said, “Eee-gal!” (Immediately I became the one unable to understand the excited chatter.) I then shared a few more images before most of the group wandered on while a few lingered with mesmerized eyes fixed upon the nest. I did not understand their language but I completely understood their wonder! Nature breaks down barriers that separate people around the globe. (We live in a world where division and chaos are all too common.)

Nature brings heart-felt smiles that often find their way to our faces.

 

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See, there is likely a smile in your heart and on your face right now! Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it refreshing?

All seems well at the Carillon’s Treetop Mansion where Orv and Willa are just 11 days away from welcoming their first eaglet of 2020! It is statistically likely that they are incubating 2 eggs that should hatch out on March 25th or shortly thereafter. Both parents now have brood patches but Willa’s is more noticeable.

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A brood patch is caused by hormonal changes that releases feathers that insulate the adult eagle’s body from the cold. During incubation those same feathers hinder the flow of body heat from the parent to the egg so the loss of body feathers creates a patch of exposed bare skin for brooding.

Brooding is also beginning to take its toll on the cleanliness of the eagles’ feathers.

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Hours of sitting low in the nest shielding the precious eggs from the elements reduces the frequency of preening and bathing and also frays the tips of feather fibers. (Parenting is hard work and it shows.) The walls of the 2020 nest are taller and more dense that in the past 2 years. As they annually add sticks to the previous years’ nest it becomes more and more difficult to see the activity taking place within its walls. Eagle watchers must move a considerable distance away from the nest to catch a glimpse of the incubating adult.

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But it can be done. (The above image shows Willa in the nest, Orv in the tree, the old Walmart bag that has been a part of the back of the nest for over a year and the white, plastic bag that was recently snagged just outside the nest.)

The adults share incubation duties and when not in the nest they can be found getting a drink from The Great Miami River just outside of the park…

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or catching a bite to eat inside the park.

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Watching and waiting, a familiar theme and a lifetime endeavor, a chance to learn and to grow.

*******

Please allow me to share a deeply, personal observation from my heart.

The world is currently living under the threat of this Coronavirus and as schools are closed, massive events cancelled, stock markets acting like amusement park rides and health and incomes in turmoil, I have talked to many people living in fear of the unknown. So many are in a subdued panic hoarding everything from sanitizing wipes to even toilet paper.

It breaks my heart to see the foreboding fear that envelopes the lives of so many while I am at peace. We are unable to control the events around us. We can wash or hands, isolate ourselves from physical contact and take other precautions to avoid contamination, but anxiety and fear are not so easily sanitized. However, peace is possible in turmoil. For the last 46 years of my 6+ decades I have been watching and waiting with great expectation and wondrous peace. Through the heartaches and trials of the loss of my own child, my grandchild, two younger siblings, one older sibling, health and relational upheaval, financial challenges and so many other struggles; that peace has never once left my heart. In fact it has become more deep and abiding during those trials. 46 years ago I met Jesus. I had always known about Him but it was back in 1974 that I truly came to know Him! Like those tourist in the park, I was unable to understand so much of His love for it was a foreign language to me, but once I caught a glimpse of His grace my face was illuminated and my eyes turned heavenward as my heart cried, “Je-sus!” My heart breaks for those who are facing life’s trials without knowing the reality of His love for them, of His abiding peace. Nature refreshes and restores us so because it reflects God’s nature. The Bible proclaims that God’s unseen attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, can be clearly seen in what He has created. Every sunrise, every sunset, every bird’s song, every soaring eagle reflect the beauty, majesty and freedom that He longs for us to know through Jesus. God has provided the way home to His love through a cross and an empty grave. Everyday for 46 years I have been bathed in His joy and peace yet I ache when I see fear in the eyes of so many. Ironically, the word ‘corona’ means a halo of light. God loves us even as we are, soiled, frayed, tired and unclean and He desires us all to be surrounded by His pure light of love, joy and peace.

The time of incubation is about over and the anticipation is building. New life will soon emerge! Hope is on the horizon as we join with Willa in watching and waiting, still!

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Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eggsactly as Eggspected

Expectations are powerful things.

Expectations can be positive or negative but are almost always impactful. A dental appointment may fill our hearts and minds with images of long, sharp needles and the whirring of drills, expected fears that may or may not come to pass. An approaching vacation may be so full of expected joys and adventure that the days before its arrival seem to crawl by at a snail’s pace.

Expectations can be large or small like welcoming a new baby into the family or a hot pizza from your favorite pizzeria.

Positive or negative, large or small, expectations bombard our days and our dreams leaving an impact on the hopes and fears that color life in an explosion of possibilities! Even something as mundane as clicking on today’s blog carried expectations your way.

In our last few postings we talked of the anticipation of the nesting season and the expectations it carried. On our recent ‘ride along’ posting we considered specific and general expectations in both the mood and the behavior of our eagles, the visible smoke as it were, that would reveal the unseen fire. We knew we were approaching the Valentines Day holiday which falls in the center of the usual egg-laying window for southwestern Ohio’s nesting eagles. Expectations filled the air like fireworks on the fourth of July!

Last Wednesday, February 19th, things unfolded exactly as expected! For several days Willa had been spending time in the nest but that morning she was so low in the nest that she was hard to see, in fact impossible to see except from a few vantage points. As I was about to pull into the parking lot of Carillon Park I received a call stating that a meteorologist/reporter from our local NBC television station wanted to do an interview about the current egg-laying window. As we met near the nest I explained that I thought the first egg of 2020 may have arrived that very morning. As the reporter peppered me with questions she asked how we would know that there actually was an egg since we could not see the nest’s floor. I explained the ‘smoke and fire’ analogy ending with a statement that final confirmation would come if Orv came flying in and Willa would immediately leave as Orv then carefully settle down, low in the nest. As those words left my mouth Orv came into sight from west of the nest. The reporter rotated her camera and focused on Orv as he flew to the nest. She recorded Orv’s arrival. She recorded Willa’s immediate departure. She recorded Orv’s careful disappearance deep into the nest. Her first word was, “Wow!” quickly followed by, “How did you do that?” Then we both laughed. Sometimes events unfold beyond our wildest expectations!

Early that afternoon our local CBS television station arrived to record the breaking news. This anchor/reporter is a true eagle enthusiast and I always enjoy our times together. I had texted her that we had an egg and she responded, “I’ll be there at 1:15!” As we walked to the nest she expressed her excitement and filled her cameraman in on a bit of Orv and Willa’s history. (She could have interviewed herself.) We talked for quite some time before she ventured up to the roadway just outside the park to interview some of the local eagle watchers. The day was full of excitement and expectations.

As the news of the first egg’s arrival spread through the park and the entire Dayton community, expectations erupted in the minds and hearts of many. The visitors in the park, park volunteers and staff, the media and fellow eagle watchers were all caught up in the excitement and full of questions. Expectations will do that too.

So let’s get to some pictures! (You were expecting them after all.)

This is Orv in the nest incubating the egg or eggs. (We hope there are at least two by now. Two eggs per year is the most common count but only one and maybe three are fairly common totals as well. The white object near the upper, right corner of the image is a plastic bag that has become entangled above and just outside of the nest.)

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This image shows both Orv and Willa in the nest during a quick changing of the guard.

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This is the red-tailed hawks’ nest. It has been here for around a decade and is only a couple of hundred feet from where Orv and Willa set up housekeeping in 2018.

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The hawks are frequently attacking our eagles in an ongoing territorial dispute. They will swoop down from above the eagles, hitting their backs forcing the eagle to flip over in flight to present its talons to the aggressive hawk.

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When Orv 0r Willa return to the nest for their turn incubating the eggs they often carry a bit of nesting material back with them. The softer grasses are used to cushion the eggs as well as providing a bit more insulation to protect the precious eggs from the cold.

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All of these behaviors are expected manifestations of the nesting season.

During the course of this nesting season’s approach and the many questions and interviews a funny realization crossed my mind. From about five years of age and up, I have been fascinated with bald eagles. Over the decades I have read so many books and articles about them, I have written multiple school papers and reports on these majestic birds and I have even authored a book about Orv and Willa. That knowledge is now a part of my DNA and it is so natural to me that sometimes I lose conscious awareness of the fact that many folks don’t possess that knowledge. I recently asked a question on Facebook wondering if anyone would be interested in learning a bit more about bald eagles, and specifically Dayton’s eagles, via the presentation that I give to local school and civic groups. To my surprise and amazement over 100 people responded that they would be interested in learning more. Therefore I have scheduled an event that will be hosted by Carillon Park on Saturday, April 4th, to share that presentation. Park admission fees will apply but Orv and Willa will be out and about as they feed young eaglets.

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Each session can accommodate about 40 people and will be approximately an hour long which includes plenty of question and answer time. I will repeat the program throughout the day at 10 and 11 in the morning as well as 1, 2 and 3 in the afternoon. It will be a great opportunity to meet other eagle watchers and photographers. If you are interested in such an event, please join us. I would love to meet you and hear about your eagle adventures as well. I expect a good turn out and beautiful spring weather. While standing near the nest you may very likely look up to see this image passing directly overhead!

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If nobody shows, there will be proverbial egg on my face, but so far the year is passing eggsactly as eggspected!

Published in: on February 24, 2020 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Frigid Day of Promise

(Many readers of this blog are no longer able to venture out into the wild because of personal physical limitations. Others are unable to watch wild eagles because they live in an area to which the eagles have not yet returned. My awareness of these situations moves me to offer these cherished readers an opportunity to ride along with me as we search together for today’s adventure as it unfolds in the treetops. Therefor, grab your coat, hat and gloves and I will pick you up in a minute as we travel through a frigid day of promise.)

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The skies are heavily overcast and the thermometer reads 26° as I pull up and open the car door. You are rubbing your hands together as you slide into your seat. “Boy! It is freezing out there! They say the temperature will fall all day and the next few days will be even colder and snowy. I can feel it coming already.” you say as you pull on your gloves. We decide that our first stop will be for hot drinks at the nearest drive-through restaurant.

In five minutes we pull up to a drive-through’s menu board. You order your drink and I order a black coffee. The voice from the speaker quips, “Sir, all of our coffee is black.” We chuckle. At the window we pay for our drinks and explain to our drive-through comedian, “Sorry I specified black coffee, but I noticed that your hamburgers were beef and not actually ham so I wanted to be sure the coffee was black.” He is not amused.

As we drive on toward Carillon Park we discuss the fact that we are right in the heart of the annual egg laying window. Valentine’s Day is the day after tomorrow and Orv and Willa seem to be right on schedule this year. Wild animals might follow an annual schedule but there are often unexpected twists and turns along the way.

We turn onto Carillon Boulevard and slowly pass the park entrance searching the usual perches but seeing no eagles. “I wonder where they….” My statement is cut short as we see an eagle rapidly approaching us from across the river! I quickly pull the car to the side of the road and grab my camera! By the time I remove the lens cap and press the power button the eagle is passing over the roadway. It is Willa and she is carrying something in her talons. I snap a single image as she passes over the fence and into the park.

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We watch as she lands on a tree limb about 60 feet inside the park. There she perches and we see her search the area for any threat before beginning to dine on the pigeon she had been holding in her talons. It is hard not to appreciate Willa’s size in comparison to the unlucky pigeon. Although the majority of a bald eagle’s diet is fish, they are very opportunistic and if a pigeon is in the wrong place at the wrong time it might be invited to dinner.

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It seems to take forever for her to pluck feathers from her prey. We begin to wonder whether there will be anything left worth eating after the feathers are gone. Within 3 minutes of her arrival four other cars have paused to watch her dine. You comment, “Wow! She really draws a crowd.” And that is true. Why wouldn’t she? She is hard to miss with that 7′ wingspan and she has developed quite a following. Three of the cars belong to fellow eagle watchers who are now watching her through long lenses. The fourth car belongs to a gentleman that happened to be passing by and was curious about all the cameras. Willa has found a lot of followers over the last 25 months as folks have wondered what was so photo-worthy in the treetops around town.

Before long she has finished her squab snack and flies off toward the nest. As the other photographers climb into their cars and turn up their heaters we head into the park. The nest is where the action is so that is where we need to be as well. Once the eagles welcome 2020’s eggs they will always be in and near the nest until the eaglets fledge in late June.

As we pass through the lobby, Rachael greets us and smiles as she says, “I was just out there and they are both in the nest.”  That is just what we were hoping to hear from the friendly staff at Carillon. They keep tabs on the eagle’s activity almost as much as the eagle watchers do, at least while the eagles are in the park.

As we exit the back doors of the building and enter the park we can see Willa in the nest and Orv perched nearby. Our pace quickens as the air bites at our cheeks and anticipation pulls us forward. We are still a few hundred feet away as Orv passes overhead. He has harvested a stick from that tree and is carrying it back to the nest.

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As he flies he exhibits a behavior that is indicative of nesting season. Rather than flying directly to the nest he circles past it to announce his approach before arcing into the nest. Over the years I have surmised that this behavior may be a way to avoid startling the incubating bird in the nest so that the eggs go undamaged. We watch as Willa rises and together they place the stick exactly where she wants it to go.

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That is another behavior we have come to expect, and Orv has come to accept. Willa rules the roost. Although they share almost all duties associated with nesting, Willa has the last word on practically everything.

As we are watching the activity in the nest more eagle watchers begin to arrive. Greg approaches toting his massive lens and a tripod. Roy pops in from another direction ready to catch the action. And then Trish emerges bundled up in an attempt to stay warm in the cooling air. After I introduce you to the group we all turn our attention to the nest because Orv has stepped up onto the ‘front porch’ and appears to be ready to take flight. As he launches our camera shutters sing.

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He is as impressive as his mate! We watch as he circles to his right and disappears over the treelined hillside behind the nest. We hope that he will return shortly with more sticks. As we wait we try to watch Willa as she sits low in the nest. She is acting like she may be laying the first egg of the year at anytime but it still may be a few days away. Only she knows for sure. We are able to observe that the walls of the nest will be better able to conceal them this year as the structure seems to be somewhat taller and a bit more solid than in the past. As we discuss this challenge Orv is seen approaching through the trees. This time he holds not sticks in his talons but soft nesting material, grasses he has harvested from somewhere.

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This too is a good sign as soft material is used to line the nest floor to cushion and help insulate the eggs. It also helps to keep down odors and parasitical activity within the nest.

As we talk with the small group gathered there, four more women approach our viewing point. They are visitors to the park and had heard that the eagles were out and about so they had decided to brave the cold, damp air in hopes of catching a glimpse of our celebrated eagles. They had witnessed Orv’s most recent flight and were instantly enamored.  They have a few questions that need answers and although they are beginning to shiver a bit, they are wanting to see just one more flight before seeking warmth and comfort. Orv must have heard their request.

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At that moment he is off again! This time he leaves the nest with a vengeance! He is noticeably disturbed with his head down and a definite determination in his wingbeats. He leaves the nest, makes a sharp left turn and rushes to the west. A few hundred feet from the nest he intercepts an approaching red-tailed hawk. We watch as each bird flips and turns before the hawk changes its flight path to a direction away from the nest. Orv circles wide again and returns to a tree not far from the nest where he finds a spot from which he can watch for other threats as he catches his breath.

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As we watch Orv we can’t help but to be impressed once again. Orv is the guardian of his domain. This behavior too is a sign of the onset of nesting season as both red-tail and bald eagle become more aggressively territorial. As we look back to the nest we find Willa unperplexed and casually readjusting sticks in the wall of the nest.

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By now our coats have been zippered more tightly about our necks and our hoods have been raised. My camera shutter finger is a bit numb and our faces are red from the cold wind. We are a bit envious of the eagles’ 7,200 insulating feathers. We make our way back through the building and are once again greeted by some friendly volunteers and staff, all wanting an update on Orv and Willa’s activities. After a few minutes of warm conversations in the heated building we exit the front doors to see Orv once again on the move, carrying more material to the nest as he passes the iconic Carillon tower.

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Soon we are warm and toasty as we head home in my car. This pattern may repeat itself for several days before Willa actually lays the first egg of 2020 but eventually she will do just that. When she does, the crowd of admirers within the park will grow and another chapter of the adventure will begin. Every sign that we have seen today was a positive sign that that chapter will soon be written. And we have seen the page beginning to turn on a frigid day of promise.

Published in: on February 12, 2020 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Where There’s Smoke…

…there’s fire.

We have heard that colloquial adage for years but we all understand that it is seldom a reason to call 911. Fire is generally not the byproduct of smoke but rather smoke is a biproduct of fire. The statement is simply a creative way of saying that if we see evidence of an activity, emotion or other event, that event is likely happening.

That is how we deduce when eggs arrive in our local eagles’ nests. By carefully observing the actions of the adults (smoke) we can make an educated guess as to what is happening in the nest and out of view (fire). We are about 3 to 4 weeks from the first egg of 2020 but already the smoke is rising!

Both Willa and Orv are wearing their best outfits right now. Their pristine apparel will become stained and tattered through the rigors of nesting over the months ahead but currently whether flying, perching or even feeding, they are absolutely beautiful!

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Not only have we seen a few aggressive territorial scuffles between Orv, Willa and other local birds of prey, our resident eagles are spending more hours perched together as they strengthen their bond through mutual presence.

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Mating activity has been increasing as well. Willa is frequently the one initiating such action my landing near Orv after looping around him or strutting past him while they are on the ground.

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But then they do have their moments of apparent discord as well.

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In 13 days we will begin our annual ‘egg watch’, a process we have enjoyed for the past 11 years. Watching adult behavior was always difficult with Eastwood’s Jim and Cindy because their nest is 1/2 mile from any public area. Even strong binoculars and scopes offer limited help in judging nesting activity. Jim and Hope are currently spending a lot of time preparing their Treetop Palace so things look promising for the Eastwood eagles. Even from 1/2 mile away and through the crystalized snowfall the palace looks pretty impressive!

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Carillon Park’s Orv and Willa are much, much more easily observed as their nest is extremely public and they are extremely accustomed to human activity in the park. We are currently checking off box after box on the list of expected and anticipated activity. So what is the smoke for which we search? (I am glad you asked!) I have already alluded to two signs. As nesting time draws near the resident adults become more territorial, aggressively chasing off any potential threat to their success. Those potential threats usually come in the form of other eagles that happen to stray too close for comfort. (The red-tailed hawks are also exhibiting that behavior as their own nesting season will begin soon, and they are not at all intimidated by the eagle’s much larger size as they make their disapproval known!)

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Of course mating is an absolute must. We see that activity almost daily now and it is likely occurring multiple time each day, mostly without any witnesses. The females are not quite physically ready to reproduce but they are receptive. Other activities include increased time nest building which has also been observed, even from outside of the park.

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There are intermittent layers of soft material like river grasses, evergreen boughs, cornfield scraps and such built into the nest but before the eggs arrive we will see a more active carpeting of the nursery floor. That is where Willa will prepare a small divot to cushion and cradle the eggs and enhance the warmth of incubation. We will see Willa spend more time deep in the nest as she prepares to lay. But by far, the most promising and positive sign will be when Willa rises from the nest and departs as Orv immediately settles into her spot. That is smoke that cannot be denied! The only reason the male would take that action is for incubation duties. That is when we will begin the 35 day countdown to hatching. Willa will likely lay 2 eggs, a day or two apart and they will hatch in the order in which the were deposited in the nest, a day or two apart. Even the way the adults sit in the nest is a clue. The biggest challenge may be the nest itself. Eagles add to the previous year’s nest so the 2020 renovated nest may have walls too high or a floor to deep to allow much observation from the ground. If that proves to be the case, we will need to use our high powered lenses to be able to spot some gaps in the sticks of the nest wall through which we can (hopefully) see in-nest activities with better clarity.

Some eagle nests farther south than Ohio, where the nesting season began in November or December, have already suffered tragic losses. We are deeply saddened by those reports and offer our condolences. But those losses present a good opportunity to offer a bit  advice based on personal experience. When following the adventure of a wild eagle family whether online or in person, you cannot avoid becoming emotionally attached to both the adults and the juveniles. That attachment greatly enhances the joy of the experience. But please be aware of what I probably say too often, life in the wild is wild. Tragedy is just one injury, one fish hook, one tumble or one peck away. Please prepare your hearts for that possibility. I have too often shared the pain of this loss with others and it is easy to be hurt deeply by an unwanted turn of events. One other reminder and warning for those who follow a local nest: Please respect the eagles’ need for solitude. The success of the nesting season depends on the adults and their nesting sites remaining undisturbed. Just a few minutes of exposure to the elements can be fatal for the embryonic eaglet or for a newly hatched eaglet. Until they have developed the ability to self-thermoregulate their small bodies, they are extremely vulnerable to cold and must completely rely on Mom and Dad to keep them safe and warm. If your local nest is isolated in a field, along a river or anywhere where human activity is uncommon, your presence may be seen as a threat and encroaching upon an active nest is a violation of federal law. One of the three pillars of the Eastwood Eagle Watchers founding is to protect our local eagles and their nesting areas. As much as I love to tell their story and to educate folks about our eagles I am first and foremost their advocate. That is why I encourage the curious that if you want to view nesting activity up close, join me in Carillon Park where Orv and Willa view people as deer below them. I would personally encourage you to consider purchasing an annual membership so you can have unlimited visits to the nest throughout the February-through-July window of nesting activity. There you might have eagles passing 50 feet overhead or perched low in a tree. (And for me, after years of field observations, having heated restrooms nearby is a real plus as well!) Even without admission you can witness Orv and Willa hunting from the Great Miami River just outside the park or gathering sticks and grass. During nesting season their presence is all but guaranteed. I’ll even have them keep an eye out for you!

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One more note before I close, if you want to learn more about our eagles or meet me in person to answer any questions you may have, I will be speaking at a public event on Tuesday, January 28th at the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield. It will start at 1PM in the Festival Green Clubhouse on their campus. I will also be at the Woodbourne Library in Centerville on the afternoon of Monday, February 10th from 1:00 to 3:00.

As the 2020 nesting season dawns things are really heating up. Things will be smokin’ hot soon and where there’s smoke…

Published in: on January 19, 2020 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hush, Rest and Renewal

Amazing, isn’t it?

As the winter solstice approaches the hushed silence is deafening. Can you hear it? It is there behind the clashing clamor of the holiday shopping frenzy, almost secreting itself just beyond the clatter of Christmas preparations. Hiding amid the glaring lights and the soon forgotten wrappings and trappings of hurried celebrations, it quietly whispers to be heard, to be noticed, to be found by those who long for the security and peace it carries in its arms. How I hope and pray that you do not miss its sweet song of restoration and peace. May you find the time, may you make the time, to slow down and bask in the warmth of the promise of renewal. God knows we need it, today more than ever.

All of nature senses its presence and embraces its approach. The naked arms of lofty trees reach skyward, open in a welcoming embrace. The meadows and prairies are barren and tranquil in deep respect for this solemn season of stillness. Even the ever-flowing rivers appear more calm and peaceful as it approaches. The bear in her den sleeps safely in its annual visit, awaiting the new life that will surround her in springtime. All wildlife rejoices in this much needed time of rest. The entire region seems cozy and reposed under a soft, heavy blanket of snow. The shortest day of the year. That seems so appropriate for a time of less activity and more hush, rest and renewal. What a wonderous time when all is calm and all is bright. It is the calmness of peace and the brightness of hope that fills the long nights of promise.

Even our majestic eagles are embracing its coming. They are spending so much more time together as the crescendo of stillness builds.

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Finding peace in the presence of one another.

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Strengthening bonds that will last throughout their remaining lifetimes. Resting, trusting and enjoying the tranquility of short wintery days and long wintery nights. Parting only when necessary.

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Separating only long enough to hunt and to scout their territory for any threat to their solitude.

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Flying what are now well known paths above the rivers… their rivers.

As we watch their adventure unfolding in the skies above us we are drawn into the story, captured by the events as they transpire around us and sometimes directly above us.

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The barren limbs are revealing their own secrets as reports of newly discovered nests trickle in from areas throughout southwestern Ohio. I smile at every report because my decades of longing to see wild eagles in our skies once more is being met in ways that surpass my wildest dreams.

More nests equals more  eagles! Juveniles, immatures, sub-adults and adult bald eagles are roaming the rivers, some just to socialize and hunt while others seek a nesting site of their own. One extremely large (likely) female has been lingering in the area.

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The Wegerzyn Garden Center, a Five Rive Metro Parks facility near the north edge of town, has been a beehive of activity for wandering eagles over the last few weeks. More than a dozen tornadoes passed through the area last Memorial Day and snapped off the tops of hundreds of trees around Dayton creating perfect riverside perches for eagles. And I anticipate that this winter will bring many more eagles through the area. All of this activity has kept Orv’s head spinning as he watches for any intruders.

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But even with all the needed scouting scrutiny, he always manages to find his way home where nest preparations continue in their sycamore tree, high above Wright Hall and the original 1905 Wright Flyer III.

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There, visitors to Carillon Historical Park can watch the activity overhead without adding stress to the eagle’s lives. There the adventure is based. There the story will unfold as new eggs arrive in mid February. There we will gather and share the adventure together and greet hundreds of people who share our love and admiration or perhaps unexpectedly stumble upon the story and become captured by its mesmerizing majesty. There Orv and Willa will perch together, watch the watchers and perhaps share a laugh or two!

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Wherever you are as this winter reveals its secrets, may you find the days filled with happy encounters with friends and family and overflowing with love and joy. And as the new year begins may you be amazingly refreshed by this period of hush, rest and renewal.

Published in: on December 17, 2019 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment