A Door and Window Scenario

Everyone has heard the old adage that says, “When God closes a door He opens a window.” Well a door closed this week as I was notified that our eagle-cam project has been permanently discontinued. Although our setup was not as advanced as many of the nest cameras out there, it was our nest and we will miss being able to go online to see how the aerie has weathered a storm or to watch the comings and goings of Jim and Cindy and their family. We are grateful for all of our partners in that project during the few years that the cameras were running and I personally will miss hearing from the teachers and students of the classrooms that followed the cams as part of their science lessons.

Now the window part.

The annual “window of opportunity” for egg-laying has opened! In each of the last 5 years Cindy has laid the first egg of the season between the 15th and 17th of February so we are expecting her to do the same this year, although it would not surprise me if the warm winter weather delays the process by a day or two. But all is ready. The nest has been prepared and the nursery bowl carpeted. As you have seen in our recent posts, Jim and Cindy have been spending much of their time together which is a necessary prelude to egg-laying.

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Just after a “kiss”.

Since many of our new blog followers may be heading into their first nesting season let me recap the basics. Eagles typically lay 1 to 3 eggs per year with the average being 2. The eggs arrive a day or two apart and will hatch in that same order after each egg has been incubated for around 35 days. During that time either Mom or Dad will be in the nest with the other perched nearby, standing guard, or off on a very short hunting trip. Often, the non-incubating adult will bring food back to its mate in the nest.

And so we wait in anticipation of the beginning of a 35-day waiting period before we wait around another 84 days to see the eaglets fledge. There seems to be a lot of waiting in these door and window scenarios.

Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Together

Together they labor

stick by stick.

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Minute by minute

they add to their home.

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Hour by hour

they prepare for the future.

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Day by day

their palace grows

as does their bond to one another.

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Together the work goes on.

Together each new challenge is met.

Together they share life’s burdens and insure success.

Devotion grows as time is spent side by side; laboring, preparing, dreaming and simply being

together.

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Published in: on January 31, 2016 at 4:47 am  Comments (10)  

Now Is The Time!

Old Man Winter’s icy fingers have a firm grip on the Miami Valley of Ohio. He took a while to find us but now that he is here he is intent on making his presence known in a big way! December in Dayton was warmer than average but as the new year dawned we returned to more normal temperatures and we began to see our eagles return to their annual winter behavior.

Over the years I have written about the advantages and disadvantages of eagle watching in the frigid weather. Well, actually there is only one disadvantage…the frigid weather! But the advantages are many, like the absence of leaves making the perched eagles more visible. The singular, biggest advantage is predictability. As the weather cooled we once again saw Jim and Cindy begin to fish the local rivers more frequently, bringing them out of the well field and into more public spaces. The cooler air temperatures force the cold-blooded fish in the local lakes to go deeper for warmth thus making surface fishing more difficult. And now that the lakes have frozen over, the door to Jim and Cindy’s pantry is locked shut for a few weeks. But the icy lake surface is where our pair prefer to mate so it’s not all bad news. The surface of Eastwood Lake seemed to have frozen overnight. Here is an image of the frigid lake with the downtown skyline in the distance. That is where the eagles will be fishing now.

On Frozen Pond

On Frozen Pond

The rivers of the area are just a few feet deep in most places and the surface of the moving water freezes less easily than the calm lake waters. Another advantage is the turbulence provided by the inflow of one river into another. On the north edge of our downtown, the Stillwater River and the Mad River dump into the Great Miami about half a mile apart, plus there is a low dam on the Great Miami right in the middle of that action adding enough turbulence to turbulence to break up any surface ice that may form. As I have mentioned, we still only have two nesting adults within the city of Dayton making predictability a big advantage for eagle watchers. Jim and Cindy are truly urban eagles and therefore face different challenges than their more rural relatives.

In the winter our eagles like to hang out in a small grove of large trees along this very stretch of river. In the following image you can see those trees to the left and Interstate 75 to the right with the Great Miami barely visible between the high levees.

Winter's perch.

Winter’s perch.

I do not like them being so close to the freeway but that is what it is. They will often fly upriver, passing just 20 feet or so above the speeding semis!

This next image was taken from the same spot looking southwest and shows just how close this area is to the edge of our central business district. The Mad River is just to the left of this view.

Looking southwest.

Looking southwest.

Then one more picture, again from that same spot, looking at the Great Miami to the north. You can see the busy highway bridge in the foreground. The arched bridge in the distance is the Helena Street Bridge over the Stillwater River and between the two bridges you can see the water flowing over the low river dam that I mentioned earlier.

Looking north.

Looking north.

But the active water makes this the place to be in the wintertime, especially if you are a Bald Eagle or an eagle watcher. Jim and Cindy know that other passing eagles will find this area too so they stand guard over the place to discourage poachers. Knowing where they will be makes it able for the eagle watcher to be there first. Monday morning was bitter with brisk winds and single digit temperatures, but the frigid air was crystal clear when I arrived at that small grove of trees. I had only been there a short time when Jim flew in and landed nearby.

Here's Jimmy!

Here’s Jimmy!

The stiff wind buffeted his feathers making him look rather Harpy-like at times.

Jimmy Buffet(ed)

Jimmy Buffet(ed)

He was obviously on patrol as he searched the skies for intruders. He reminded me of a traffic cop sitting along the highway with an A.P.B. for a “dark-colored, two-winged vehicle with a white hood and white rear end”. Every bird (or plane) that passed by was carefully scrutinized.

Even the parking lot full of long-necked vehicles with Canadian plates at the water’s edge below was inspected. Although they were guilty of excessive honking, he let them go.

Checking out the noisy geese below.

Checking out the noisy geese below.

After about 30 minutes he spotted 2 suspect vehicles approaching from the west. I could not see them but Jim’s actions told the story. He alerted, leapt to a lower limb, lowered his head and stared intensely at the approaching suspects.

Watching approaching intruders.

Watching approaching intruders.

He remained in this agitated state for about a minute as he watched the pair draw nearer. Then, with siren blaring he took to the skies and pursued the suspect vehicles, escorting them well beyond the Helena Street bridge before returning to his perch.

Officer Jim sat there for another 30 minutes before he finally flew off, most likely in the direction of a local doughnut shop.

Ready to launch.

Ready to launch.

In less than a month there will be eggs in the nest and Jim and Cindy will be once again anchored to the well field. If you are in the area and want to see an eagle in the wild, this is the place to be and now is the time!

Published in: on January 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm  Comments (10)  

Sorrow and Joy

You would think that those two emotions could never exist together for in so many ways they appear to be polar opposites, but in a deeper sense they are in many ways totally dependent upon each other.

As this new year began I found myself contemplating the remarkable recovery in the eagle population here in the United States of America and elsewhere. Many of the newer followers of this blog may be unaware of the Bald Eagle’s recent struggle for survival so allow me to provide a brief recap. Bald Eagles are exclusively native to North America and their population had plummeted to a point where they were in danger of being lost forever. Decades of legislation and hard work slowly began to turn the tide and Bald Eagle nests are now reappearing across the continent.

The few remaining nests in my state of Ohio dotted the southern coast of Lake Erie. In my home city of Dayton the last eagle’s nest was abandoned in 1938. As a young child I would lie in the grass on summer days and search the sky, hoping to glimpse a passing eagle. Only once was my searching rewarded. Sorrow turned instantly to joy! I hopped on my bike and followed it for about a mile before I lost sight of it.

Then in 2008 they returned to Dayton! Now, more than 5 decades after I began searching the skies for majestic wings, I can find them almost every day! That is a big part of why we formed the Eastwood Eagle Watchers group and started this blog. Even as Bald Eagles become a more common sight, we cannot lose the appreciation of their presence and we dare not lose the message of their struggle.

Our local eagles, Jim and Cindy, are a bit behind their usual schedule this year probably due to the warm December weather. The lakes are still clear of ice so the flowing river waters have not seen the anticipated uptick in activity. But those rivers are far from eagleless. We have seen the annual parade of nomadic youngsters along the levees, and so have Jim and Cindy. Roger recently captured this image of our pair as they patrolled the Great Miami River in north Dayton.

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On January 4th I found this wanderer, that appears to be in her 5th year, on the Great Miami just south of town.

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(There is a chance that this is Pride, Jim and Cindy’s lone surviving 2011 eaglet. In late December I had seen her near the nest tree and she was not being harassed by our resident adults.)

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That same day I found a first-year juvie, a second-year juvie and two older eagles soaring low over a field a bit farther north. I could not get all four in the same frame but you’ll get the idea.

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One of these birds may have been the young adult I had spotted 5 miles down river a few hours earlier.

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One youngster flew directly over my car’s open sunroof! I was able to aim my camera straight up and snap this image. (Some days have more joy than others.)

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Speaking of joy and sorrow, the eagle community has lost yet another eagle. We want to pay our respects to HE, the young female of the Norfolk, Virginia nest. Like her mother’s death a few years ago, Ozzie’s death in southwest Florida last year, the Decorah nest’s losses and so many more, HE illustrated how fragile life in the wild can be. Manmade inventions add to the dangers that imperil wildlife and create new challenges for their survival. Life in the wild is wild.

As a young boy on a grassy hillside I had no idea what I was asking for as I searched the skies with open eyes and an open  heart. If it wasn’t for the depths of sorrow we would not appreciate the heights of joy. It is the heights of joy that increases the depths of sorrow’s pain. Together they add excitement and wonder to life and life would be so mundane without either.

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(Two final necessary traffic reminders for our local followers:
1.The Harshman Road bridge over The Mad River at the entrance to Eastwood is being replaced. Traffic will be maintained throughout the construction project but some turns in and out of the lake will be restricted.
2. The Webster Street bridge over The Mad River will be closed for 500+ days starting next week as it too is being replaced. This is the bridge near Deeds Point MetroPark where the eagles fish from The Great Miami in the winter.)

Published in: on January 8, 2016 at 7:19 pm  Comments (15)  

Christmas Boughs

It has been a warm December. Last weekend we broke a record high that was set 114 years ago. Apparently it was warm then too.

But the warmer days allow for more outdoor exploration in Jim and Cindy’s domain. Although I have spotted our love birds working on the aerie and occasionally passing by, most images have been like this one captured on a cloudy, rainy day at Eastwood Lake.

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(It still made me smile though.)

Other things have also brought a smile to my face. My brother who lives in nearby Springfield, Ohio reports that a first year juvenile is hanging out on a body of water near his place. The hook of its beak tilts slightly to the right and he first saw it a few days after the release of the juvie that I wrote about in our last posting! Remember this little guy?

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(Hence my smile.)

Other encounters with Eastwood’s Whitetail bucks…

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and Merlins…

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and Red-Tailed Hawks…

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have also brought smiles.

As I sit and watch I cannot stop myself from singing along with the Christmas carols on the radio. Like an unexpected visit with old friends, they too make me smile. Although the weather doesn’t feel much like Christmas, a recent playing of Deck the Halls made me consider the lovely boughs just outside my window and inspired me to pen this simple, little, prayerful Christmas poem.

 

Christmas Boughs

Some boughs bear berries, some boughs bear cones,

Some boughs are barren and seem so alone.

But the boughs I love most in the harsh winter weather

Are the boughs that are bearing a bundle of feathers!

-O-

Whether tiny and hopping

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Or larger and still

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The joy that they carry repels winter’s chill.

-O-

To my heart those feathers, no matter what size,

Show freedom and grace as they mount to the sky.

For though I am tethered, for now, to this sod,

Someday I’ll go soaring to meet with my God!

-O-

As we think on that manger and the babe lying there

Let us listen for sounds in that holy night’s air.

While awed shepherds in silence gaze on God’s love

From the rafters descends the soft coo of a dove.

-O-

As you gather with family near a gift-laden tree

Remember God’s gift that can set the soul free.

May you sense His sweet presence as friends come together

And may you smile when finding a bough bearing feathers.

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From all of us here to all of you there,

Merry Christmas!

Published in: on December 18, 2015 at 12:37 am  Comments (16)  

Feathers, Flight and Freedom

It has been an exciting few days and I would love to tell you all about it, but this one will take some time.

You see, as the Bald Eagle population continues to recover and eagles reclaim land that has been eagleless for decades, there are bound to be more unfortunate encounters between eagles and objects, automobiles and troubled human beings. Those encounters may leave an eagle in need of some life-saving care. When those occasions arrive the sick or injured bird is often rescued by a caring individual and taken to a local facility dedicated to the restoration and rehabilitation of injured wildlife. There are many of these facilities across the nation. Most are quite small and may serve only as a triage center for severely injured birds. Others are somewhat larger and able to provide more aggressive emergency medical care and even long term rehabilitation. A very few are even larger facilities with extensive grounds, educational arms and a mission to promote wildlife conservation to everyday Americans.

But they all have one thing in common. They are staffed with very dedicated people, many of whom are volunteers. It is to these kind-hearted vessels of restoration across our country that I dedicate this posting.

A couple of postings ago I mentioned a man named Mike who had rescued a first-year juvenile Bald Eagle in the Dayton area. This is the rest of the story as I understand it.

The 8-month old bird was in dire straits. It was severely malnourished and very weak. While hiking not far from his home Mike discovered the youngster on the ground near an abandoned building. He phoned his wife and before long the two of them had recovered the bird with the use of a blanket. With the precious bundle safely inside a cardboard box they made their way to The Glen Helen Raptor Center in nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio. There the bird was examined and found to be near starvation, dehydrated and suffering from a few other issues. The youngster also has a very slight, right tilt to the descending hook of its upper beak. [Some eagles have severely crossed beaks where the hook of the upper beak overhangs the side of the lower beak making feeding extremely difficult.] The “little” eagle would spend the better part of the next two months in the care of the GHRC staff. Good medical care, a lot of fish and even more TLC began to make a big difference in this once failing and fragile life. (Did I mention a LOT of fish?)

That brings us to last week when I received an email from the raptor center saying that the little guy was ready for release! They were wanting a recommendation for a possible release site. Young eagles need companionship and education to hone their social and hunting skills. It was possible that this particular eagle was not so hot in the hunting department which possibly led to its nutritional issues. (One thing young eagles do not need in human contact and all of the hazards that our inventions can bring. Because they are so social it is easy for eagles to become “imprinted” by human contact. They are opportunistic by nature and can easily become dependent on human provisions. Imprinted birds are often doomed birds because they will eventually approach an non-eagle-friendly person or simply starve. Eagle rehabilitation people take great care in limiting interaction with their patients, some use eagle puppets and other measures to avoid the dangers of the animal becoming too accustomed to human beings.) Since they do not know from what nest this eagle had fledged their desire was to return the bird to an area somewhat near to where it had been found. There are two parks within Montgomery County that have had recent eagle activity, Englewood and Eastwood. But the main Lake at Englewood has dried up the eagles there have moved on. That left Eastwood Lake and Jim and Cindy. Over the years our eagles have been very tolerant of passing juveniles when there are no eggs or eaglets in the nest so I recommended we release him there. Due to a predicted change in the weather to more seasonal temperatures and precipitation, we decide to release the juvenile on Monday afternoon at 2.

(At this point in the story let’s have a little fun! Many of you, most likely most of you, have never taken part in an eagle release and unfortunately probably never will. So let’s change that right now! As you read the rest of this blog put yourself in the story. Grab your jacket and let’s experience the joy of feathers, flight and freedom together!)

It is Monday morning and the sun is shining brightly as we make our way to Eastwood Lake! What a beautiful day for an eagle release! We know that it is still several hours until the 2 o’clock release time but who can sit at home on a day like this? We feel like kids on Christmas morning as the anticipation builds! We run over a mental checklist in our minds as we drive towards the park: We have notified the MetroPark office of our plans. We have confirmed that all systems are go at the raptor center. We have notified the rest of the Eastwood Eagle Watchers group so we can document the activity for everyone. We notified Mike that the eagle he rescued is ready to go. We have our cameras and binoculars. Shoes! Where’s my shoes? I forgot to put on shoes.-OK that last part was just silly. I will have to delete that silliness later.- We are almost at the entrance to the park when our car pulls into McDonald’s for coffee, almost out of habit. Proper nourishment is essential!

As we enter the Eastwood Lake area day has broken and the shroud of night has lifted. A lone buck ambles slowly across the entrance road and heads into the wood to rest for the day. The fresh air flowing into the car through the open windows is invigorating and comforting at the same time. We are struck by the silent calm of the early morning. Even the robins are quiet. As we drive down the road we search the treetops hoping to spot Jim or Cindy on their morning patrol. The branches are bare of leaves and eagles. “How will they react to this juvenile?” we wonder. We drive slowly to the back corner of the lake where a lone Great Blue Heron stands motionless, ankle-deep in the lagoon. The sunbeams cast long shadows across the placid water and we stop for a moment just to cherish the scene.

We drive back to the front of the park and stop the car, turn off the motor and open up our coffees. Aaaaah.

From here we can view Jim and Cindy working on the Treetop Palace 1/2 mile away. Just a stick or two for now but in a few weeks it will become their obsession! We spend the next several hours in conversation, observation and anticipation. You are wondering what to expect. “You know,” I explain, “some of the larger raptor facilities maintain their own hacking towers. They are large platforms on tall legs that are used to release rehabilitated eagles. Some are quite elaborate with wooden enclosures that allow the eagle to better acclimate to its surroundings before being released. The doors of the some enclosures can be opened remotely so the eagle has even less human exposure. These hacking towers are in remote locations, as far from people as possible. Other releases are not so impressive. Most groups simply remove the eagle from its transport crate, uncover its eyes and toss it into the air. Since young eagles sometimes struggle to get airborne from the ground, the use of an elevated platform, even if it is just a few feet high, will help.”

Before long our cups are empty and our bladders are full. As we walk to the restroom facility farther down the lake we notice how still the air is. (A little breeze would be a helpful thing for the freed bird.) We also note that the local residents are beginning to stir. A groundhog munches away on a hillside as if he has heard the weather forecast for more seasonal temperatures later in the week. The once silent robins are singing and chasing each other from tree to tree. The Canada Geese are “redecorating” the pavement in front of us and part like a honking Red Sea as we approach. Near the water’s edge a Belted Kingfisher scolds us for disturbing his concentration. We smile.

The hours quickly pass and it is 1:30! We see Roger’s familiar Jeep enter the park. Soon Lisa, Crystal and others arrive. We notice a group of four cars that have parked in the small lot 100 feet to the west and walk that way. We discover that this is Mike, his wife and a couple of his friends who have come to see the release. We complete a round or two of introductions and enjoy some pleasant conversation until we notice the vehicle from Glen Helen entering the park. Show time!

As Betty, Rebecca and Kyle emerge from the car, your eyes, like the eyes of the rest of those waiting, are drawn to the large, sheet-draped crate in the back. After another brief round of introductions Betty asks, “Have you seen the adults today?” We relate a little of the short nest-building sighting from earlier, then the conversation quickly turns. “Where should we do this?” The obvious answer is in the open lawn/meadow area in the middle of the park, farthest away from any traffic, with the lake on the north and The Mad River to the south. We hastily relocate to that area. Kyle and Rebecca carefully remove the large crate, still covered, from the back of the vehicle and place it on top of the large concrete picnic table nearby in hopes that even that slight elevation may help the youngster out. At this point the anticipation spreads like an epidemic as witnessed by the smiles on each face as we position ourselves behind, and well to the side of the veiled treasure chest before us. With cameras ready and hearts stopped the moment has arrived.

Kyle does the honors.

The sheet is whisked away. The box shakes from within. The top of a dark brown feathered head can be seen moving past the side vents and heading toward the wire door. The latch is raised, the door is pulled fully open and without a moment’s hesitation feathers, flight and freedom!

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One huge step followed by one long lunge!

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The lunge.

At one point his wingtips brush the blades of grass and his head is all but hidden between his dark, majestic wings. Even though the grass is short the blades move with the impact of the air beneath those massive wings.

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Lawn mower.

The camera shutters sing a triumphant hymn as a few more powerful flaps add a little altitude to his flight path and we cheer him on!

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Gaining altitude.

In just a few seconds he is 10 feet in the air and moving gracefully. He gains another 10 feet, banks left and then right and heads for a large tree in the center of the green space. There he lands on a suitable limb and looks back at us with gratitude and attitude. Our hearts begin beating again.

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Attitude of gratitude.

And there he stays looking quite pleased with himself and a little surprised. I look at you and your expression says it all. How many people ever get to witness something like this? What a privilege! What a blessing!

Slowly we move a bit closer to admire this wonder of Creation. The strength, power and grace in these young wings is simply breathtaking. As we watch from a respectable distance we join in the conversation around us. We are all amazed and grateful. The young eagle has done all the work of the last few moments but we are glad to have played a small part in it. “What now?” you ask. We don’t know. It is totally up to the that guy up in the tree. Wildlife is wild. It does what it does without asking for our consent. I have seen videos of some released adults that fly over the distant trees and on to parts unknown. The juvenile releases I have personally witnessed are pretty much like this one: a short flight followed by a long perch. This eagle was well fed before its release so the motivation of hunger is a day away. If it sees another eagle pass by it will likely join it for a little social interaction. It may be chased from its perch by a small murder of crows or an angry Red-Tailed Hawk. (Indeed the local Red-Tail passed over the tree shortly after the eagle’s arrival to the perch, so it is already aware of his presence here.) Adults don’t seem too agitated by protesting birds but juveniles are not so confident in their power and standing. Personally, knowing that all migrating birds have an internal GPS system, I believe that the uncaged juvies need time to reset the system and get their bearings.

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Regal eagle.

So there he sits and there we stand. Slowly the crowd begins to dwindle. A few park goers are drawn to the activity and each of them are amazed at the sheer size of the eagle. Each one wants to snap an image on their cell phone. Each one has questions. So many questions. There are people of different social and racial groups but they are all curious. Isn’t it interesting how nature brings people together.

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Always watching.

We stand there trying to capture every moment of this opportunity knowing that at any second he may spread his wings and end this encounter. We are also aware of the young eagle’s vulnerability as it sits low in this tree in a public park. Some animals can be nighttime threats to a young eagle but our greater concern is for the dangers of negative human intervention. How anyone can hurt one of these birds is beyond me and even though it is a federal offense to disturb them, it happens. A well meaning person may think this eagle in its uncommon perch is in need of assistance. And so we linger as shadows grow longer and darkness grows deeper.

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Pretty bird.

Just before nightfall as we get back into the car and begin the ride out of the park and we realize that we haven’t eaten since we arrived here this morning. We take one final look back at the juvenile still perched low in the tree and looking so alone. Will he be there in the morning? I don’t know about him but we will be back when the park reopens.

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Overnight perch.

Early the next morning we arrive to find the park gate already open. Even before we make the turn into the park we can see the distinctive silhouette on the same limb of that tree. We make a quick loop around the park and see no other eagles. When we arrive at the tree we find the early riser awake but fluffed up as protection from the damp air and looking more like a small-eyed owl than an eagle.

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Small-eyed owl?

Anticipation still hangs heavy in the dewy air. He will likely get hungry soon and Jim or Cindy may pass by anytime. This promises to be another exciting day. As we sit and watch it seems like the local wildlife is anticipating something too. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers land in the tree a few branches above the eagle as if to provide an appropriate drumroll for the event.

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Little drummergirl.

About an hour later the local Red-Tailed Hawk makes another appearance, this time flying through the tree and passing above the eagle as if to say, “Enough already!”

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Flyby.

More people stop by to admire the youngster as we encourage them to maintain a respectable distance between them and the eagle. Since the moment that he landed in this tree he has been acutely aware of everything passing overhead. Every passing gull gets his undivided attention. Even airliners high in the sky are carefully inspected as they pass by. This morning we find that one of the large, metal birds known as a C17 from the local Air Force base is rumbling overhead and the juvie becomes agitated by each pass. When there is nothing to watch he becomes bored and starts pulling on the nearest twig just to pass the time.

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Fidgety twig pulling.

By late morning a different crowd is gathering. They are all short, wear black and white helmets and quite noisy in their own right. And they have goosebumps, Canada Goosebumps.

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The crowd has Goosebumps.

The anticipation is building and the eagle is getting more fidgety in the tree.

Mike the Rescuer returns. (Sounds like a superhero and he kind of is.) A MetroParks ranger pulls up and gets out of his cruiser. (Ususally not a good thing.) He too has come to admire the large bird making us aware again of what a rare blessing this is. He kindly offers to provide barricades to close the road near the tree if we would like but we know this little guy is getting antsy and hungry and will not likely be here long. Occasionally he looks as if he is about to take off but then settles down again apparently changing his mind (making me think that maybe this bird is a female after all).

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Almost.

In the early afternoon the activity escalates. The restlessness increases. Periods of rest are shortening and the youngster is flexing and stretching more often. First the left wing and leg and then the right. Long, intentional stretches. But he is always, always searching the skies.

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S-T-R-E-T-C-H

Just after 1 o’clock the pacing and shuffling becomes stronger. When he seems to offer us a fist bump it seems that he has made up his mind.

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Fist bump.

Then for a moment we could swear he is giving us the OK sign with his right foot!

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Okay!

He could have just been scratching his head but it sure looked like an OK sign to me. And then, using the same foot he begins counting down…from 4!

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The countdown.

Four, three, two, one…GO!

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Takeoff!

At 1:12 PM he releases his perch of 23 hours and takes to the air! We spontaneously cheer again! The Night Before Christmas contains the line, “More rapid than eagles his coursers they flew.” That was Clemet C. Moore’s way of saying “really, really, REALLY fast.” With great strength and determination he heads not to the lake for food but straight into the well field for companionship. I believe that he had seen one of our eagles over Eagle Lake and wanted to join in the fun. By the time we get into my car and drive to the east end of Eastwood Lake the youngster is over half a mile away.

It is over.

Just like that.

We pause for a few minutes to let the moment sink in. Will we see him again? Will Jim and Cindy and their juvie accept him? Will he be better able to feed himself now? We are grateful that his slightly off-plumb beak will make him easier to recognize.

As we leave the lake we notice Jim flying low over Eagle Lake. He lands in the top of a tall tree as if to gain a better view of his domain which means that he and the juvenile have met. But with what result? As we drive away we are full of new questions. Hopefully time will tell how the story continues and we will learn more about what happens when feathers, flight and freedom unite.

Published in: on November 19, 2015 at 2:14 am  Comments (31)  

Something In The Air

The changing of the seasons touches me.

I am one of those people who anticipate the new season’s arrival as the current season grows older. During the cold, dark days of winter I look forward to the warmth of spring. As spring’s budding leaves grow larger I await the coolness of their shaded recesses in the hot, humid air of summer. As summer wears on I become eager to experience autumn’s brief explosion of color and renewed freshness. And after the leaves have fallen I find myself excited by the first snowfall of winter and the glistening beauty of the blanketed landscapes beyond my frosty windows.

The windowsill of our living room’s bay window is redecorated as the seasons change and so with fall’s arrival it takes on a colorful, festive theme.

Our autumn window.

Our autumn window.

Not everyone appreciates my feeble attempt to capture indoors a bit of the magic of the quarterly transitions. My eldest daughter saw the newly decorated window and lamented, “Oh great, I see that autumn has thrown up in our living room again.”

But the changing seasons also bring new opportunities to view the wonders of nature and the wildlife that dwells therein. Fallen leaves mean barren branches and increased visibility of the birds that inhabit the trees. Jim and Cindy’s Treetop Palace is now hard to miss in the well field’s landscape. And, right on cue, our local eagles are beginning to bring in new sticks to freshen up the place as they start to anticipate a new nesting season! By January they will be spending most of their days enlarging the aerie.

Autumn is also the onset of courting season when Jim and Cindy will become increasingly obsessed with the companionship of their mate. Whether perched side by side on a leafless limb, soaring together in broad circles across the skies or tumbling earthward while locked talon to talon, courting season is an amazing time to be an eagle in love. But instinct-driven behavior also means that young, pair-bonded couples are looking for nesting territories of their own so Jim and Cindy have once again begun their daily patrols of their domain to assure that their boundaries are respected.

In late September I had spent an early morning at Eastwood Lake watching the wildlife and looking for our elusive eagles. As I was leaving the park, a dark form glided across my path. Even before I could focus my eyes my pulse quickened and I began to smile. This was a very familiar form. It was like catching a distant glimpse of an old friend, recognizing them at once and being flooded with remembrances and emotions. I watched as he approached the tower at the northeast corner of the lake, turned to his left and landed in the remnants of his favorite tree in that corner.

Tower and Power!

Tower and Power!

This too was familiar for this has been his morning patrol route for years. Although half of the tree had fallen in a spring storm, this perch provides a clear view of Eastwood Lake. For several minutes Jim sat and surveyed his surroundings as small gusts of wind ruffled his feathers.

Feathered Beauty.

Feathered Beauty.

Then, assured that all was well at the lake, he released his perch and skirted the treetops along the northern shore as he headed west. About mid-way down the length of the lake he turned north and disappeared beyond the treetops continuing his usual route.

(Speaking of “usual routes”, the reconstruction of the Harshman Road bridge across The Mad River begins in earnest this Monday, November 16th. Although traffic will be maintained throughout the two-year project, it will be reduced to one lane in each direction and congestion will be a headache. During this past summer utilities have been relocated and preliminary work completed for the project that will include the demolition of the existing structure. The new bridge will feature a wider roadway and new left-turn lanes as well as a pedestrian/bicycle path that will better connect Eastwood Park south of the river to Eastwood Lake north of the river. Access to both parks may be compromised at times so I have already scoped out some parking areas within about a 1/2 mile walking distance of the park in hopes of keeping an eye on our eagles. Although the work is only about 1/4 mile from the nest and over one of their primary hunting areas, Jim and Cindy are fairly accustomed to construction vehicles and the associated noise. I have talked to some of the workers just to make them aware of the eagles’ presence in the area.)

The seasonal change is impossible to miss. The holidays of autumn and winter bring times with family and friends and a chance to remember those people and things that warm our hearts and homes. As I count my blessings this month, you are among them. Thank you all for following along on this adventure. Whether it is a new freshness, falling leaves, a cold chill, the aroma of baking pies or the familiar, gliding form of dark feathers, may you smile with every realization that there is something in the air!

Published in: on November 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm  Comments (18)  

But Not Always

It has been a while since I have posted. My life has been busy. Too busy. Plus we are still in that lull between fledging eaglets and courting adults so there has not been much to post about.

To update you on Jim and Cindy’s status, let’s just say that all is well. Mom, Dad and the 2015 baby are enjoying the solitude of the deep recesses of the well field. The good folks there are keeping an eye out for any problems that might pop up and we appreciate their attentiveness to our resident eagles.

But this is also the time when eagles roam across the Buckeye State (I love saying that!) and we have had a few interesting encounters with the wanders.

A first-year juvenile was found grounded near Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in north Dayton. The youngster was recovered by a caring gentleman named Mike who took the bird to The Glen Helen Raptor Center. Upon its arrival the director emailed me to see if it was Jim and Cindy’s eaglet which I assured her it was not. She told me that the eagle had a crossed beak and was undernourished.  Thank you Mike for caring enough to take the time to get involved and to make a difference in the wild life of this bit of wildlife.

Englewood MetroPark saw a short, albeit interesting visit by a number of juveniles of various ages and a few young adult birds. The lake there is rather small and tends to be very shallow when it holds any water at all. (I have explained in a previous post about the 5 dams that protect Dayton from devastating floods by retaining floodwaters in lakes and releasing it back into the rivers at a controlled rate.) For several weeks these wanderers fished from the lake and thrilled the small groups of watchers and shutterbugs that dotted the shoreline.

On one visit I watched a large, young-adult bird sitting in a tree for almost an hour. After some very intense preening it began to search the shallow waters of the lake in for a tasty fish. Before long she left the branch and made a swift, low approach towards her target. Eagles are very graceful and focused hunters and appear almost effortless in their snatching of a fish from just beneath the water surface and this approach was done with textbook precision. Her long glide was soon accompanied by extended legs and flared talons. I focused my camera on the eagle hoping to capture an image or two of the successful catch. (What I saw through my viewfinder surprised me and made me moan before I laughed out loud.) The eagle had obviously done this all before and was a real expert at the whole process. Just as she had anticipated her razor-sharp talons pierced the water. Just as she had anticipated those talons locked into her large, orange-colored prey. Just as she had anticipated her talons lifted up behind her as she flew onward.

Oops! Face plant.

Oops!

Just as she anticipated the heavy fish stuck in the mire enough to cause her to lose her forward momentum and forcing the majestic eagle to do a face plant into the water creating a very Osprey-like splash.

The Osprey-like splash.

The Osprey-like splash.

(OK, maybe the last part was not at all what she anticipated.) As I snapped pictures the eagle disappeared into the muddy spray that the few inches of water supplied. As she emerged from the splash she reappraised her situation as she looked around as if to see if anyone had been watching. After a brief period of recomposing herself she decided that she would simply fly her prey back to her perch but the weight of the fish, the pull of the mud and the weight of her water soaked feathers thwarted that effort as well.

Failed takeoff.

Failed takeoff.

Again she appeared a bit surprised and bewildered. After all, that had always worked before. Again she tried to get her prey airborne with no success.

One more try.

One more try.

Time for Plan B: swim. (Eagles with large catches will often swim their way to shore using their wings in large, overhand strokes.) But this eagle soon learned that successful swimming using large, overhand strokes requires a bit more than a few inches of water.

Attempting to swim.

Attempting to swim.

After some awkward splashing she abandoned Plan B as well. Time for Plan C. She sat in the water for about 5 more minutes trying desperately to remember just what Plan C was as the fish splashed in the water beside her, eventually deciding that there really was no Plan C.

Bewildered and out of ideas.

Bewildered and out of ideas.

Releasing her prey she reluctantly flew back to her tree, slightly embarrassed, a bit wiser, hungry and emptied-taloned.

"Oh forget it!"

“Oh forget it!”

Eagles are very graceful and talented hunters, but not always.

Published in: on October 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm  Comments (8)  

The Wonders of Flight

Dayton, Ohio is all about the wonders of flight. The Wright Bothers were the right brothers to put us on the map. As a native Daytonian that thought is never far from my mind. Wilbur and Orville discovered how to lift men aloft in a heavier-than-air flying machine. Now that was no small task as men had struggled to conquer the dynamics of powered flight for centuries. Geniuses like Da Vinci had failed to develop the correct concepts of thrust, lift, drag and others that these two Dayton brothers applied to their machines. As wonderful as their world-changing discoveries were, Will and Orv did not invent flight. Our feathered friends have been soaring for ages!

Flight, in all of its mystery, comes quite naturally for birds.

I am a window-seat flyer. Flight fascinates me and whether crossing the Atlantic, Pacific or The Rockies, I spend hours peering down watching for wildlife and admiring the ocean waves, creviced peaks or patchwork fields steadily passing by. Each snaking river, wandering highway or sprawling city is a clue to our location and often I imagine how these are the sights that the eagles see as they soar in the skies. But eagles share these skies with many other sojourners.

Jim and Cindy are enjoying those views on their annual post-nesting season sabbatical. They do show up in the well field every now and then but not for long. This lull in eagle activity always leaves me in a bit of a quandary as to what to share on this blog. This year I have decided to share this space with some of those other flying sojourners, the tiniest of all birds, the hummingbird.

The most common hummingbird in Ohio is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Weighing only .07 to .21 of an ounce it would take over a thousands of these little wonders to equal the weight of one eagle! And what wonders they are. With over 900 feathers these little dynamos are powered by tiny hearts that beat up to 1,260 beats per minutes to power wings that beat around 53 times per second and twice each year our hummers travel the skies between Dayton and Central America!

Roger has a little male that calls his place home and is known as Bubba. Without having any recent eagle pictures to share, I thought that you might enjoy a few of Roger’s images of Bubba, Mrs. Bubba and their little ones along with a little light verse to celebrate their beauty.

Bubba!

Bubba!

The Wonders of Hummers

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The humming song sung by tiny wings, the smiles that they always bring,

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the flash of color darting by from bloom to bloom under sunlit skies,

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as they kiss the flowers from dawn’s first light ’til the sunlight yields to the still of night

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one of the sweetest sounds  that in summer is heard is the wordless song of the hummingbird!

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Pretty amazing birds, pretty amazing images. I just had to share a few of these with you.

As Labor Day is upon us, autumn cannot be far behind, and behind the burst of colors will be falling leaves and better eagle viewing so I hope to be able to share more about much larger birds soon.

Whether on tiny feathered wings, giant feathered wings or manmade wings of cloth or metal, it is fun to be carried away by the wonders of flight.

Published in: on August 31, 2015 at 1:47 am  Comments (8)  

Eagles of Inspiration

(I awakened at 2AM last night with this little poem rattling around in my head and since all of that rattling made it hard to sleep, I took 20 minutes to write it down. I thought that I would share it with all of you.)

Eagles of Inspiration
by Jim Weller

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A single eagle atop a tree
speaks of many things to me.
I see a sentinel brave and strong
perched up high where he belongs.
Diligent throughout the day
aware of all that comes his way,
with eyes alert, he views the skies
for any threat that might pass by.

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A pair of eagles in a tree
speaks of other truths to me.
I see a bond that none may shake
and only death itself dare break!
Devoted to each other so,
yet year by year devotion grows,
through every trial that they share
in togetherness and mutual care.

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But a pair of eagles on the wing
makes my heart both laugh and sing!
Together, high up in the air,
they soar along without a care.
In unfettered freedom by and by
they dance their way across the sky
until, at last, as I strain to see,
they’re absorbed into its azure sea.

What a blessing to behold
this sight more valuable than gold,
this sight that sets my spirit free
to be what I was meant to be!
It snaps harsh tethers of earthly care
and sends me high into the air!

We’re designed by God to be so much more,
with hearts to watch, and love, and soar!

Published in: on August 18, 2015 at 7:27 pm  Comments (24)  
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