In my last posting I had mentioned that too often frustration was a large part of the eagle watching process, especially when there is only one pair of nesting eagles in the entire county. And if that nest is in the center of a large fenced-off, non-public area the chances of having a “close encounter of the eagle kind” are even more remote. That is the situation with Jim and Cindy and lately the weather has been anything but cooperative. That is why on those days when we are experiencing rare peeks of sunshine I rush over to Eastwood Lake with a freshly charged camera battery and renewed hopes!
Such was the case last Thursday when the rains lessened and the sunlight managed to sneak through a few breaks in the overcast skies. Those skies were pretty crowded with moisture and thermals created by the warmth of those sunbeams. The evaporating dampness did not make for the best picture-taking conditions, especially at a distance, but the opportunity to see something (and at this point I was ready for anything) was just too good to ignore. It had been too long since I had seen Jim and Cindy and thermals are an eagles playground! So realizing that my ankle-high lawn was still too soaked to mow, I hopped into the car and headed to Eastwood Lake. I immediately discovered that the skies around the lake were also crowded with large birds, but not my elusive eagles. I saw Ruby and Ringo, the resident Red-Tailed Hawks, briefly soaring along with their new baby, and small groups of wandering Turkey Vultures were dotting the sky at regular intervals. They like playing on the thermals too. They always seem to travel in groups, or at least pairs. For about an hour I occupied my time watching the various vultures drift closer and lower until they passed overhead and then slowly drifted away.
The slow, methodic rhythm of their circles can be almost hypnotic. It is reminiscent of concentrating on the pendulum-like swing of a pocket watch dangling from a chain. While watching them from the inside of your car you can almost hear a soft voice chanting, “You are getting sleepy.”
But my mind and my pulse were quickened as I noticed a different rhythm in the sky! In the far-distant corner of the well field I spotted a long, slow cadence that I have come to love. It was the strong, majestic wing beat of an American Bald Eagle. Through the camera lens I could see it was Jim and he was heading in my direction. (How quickly sleepiness can flee away.) Although he was still about 3/4 of a mile away I began snapping pictures. After all, I had not seen him for days and he could stop, dive out of sight or change directions at any time.
So I snapped away. As I began to take pictures I became acutely aware of another factor that can lead to frustration at Eastwood, traffic. The best viewing spot at the lake sits lower than the adjacent Harshman Road. The guard rail and passing vehicles can be a real nuisance when you are trying to photograph a bird on the far side of the roadway and the evaporating moisture from its asphalt surface creates distorting heat waves to boot. It seemed that the heavy traffic was determined to block my view of the approaching eagle and focusing on a moving object between passing cars can be a real challenge as well! But he was still approaching and I was determined to get an image suitable for sharing on this blog. Jim kept coming and coming. It appeared to me that he might actually be heading to Eastwood Lake behind me and I was in the perfect location to photograph him as he passed directly overhead! This could be a great opportunity!
Now, remember that frustration thing?
Just as he approached the west end of Eagle Lake I could see him looking down at the water. I watched as he lowered his legs. His bright yellow feet were clearly visible, his toes were flared and his talons were ready for action! My camera’s shutter was singing! As I accepted the fact that he would not be crossing to my side of Harshman Road, surely, even with all of the traffic whizzing by I would have at least one good image of Jim in this dramatic, action-filled pose. And this is what I got.
How about that for a good picture? When I finished banging my head against the dashboard I had to chuckle. Some days just go that way. Two hours of waiting for this. Frustration. But I had seen him again at last and for that I was grateful.
Allow me to take a minute or two to give you a better understanding of Jim and Cindy’s domain. The main body of The City of Dayton’s Mad River Well Field where their Treetop Palace is located is on a piece of land known as Rohrer’s Island. After some rather lengthy online research over the past few evenings, reading several newspaper articles, historical accounts and reviewing old atlases, I have learned a bit more about the Rohrers. Apparently the Rohrers were of German descent and arrived in the American colonies in the 1700s. Eventually some migrated from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area to the Ohio Territory in the latter part of the 1700s or the early 1800s where their original property consisted of over 1,000 acres in Mad River Township. There were a lot of settlers moving west in the early 1800s and the Dayton area experienced a bit of a population boom. Most of the new families traveled by flatboat down the Ohio River to Cincinnati and then overland to Dayton. Large properties were often subdivided and sold off parcel by parcel to newly arrived families or parcels were donated for churches or schools. By the mid 1800s the Rohrer farm had dwindled down to less than 300 acres, including a prosperous dairy farm. That land included Rohrer’s Island. (There is still a Rohrer Park in Riverside.) Here is a current satellite image of that island.
If you click on the image to enlarge it you will see several markings. The red dots indicate the location of the fence that restricts access to the main body of the well field and protects Jim and Cindy’s solitude. The blue crosses show the course of The Mad River. It flows from the right side of the image to the left side, east to west. You will notice a small waterfall on the right where the river forks. The separate streams reunite near the left side of the image, just east of Harshman Road. The land mass between the two channels is Rohrer’s Island. The arrow by the yellow #1 points to Jim and Cindy’s sycamore tree and the Treetop Palace they have used since the 2011 nesting season. #2 is the sight of their 2009 nest and #3 is their 2010 nest. They still maintain these nests as a backup home should the need arise. The #4 indicates the area at Eastwood Lake from which we watch the nest. (The actual distance from #1 to #4 is 1/2 mile.) The #5 is the cornfield where our eagles sometime hunt or steal rabbits from coyotes. And finally the #6 is Huffman Dam and Huffman Lake, just east of the dam. You will also notice the large number of lakes and reservoirs within the well field, the largest of which we call Eagle Lake. Eastwood Lake, barely visible on the far left is considerably larger than Eagle Lake. Remember that frustration thing again? Ohio Route 4 on the north side of Eagle Lake is a controlled access highway and no parking is permitted, the south side of the well field is bordered by an active railroad track, Harshman Road is a 4-lane, 45 MPH thoroughfare with no parking and the Route 4 & 444 interchange on the east completes the circle of non-parking boundaries, so Eastwood is as good as it gets. I hope this image and short history helps you better understand Jim and Cindy’s environment and our situation. Usually once the eaglets have fledged, Mom and Dad will keep them back in the more secluded areas of the well field nearer that little waterfall.
By the way, as I was studying various satellite images I happened to zoom into the nest tree and saw this!
How cool is that? Eagles from outer space!
Not all of Thursday was frustrating though. Later in the day as I headed home I found our lovebirds perched in Jim’s tree! I did not notice the eaglet but they are much harder to spot in the shadows. This image was taken from Route 4. The sign says “EMERGENCY STOPPING ONLY” and after a pretty frustrating day, this seemed like an emergency to me!
We can learn a lot from history and we will learn even more as history unfolds.