Waiting and Watching

Waiting and watching. Two simple words that can mean so many different things to so many different people and it all depends on what they are waiting and watching for.

Life is full of periods of waiting and watching. I can vividly remember those days decades ago where as a young student I sat waiting and watching a classroom clock struggling to reach 3 PM. I still smile as I remember a day 42 years past as I stood expectantly waiting at the altar of a small church watching for my beautiful bride to enter the sanctuary. I remember the nervousness of watching and waiting during the last few days of pregnancies. A tear still comes as I recall the time of waiting and keeping watch while praying and pacing outside my dear mother’s hospital room. Periods of waiting and watching are necessary for life. Time and expectation are precious commodities.

The leafy boughs of the giant sycamore have all but concealed Jim and Hope’s Treetop Palace as viewed from our vantage point at Eastwood Lake where we watch and wait. The two eaglets within the palace’s open cradle are watching and waiting too. Mostly they watch and wait for food… a lot of food. Their aquatic diet provides nutrition and almost all of their water needs as the eaglets grow in both size and impatience. Mom and Dad are giving the young ones more space these days. We are only a month from fledging time and young muscles need to be exercised and strengthened making more space a real necessity.

Watching and waiting does not mean idle and bored though. Wildlife stories are playing out all around the park as animals watch and wait for future events. This young buck has sprouted new velvet in anticipation of establishing his place in the Whitetail herd.

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An Eastwood Pileated Woodpecker nest has revealed at least 3 young (2 females and a male) watching and waiting for their parents’ frequent food delivery service. Dad Pileated feeds the hungry babies while watching and waiting for a well deserved break. Mom Pileated was watching and waiting for more tasty morsels to crawl her way.

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Some animals, like this raccoon, are just watching and waiting for nightfall, fun and mischief.

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During this season of watching and waiting there are other changes afoot. The construction of the new Harshman Road bridge over the Mad River that flows through the greater Eastwood complex is almost complete. The new span will provide both vehicular and pedestrian passage. I was able to attend a public input session that Five River MetroParks hosted focusing on the future of the Eastwood complex. The current plans call for closing the entrance road to the lake after another new bridge is built across The Mad River within the park. Also included in the plans are a 5K path around the lake, new restroom facilities, new children and adult activity areas, new hiking trails, rerouting the bikeway through the park, dredging and cleaning the lagoons, an increase emphasis on kayaking opportunities and training, dock improvements and other enhancements. As Jim and Hope’s representative I encouraged the MetroParks staff to respect and protect the western shoreline of the lake where as many as a dozen juvenile Bald Eagles roosted last December and we discussed the possible inclusion of an elevated platform to allow Treetop Palace viewing over the Harshman Road traffic.

As the warm, wet days of springtime give way to the hot, humid days of summer our eaglets will find new freedom, Jim and Hope will find more time to soar and eagle-watchers and their cameras will find more excitement from the hours spent watching and waiting.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Make It Count!

I love springtime!

Springtime is a time of new beginnings and burgeoning promises. Not only are the days growing longer and warmer but the buds on trees and bushes are literally exploding into leaves and blossoms that carry within them the promise of shady shelters, fresh fruit and new seedlings.

This time of year I spend more and more hours wandering the winding trails of our local Five Rivers MetroParks, (mostly Eastwood) breathing in the fresh aromas of nature and witnessing the promise of new life in the arbor of boughs above me and the tangle of brush beside the path. Red-winged Blackbirds serenade the sunrise hoping to attract a mate. Song Sparrows sing lustily from the bushes. Yellow Warblers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers and male Goldfinches add brief flashes of yellow to the bright green foliage. Chattering Belted Kingfishers flit from tree to tree along the lakeshore. American Robins hop here and there hunting for worms. Bright red Northern Cardinals search through the freshly mown grass looking for scattered seeds beneath a nearby pine tree. A beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk, perches in a tree intently searching for any movement on the ground behind the mower that slowly passes back and forth in yet another grassy field. (I even saw Turkey Vultures mating in a tree at Eastwood last week. That was a first for me.) This week I have discovered the nesting holes of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and a Carolina Wren and I have watched a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers as they were constructing their delicate nest. Just yesterday I spotted my first Eastern Meadowlark of the year and Roger told me that Bubba, his male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird friend, has returned to his yard so they will soon be dancing among the wildflowers! Promise upon promise! Smile after smile!

And that is just a few of  my encounters with wild creatures with feathers. Other wildlife like deer, foxes, groundhogs, opossum, beavers… everyone is out there enjoying the wonders of springtime!

But nothing in the wild makes my spirit soar like the sighting of an American Bald Eagle.

Monday, as I was viewing the Treetop Palace a woman walking her dog passed by and wondered what I was looking at. When I told her about Jim and Hope she was ecstatic and thrilled to learn that there were eagles nesting nearby. That afternoon I was walking along the lake and I paused to talk to a gentleman who had heard about the eagles and wanted to know from where he could best view them. I always smile when someone approaches me and asks, “Excuse me. Do you know anything about the eagles that are supposed to be around here?” As we conversed I interjected, “If you really want to see a wild Bald Eagle, look up!” and I pointed to Hope as she circled overhead. On Tuesday I was at the nearby Wright Brothers’ Memorial National Park with about 40 other people waiting for a group of WWII era, B-25 Mitchell bombers to fly by as they commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Dolittle Raiders’ bombing of Tokyo that took place in April of 1942, just 4 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As we waited at the memorial which sits atop a high bluff overlooking Huffman Prairie where Wilbur and Orville Wright perfected their flying machines, we spotted Jim circling over Huffman Dam. The droning B-25s were classy and the roaring B-1 bombers that flashed overhead to close the ceremonies were thrilling, but neither were as classy or as thrilling as the sight of that lone eagle silently and effortlessly circling in the sky.

Speaking of the thrills of eagle watching, in our last post I mentioned that Jim and Hope seemed to be feeding at least two eaglets in the palace nursery. The number of trips to the lakes and the visible activity at the nest certainly appeared to indicate a duo of eaglets but we could only see one bobblehead at a time. (Any parent of twins will tell you that when one baby sleeps the other demands to be fed so we were never sure if we were seeing the same eaglet every time.) Until yesterday when I captured a series of images that clearly show two eaglets!

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The images were taken from that 1/2 mile distance so they are what they are quality-wise, but you can clearly see two eaglets enjoying the spring warmth under Mother Hope’s watchful and very protective eye.

Two hungry mouths call for a lot of fish so that series of images started with this image…

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Jim brings them in, drops them off, catches his breath and then flies off for more. Oh, the joys of parenthood. They can make even the best parents wonder, “What were we thinking?” before they find a place to sit and mutter quietly to themselves for a while.

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Springtime is indeed a great time to be outdoors, but springtime always leads to the heat and humidity of summer. Let me encourage you to visit a local park soon. You don’t even need hiking boots to enjoy the wildlife. Just bring along a comfy folding chair and a good book and sit under a tree or by a lake and let the wildlife come to you. You can’t truly experience it if you are not there but if your health or other issues limit your opportunity to join us, we will continue to try to bring the story to you by words and pictures because every season is a new chapter and every day is a new page and this story is worth sharing!

Springtime is short so make it count! (At least make it count to two, as in eaglets!)

Published in: on April 20, 2017 at 9:29 pm  Comments (10)  

Annual Tasks

A task is something that must be accomplished. It is work. It is usually necessary and quite often not all that fun to do.

Every year my wife and I try to accomplish one major project around our home. Those projects are usually fairly expensive. New garage doors, replacement windows, remodeling a bathroom or the kitchen… the list of recent projects seems endless. When I decide to do the work myself it becomes a task… a long, arduous, time-consuming, multiple-trips-to-the-home improvement store task.

This year our annual task was refreshing the family room. That meant new carpet, new paint, new wainscoting, new laminate flooring, new woodwork, minor electrical upgrades and the purchase of new furniture. Although I did almost all of the work myself the project did take a lot of time and money and I still need to build a new oak mantle for the fireplace. (That project has consumed my time and delayed my blog posting as well.)

I was thinking about annual tasks on my last visit to Eastwood where Jim and Hope are now actively feeding eaglets!

Eaglet feeding is a time-consuming task as well. Jim will often deliver fresh food to the nest where he and Hope will each feed someone… (We believe that there are at least two bobbleheads up there!)

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but soon he is off again on another grocery run!

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Once in a while he will venture over to Eastwood where he will make a quick scan of the trees looking for wandering eagles before catching one more fish for the young’uns.

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Now like many of you, we have raised our own children so I know how challenging the childrearing task can be. That thought was flashing through my mind as I watched Jim and Hope at work until a more frightening thought chased the first thought away: “Eagles have to do that task every single year!” Can you imagine having new babies every spring? I shuddered at the thought. I mean, I love my daughters and all but new babies every single year seems like an impossible task! The whole idea gave me an even deeper admiration for the strength and fortitude of these amazing avian wonders.

All over Eastwood and the well field wild creatures are beginning the task of rearing offspring. Wobbly legged White-Tailed Deer fawns are finding the strength to frolic behind Mom after spending the daylight hours bedded down in the tall grass. Coyote pups are pouncing on littermates under Mother’s watchful eye. Fuzzy kits scamper from their secluded den while Mother Red Fox keeps tabs of her babies. Mama groundhog leads a parade of babies as they forage together in the grass. The Great Blue Heron rookeries will soon be a din of noise and a flutter of activity as incubated eggs produce hungry young, and Mother beaver will lead her babies through their underwater doorway and out for their first swim.

My back and my knees tell me that remodeling our family room was a tiring task but the world around us is full of animals accomplishing far greater tasks of far more importance than my own. I admire them all and I am very grateful that more human childrearing is nowhere on my list of future annual tasks.

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 6:35 pm  Comments (18)  

Eggstremely, Eggseedingly Eggsiting News!

Jim and Hope have some news to share with all of you! Can you guess what it is?

Boy! You’re sharp!

It has been an eggstraordinarily eggsasperating week because things did not happen eggsactly as we had eggspected, but now we are eggsuberant!

(Help! I can’t stop!…Deep breath…Ahhhhhhh!)

Whew!

All last week Jim and Hope were looking very much like egg laying was drawing near. Knowing that Cindy seemed to favor the 15th to 17th of February we were hoping that Hope would do the same. Hope is an unknown quantity in this year’s adventure. Unknown for now anyway. Over the years we will get to know her better.

Repeatedly she went to the nest and remained low in the nursery. She would sit there for hours and then she would fly off, leaving the nest unattended. We know that Hope is at least 5 years old but she may be somewhat older. Had she too lost her pair-bonded mate or is Jim her first beau? Young adult eagles sometimes have difficulties successfully breeding, incubating or brooding eaglets. Although the entire process is driven by instinct, there is an art to doing even instinctive things successfully.

So, after several days of teasing us we are now confident that there is at least one egg in the nest. Hope has been staying in the nest and Jim has been standing guard in the nearby trees or in their sycamore tree, perched directly above the nest.

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Let me take this opportunity to illustrate a reality about the location of Jim and Hope’s nest that many people visiting Eastwood Lake are surprised to discover. The above image was taken from a distance of 1/2 mile from the nest (as are most of our nest shots) in hazy lighting which is why it is so misty looking. Adding to the poor image quality is the fact that I was not using my tripod but holding the camera in my hand which adds to the distortion. (If you are not a photographer this “distortion factor” is easily visualized if you picture a large cone, 1/2 mile tall and laying on its side. The tip of the cone is the camera lens and the bottom of the cone is around the nest. Any movement of the camera, even breathing or compressing the shutter button, may seem insignificant at the tip of the cone but that tiny movement is greatly multiplied 1/2 mile away. As the ambient light decreases the shutter within the camera must stay open longer to capture the image so it also captures more movement and greater distortion.) Now you may be asking, “Why the photography 101 lesson?” Well, I simply want you all to better comprehend the challenges should you bring a camera to Eastwood during the next several months as Jim and Hope are nesting. I also want to help you better understand my appreciation for the amazing images that Roger captures of the Treetop Palace. I probably mention that 1/2 mile distance too often in my postings but I hate to meet people at the lake who are disappointed that the nest is so far away. To illustrate just how far that 1/2 mile really is, look at the following image that I captured from the same spot as the image above, and see if you can spot the nest.

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Do you see it? It is right there in the distant treetops, as are both eagles. Look really, really close. Still no luck? Focus your eyes on the trees between the orange barrel and the wooden utility pole. Can you see it now? Let me zoom you in a little closer.

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Oh! There it is!

Now consider these additional factors in photographing their not-so-humble abode. That orange barrel is sitting on Harshman Road, which is higher that the roadway at the lake. (Look at that second picture again.) Harshman Road has 4 lanes of traffic so you often have to shoot between cars and that elevated asphalt road adds heat-distortion to the images as well. And Roger seldom uses a tripod. The man is just gifted and his images are eggseptional!

Well that brought me back to the point of this post. I care about you, our readers, so as we look forward to the completion of the 35 days of incubation and about 3 more months until the eaglet(s) fledge, let me add one cautionary note. Eagle watchers easily get emotionally attached to our favorite eagles and their offspring. Every nesting season is an uncertainty and having a new female in the nest just adds more questions to the potential success or failure of this year’s nest. I trust that Jim and Hope will be successful but I enter this season in full acknowledgment that that may not be the case and I encourage you to embrace the next few weeks with the same mindset. Some things are in hands far greater than our own.We may rejoice together or we may hurt together but nature must take its course and man can only intervene when it is proper to do so.

But there is absolutely no reason to assume the worst! So like expectant parents (or grandparents) let’s look forward to what lies ahead! Jim and Hope are right on schedule and seem to be doing everything right and that indeed is eggtremely, eggseedingly eggsiting news!

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 10:28 am  Comments (31)  

Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it happens! Just…like….this!

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

 

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

It’s Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

Together

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

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

A majestic eagle and his mate frolic in the air,

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

Each movement brings them closer and strengthens lifelong bonds

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

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

But through testing they’ll grow stronger

While they strive to find their way.

Together the will conquer!

Together they will cope!

Together they’re victorious!

Together they have hope!

High across the heavens they dance on outstretched wings

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

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

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

 

 

Published in: on February 11, 2017 at 5:47 pm  Comments (42)  

A Broken Record

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

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

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

So where are we in the cycle?

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Hope

Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

Hope must be embraced.

Jim has embraced Hope.

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

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

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

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Join Jim and The Eastwood Eagle Watchers in embracing Hope.

 

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

This Road to Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, unexpectedly, young Joy disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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