Eggs-actly as Eggs-pected

One of the beautiful things about watching eagles is that you know what to expect so you anticipate the annual behaviors. Another beautiful thing about watching eagles is that you never know what to expect and you should anticipate the unexpected.

Although those truths seem diametrically opposed, they actually exist in perfect harmony in the wild. In fact, the term “wild” means untamed, uncontrolled, unmanipulated and natural. That is a large part of where the adventure lies, and we witness that balance as the daily unfolding of revelation transpires.

Sometimes things go just as planned. The 35 days of incubation for Orv and Willa’s first egg of 2021 was slated to end on March 23rd. True to the plan, last Tuesday there was a bit more movement from whichever adult was incubating the eggs. At or around day 35 the tiny eaglet pips a tiny whole in its all-too-tiny eggshell. It has been chatting with the parents for a few days and is ready to meet them in person! The little hole allows more oxygen in and a window out into the unknown. It might take the fragile bird a day or two of struggle to free itself from its cramped quarters. A few minutes of work is exhausting so there are periods of rest interspersed throughout the process. Mom and Dad sense the movement and inspect the activity while vocalizing encouragement to the escapee. But they must allow the eaglet to endure its struggle as this toil is just the first of many challenges it will face as it battles for survival.

By late Thursday Orv was seen taking a rabbit to the nest, an action that indicated the youngster had emerged, slept, awakened and needed a Nest-dash food delivery. (Door-dash won’t work if you have no door.)

Then on Friday I saw Willa’s tail feathers revealing secrets!

With the nest walls as high as they are and the nest floor as deep as it is, we cannot see much of the adults in the nest unless they are standing up. Willa’s tail feathers were quite visible though as they pointed upward, slowly lowered and then snapped downward before sliding forward. After years of observation, that familiar movement was a further confirmation that an eaglet was up there. The upward tilt meant her head was down as she bit a piece of meat off the rabbit. The slow lowering meant that she was pulling upward on a morsel of meat. The snapping downward indicated that the bite had broken free of the rest of the animal. The slide forward was a sign that she was leaning forward to place the morsel into the little eaglet’s mouth.

During all of this activity the second egg (Two eggs are most common.) would have been copying the process. That eaglet would have likely been free of its shell on Friday or Saturday.

Sunday catfish was on the menu.

Today I saw a bit more feeding activity and a bit more adult movement. Eaglets, even just a few days old, can wiggle and move so the brooding adult must gently return the little one to a safe position under its own body. Right now the eaglets cannot regulate their own body temperature so Mom and Dad must keep them warm for several days until they sprout a grey flannel suit of body feathers that provide adequate insulation.

Mom and Dad are a bit more alert now too. Inanimate eggs draw little attention but a passing hawk, owl or even another eagle might be attracted to the movement of a vulnerable eaglet! As a red tailed hawk passed high over one eagle brooding in the nest, the other eagle appeared and circled low over the area as a barrier between the hawk and the eaglets.

So what now? The feeding activity will continue to grow with the eaglets. In a few weeks they will be large and mobile enough to be seen from the ground as they peer down at us all. Then they will enter a period of rapid growth that demands multiple calories and a lot of groceries! The little 6-inch eaglets will be as big as Mom and Dad by June 3rd and fledge around June 17th! Then they will spend several days honing their skills within the park before Mom and Dad will lead them to the river for schooling! That is if everything continues eggs-actly as eggs-pected.

Published in: on March 29, 2021 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just Wait!

Boy! How many times have we heard those words in our lives?

While we are waiting, there never seems to be anything ‘just’ about it! Justice, it seems would be instant gratification. But that short sentence usually infers the other meaning of just as in ‘simply’ wait. But, again, waiting can be anything but simple as anticipation makes it hard to keep our minds off of the expected desire.

We are born into this world to parents who have waited months for our arrival. As infants we wait to be fed, held, changed and so many other things, without knowing that we are waiting yet demanding action through our cries. As children it seems that we are constantly waiting for something! Cookies, birthdays, summer vacations, Christmas, and of course the end of a long car trip. (“Are we there yet?” “Just wait!”) As adults we wait for our wedding days, our own baby’s arrival, promotions, medical test results…the lifting of Covid restrictions. Waiting is a big part of life.

Before long we learn to distract ourselves while we wait by doing other things to occupy our thoughts and divert our attention. This usually works but there is a funny thing about waiting, as the event draws closer the waiting grows more difficult!

So it is with nesting season. We wait for its arrival with great expectations and then wait for hatching, counting eaglets, watching them grow, fledging… There is always something new to wait for because life never stops. Life, like time, flows on day by day and we are caught in its current. So we learn to wait with expectation and wonder.

Orv and Willa are waiting too, but the wait (for hatching at least) is almost over! Just 3 more days! (I can’t wait!)

As Roger’s recent images show, while they wait for their eaglets and before they must wait on their eaglets, our eagles are occupying their time completing necessary tasks like putting up with inclement weather,

personal hygiene,

home repairs,

and defending their domain from threats before escorting other eagles away from their territory!

Even juveniles (This bird may possibly be Prop or Rudder from last year’s nest.) are unwelcomed now as the parents await their new eaglets’ arrivals.

During it all, either Orv or Willa has stayed in the nest incubating the egg(s)!

In a few days we should see a change in adult behavior as the eggs pip and hatch. After completing their exhausting escape from the egg the tiny eaglet will only weigh a few ounces and measure just a few inches in length! The eaglets will grow quickly and the eldest will have a sizeable advantage when it comes to feeding and dominance. At about a week of age the eaglets will look like this.

(The gentleman holding the eaglet is my friend Al Cecere, founder and former CEO of the American Eagle Foundation based in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Al and the AEF staff have overseen the rescue of many eagles and eagle eggs over the last several decades and have supervised the rehabilitation and successful release of quite a number of those eagles. They have raised awareness of the eagle’s plight through educational and inspirational presentations across the country, through their large aviary in the Dollywood theme park and via several live, eagle-cams on active nests. Perhaps you have seen Al and the bald eagle Challenger in a sport’s venue. Challenger is non-releasable due to human imprinting as a juvenile so he was trained to free-fly across stadiums during The National Anthem. Al and Challenger are true eagle ambassadors and have brought awareness of wildlife conservation to presidents, policy makers and others through personal encounters. Perhaps their most welcomed appearance was on June 28, 2008, at the delisting ceremony on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D. C. as the bald eagle was finally removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species List after eagle populations reached healthy numbers! Al and Challenger (both now retired) are representative of thousands of nature centers, rehabilitation facilities and other organizations staffed by both paid and volunteer workers dedicated to being good stewards of the wonders of Creation. We thank you all.)

Those little eaglets will reach adult size in about 10 weeks! They will fledge in about 12 weeks! So much to anticipate as the eaglets arrive and grow. This adventure continues and we will stay sharply focused on it all.

And five years down the road they will reach maturity and look like this image of Willa! (Speaking of waiting, this image was captured by Rick Roshto who recently drove to Dayton from Chicagoland to photograph Orv and Willa. His first day of waiting was pretty eagleless but on day two Willa gave him a show. Eagle watching is often eagle waiting. )

So much lies ahead and the excitement is building. Just wait!

Published in: on March 20, 2021 at 10:07 am  Leave a Comment  

The Promise of Hope

Do we hope in a promise or do we find promise in hope?

That question flooded my mind this morning as I pondered the many reports I have recently heard of those precious folks in nursing homes who have endured a year of isolation from friends and family. My heart hurts for them. With bodies that are not what they used to be and the ever present knowledge that the years that lie ahead are far outnumbered by those shrouded in the shadows of the past, they must truly long for the physical touch of a loved one’s hand, a familiar smile, a gentle kiss. As trials linger, endurance become even more challenging. If you find yourself in that situation, or, if you languish for a parent, grandparent or other loved one within the grips of loneliness, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Even in our darkest hours there glows the promise of hope. God knows that we cannot survive without it.

To that end He has surrounded us with wonders to refocus our hearts from despair to hope. The simple song of a sparrow is a joyous serenade of hope. The caressing warmth of a sunbeam carries a hint of promise. A golden sunrise, the gently falling snow, the pitter-patter of raindrops, the setting sun kissing the western horizon, the mystery of a star-studded night, all remind us that we live in a world of wonders. Each a promise full of hope! Each a hope full of promise!

I find that wonder so beautifully expressed in the lives of our eagles as well. Having followed them so closely over the years, sharing their adventure, teaching others about their attributes, I still find promise and hope in each reoccurring phase of their annual cycle. It always amazes me. They always amaze me.

We all well know that the first egg of the new year will arrive within a week of Valentines Day. The approach of that event has been so very apparent over the last few weeks. Orv and Willa have been very busy preparing the nursery in eager anticipation. That is a daunting task that they take very seriously. There is quite a bit of planning involved and sometimes feathers get ruffled!

Then the work begins. First each branch must be carefully selected.

Then it must be laboriously harvested.

The new timber is then taken back to the jobsite,

and precisely placed within the growing nest wall with mutual approval.

And of course, there are always those unexpected interruptions from unwanted visitors and hostile intruders!

Soon it is back to the task at hand.

With the addition of new sticks, it becomes necessary to replace the nursery’s soft carpet.

And, as with any construction project, local children gather to watch the progress.

Every year the story is the same. Every year it is captivating. As nesting season grows closer, Willa spends longer hours in the nest. In the days just prior to laying, Orv may even be seen carrying dinner to her as she prepares to lay.

These are days of great expectations. We await the moment when Willa begins to exhibit behavior that announces the arrival of the first egg, the day when the attitude of her body reveals that a secret lies incapsulated in a fragile shell beneath her in the nest. We await a day like yesterday!

We have the first egg of 2021! That means that the first eaglet should hatch out around March 23rd! Hopefully, Willa will lay at least one more egg today or tomorrow increasing the promise of an eventful year.

Life is full of challenges, many of which are completely unexpected. But if we can just look up beyond the trial we will see the wonders that surround us and our hearts will be free to soar with the promise of hope!

(I just wanted to take a moment again to thank and acknowledge my friend Roger for so graciously allowing me to use his images in these postings. His skill and dedication are legendary and over the last decade his images have continually spoken so clearly of our eagles’ ability to carry the promise of hope.)

Published in: on February 17, 2021 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

High Tension

Time for another ride along. Can you get away with me? Great! Bundle up ’cause it’s cold out there!

It is early in the morning as we begin to make our way to Carillon. There is a real bite in the frigid air but our hearts are warmed by the expectations that the lengthening daylight brings to us! The risen sun is sure to warm things up a bit and we are excitedly anticipating the wonders that lie ahead.

The conversation meanders easily as we pass the 20 minute commute. We lament the sudden dashing of our opportunities to witness the 2020 happenings due to last year’s unprecedented restrictions and closures. Orv and Willa had managed quite well without the usual crowd of onlookers and we are grateful for that, but we sure missed the comradery and fun of sharing the experience with other eagle watchers. This year promises to be a bit more normal but there are still many unknowns in regard to mandated policies and practices as the Corona vaccination efforts continue. That thought creates a lingering tension as we look ahead.

“Tension” seems to be a very fitting term as Nesting Season opens. With the approach of spring our local birds of prey are observably high strung. Eagles, hawks, falcons, owls… are all preparing nests and will soon be ready to lay. The increasing hours of sunlight triggers the release of certain hormones that compel the birds to not only complete their nests and mate, but to more aggressively defend their territory as well.

Our conversation is interrupted as you glance out the window and notice a peregrine falcon darting overhead.

Just yesterday a local peregrine had taken objection to Orv and Willa perching on an electrical tower near one of the falcon’s favorite pigeon-covered powerlines. It had ventured along The Great Miami to hunt and about a mile north of Carillon it looked down and spotted our eagles quietly minding their own business.

“Well that just won’t do at all!” the smaller bird thought and decided to let its disapproval known. Descending with a vengeance it swooped at the eagles! Ever watchful, Orv and Willa had had their eyes on the peregrine for some time and vocalized an alarm as the attack began. After a few evasive ducking of his head Orv launched to counter the aggressive intruder’s actions. As Willa continued to voice her alarm, Orv successfully led the threatening falcon away from his mate.

After several minutes, Orv, feeling every bit the hero, returned to the tower where Willa awaited his arrival. Quite proud of himself, he mated with her once more. High tension indeed!

By now we are nearing the river and as we pass by we take note of the progress a pair of red-tailed hawks were making on their nest, about a mile from the park.

“Everyone seems to be getting into the act.” you observe. And that they are. Although their nesting season is shorter than that of the eagles, our other area raptors are vigorously preparing to get things started.

As we drive along the river levee we scan all of the eagles’ favorite perches. We also watch the edges of the river’s water where our eagles like to dine. The only eagle we notice is a stranger. We are surprised to see what appears to be a late third-year (or early fourth year) bird flying near the park. It is not that uncommon to see an unknown eagle above the river (I smile even now at that recent turn of events.) but this bird is carrying a stick! “Just what does he think he’s doing?” I ask.

As we watch we are flabbergasted to see it head directly to Orv and Willa’s nest! “What is he thinking, indeed?” you ask in shocked amazement. This bird cannot be Prop or Rudder or even Aero or Prairie because it is simply too old to be from Orv and Willa’s 2019 or 2020 nest. It is not all that uncommon to see an unknown eagle near the park, or even near the nest, but this intruder seems to be making himself right at home! This intrusion will not be tolerated!

The big bird spends a few minutes in the nest, apparently adding the stick. Now, a bird of this age is likely not mature enough to reproduce but the nesting instinct is obviously kicking in already. When the stranger departs the nest he removes some nesting material as well. This is another sign of it trying to claim the nest for its own.

But his actions have not gone unnoticed. Willa has returned to the nest and is inspecting the damage. As she tidies things up the stranger returns as Willa loudly voices her disapproval! Orv responds to her alarm call and the fight is on!

Several minutes pass as Orv makes his presence known. Agitated, screaming eagles thrash about, in and above the nest! Wings, talons and beaks all become weapons as both Willa and Orv fight off the intruder. Had there been eggs or eaglets in the nest this encounter could have proven disastrous, but when the commotion dies down our eagles chase the youngster away and you and I can begin to breathe again. These confrontations will become more common as the eagle population continues its recovery. In fact, they have always been fairly common where eagles are nesting but now we have the privilege to witness it live and in person. It reinforces our awareness that these are truly wild animals and challenges our hearts to embrace that fact with full appreciation of the wonder of it all!

Soon things have settled down and Orv and Willa return to perching, hunting and preparing the nursery.

But before long another, somewhat smaller threat arises as one of the Carillon Park red-tailed hawks (quite literally) goes toe to toe with Orv.

The dispute is over quickly. It is just the way that a smaller bird objects to the eagle being within its territory. We see these passing confrontations almost daily now. Like the peregrine encounter the day before, our area birds are keyed up and ready for battle as they defend their domains.

As we leave the park, all is well with the world. Orv and Willa are perched side by side awaiting the stillness of twilight and the restful quietness of a tranquil park. As they perch on their favorite tower, they watch the ongoing reconstruction of the I-75 bridge over The Great Miami, a project that will include a 6-foot fence atop a 4-foot barrier wall to provide a bet more assurance that our eagle can pass over the interstate safely.

As they watch the road work they also watch the skies for any more threats because you never can tell what might spark a fight in seasons of high tension.

Published in: on February 4, 2021 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Here We Go Again!

Well, it is a new year and a new adventure is beginning to unfold! Hopefully 2021 will be full of more blessings and fewer fears than its predecessor. Although the virus threat seemed to have occupied so much of 2020 we did see the successful fledging of 2 eaglets from Orv and Willa’s Carillon nest as Prop and Rudder found their wings. We are frequently seeing juveniles along the rivers this winter but have no way of knowing with any certainty if they are Prop and Rudder or eaglets from other area nests. The West Carrollton nest fledged two as did Jim and Hope’s Eastwood nest. (We do know that one of Eastwood’s juveniles did not survive though.) I do believe that Prop and/or Rudder are among the mix though as at least one juvenile seems to like the Treetop Condo in Carillon Park. Eagles love the company of other eagles in the non-nesting months when tensions are less territorially charged. They do not really congregate as a flock but they do hang out in small groups at times before wandering off after a day or two.

The eagles’ lives and behavior follow annual cycles and like anything circular, it is hard to determine a beginning point. January is as good a point as any since it marks the beginning of a new calendar year. Eagles in Florida are now fully involved in the nesting season, feeding hungry eaglets. As you venture north on the map you will find incubating eagles and a bit further north eggs are just being laid. Here in Ohio though, January is all about mating and final nestorations.

Orv and Willa are right on schedule and last autumn’s tree removals near their nest have not caused any notable change in their behavior. They are mating several times each day and with greater frequency as the weeks pass but Willa (and the other area females) are likely a few weeks away from actually developing eggs. Our first eggs will arrive within a week of Valentine’s Day. But as the cycle begins, so does the building of hopes and anticipation!

But all is not love and games. Winter survival means struggles at times. Disputes can arise with nomadic eagles that end in confrontations. Area hawks still launch swooping and screaming attacks on the relatively larger eagles in an display of territorial dominance. Even the much smaller peregrine will pester the eagles as they pass by and the falcon possesses an advantage in speed and agility!

But not all threats are natural threats. Some are very human in origin. Urban eagles like Orv and Willa face the threat of automobile strikes among other manmade hazards. Once in a while they will decide on squab for a snack. Roger caught this image of Orv chasing after a pigeon last week. Orv was so focused on his prey that he completely ignored an approaching vehicle as he chased the bird low over the pavement of Carillon Boulevard which runs along the river levee, just outside the park.

We have seen him do this before and we try to remind him to focus more on altitude and less on attitude!

But the leafless trees of winter allow us a better view of our eagles. Here are a few images of Willa as she enjoys the free time that will soon fade away as her time becomes occupied by nesting demands.

She would have been completely hidden by leaves in other seasons. And the same holds true for Orv as well. They draw quite a crowd of admirers this time of year while the bare limbs expose them to photographers onlookers.

As the arrival of new eggs draws near, we will see the eagles become more territorial and more aggressive in defending their domain, especially from other eagles including Prop or Rudder should they return home.

Once the first egg arrives, either Orv or Willa will be in the nest at all times. This provides a wonderful opportunity to view their comings and goings from within the park! As all our area eagles are soon to be nesting, please remember a few important laws. Disturbing an eagle in any way is a violation of federal law. Just a few minutes of exposure to the elements may cause the egg to fail. It is illegal to possess any part of an eagle, including feathers found on the ground. It is also illegal to be any closer than 100 meters (about 300 feet) from an active eagle nest. (This restriction has been waived by both federal and state wildlife agencies for the Carillon nest as the eagles there have chosen to nest in an active park where human activity preceded their arrival.) That being said, we are still very protective of their domain and solitude so the park restricts human activity to the developed grounds within the park and prohibits access to the hillside near the nest tree. Also, Carillon Park is a posted NO DRONE area to avoid unintended harassment of the eagles should they see a drone as an airborne threat to their area. (We do not want the soft tissue of their feet to come into contact with the whirling propellers of a drone.) If you want to see wild bald eagles in action, Carillon Historical Park is where you should go. Orv and Willa are accustomed to human activity below them and see us as part of the local wildlife. Unusual human activity at a more isolated nest would likely cause undue stress to its occupants.

I continue to serve as Carillon Park’s bald eagle expert and my hours in the park will pick up as the nesting season begins. I would love to meet you and answer any questions you may have should you visit while I am present. These are amazing times we live in as the eagle population continues its recovery! Keep looking up and perhaps you will catch a glimpse of these majestic wings overhead!

Hopefully this year will be different. Hopefully things will remain open. Hopefully the oohs and ahs of delighted eagle watchers will be unencumbered by masks and restrictions. Whatever the new year holds, we are on the threshold of an awesome adventure of unknown thrills, trials and triumphs! The year is young so whatever comes our way in 2021, hold onto your hats because here we go again!

Published in: on January 14, 2021 at 8:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Time Flies!

Looking back over the past year,

we can see many obvious challenges that came our way. 2020 was full of unexpected surprises for all of us! We can be grateful that we have survived the trials that impacted our lives and pray that 2021 will be a bit less challenging. Whenever we look back on hard times, if we look closely enough, we will recall moments of smiles and laughter as well. They may be overshadowed by the gloomy clouds of loss and heartache but they are there just the same. One of the blessings that we so easily take for granted is our ability to choose our perspective. We often hear that illustrated as the glass half full/half empty scenario. This year the glass overflowed!

It helps to look back with a sense of humor and to look forward with anticipation. With that in mind, I wrote this little parody of The Night Before Christmas. Although it is a bit of an inside joke for Ohioans, I am sure that wherever you are on this globe you will identify with its reality.

An Ohio Covid Christmas By Jim Weller (12-9-20)

Twas an Ohio Covid Christmas and all through the house

Every creature was masked, including the mouse!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

But quarantined Santa would never be there.

The children were sleeping with dreams in their heads

And hand sanitizer beside every bed.

Mama in her face shield and I in my mask

Were completely exhausted from homeschooling tasks.

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise!

“Could it be Santa with sterilized toys?”

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

But to keep out the virus I had nailed the sash!

There, on the street with its undriven snow

Was a man with a face I had just come to know.

“Hello citizen!” he waved, “Hope you’re fine.

I’m your substitute Santa, Governor DeWine.

The old elf is unclean, I have kept him away

But his work is essential so I jumped into his sleigh!

All of the reindeer are 6 feet apart,

No need to take chances, we have to be smart.”

Then to my amazement from the bag on his sleigh

Popped a sign language interpreter for all he would say!

“I know things are different, this year will be hard

But we’re in this together so no Christmas cards!

Email is safer.” He said through his mask.

“Be smart and be safe! That’s all that I ask.”

As I pondered just how we could be safe and smart

From out of his lab coat he pulled a big chart!

“I know that my mandates get on your last nerve

But working together we can flatten the curve.”

With his oversized glasses he looked academic

As he pointed out how we could survive the pandemic.

Then with his lesson satisfactorily taught

He unloaded the few measly presents he’d brought.

Spraying Lysol and Clorox on each box at his feet

He placed them 6 feet apart by the street.

While climbing aboard Santa’s sleigh with a jerk

He shouted, “Curbside pick up can work!”

Then down the street they rapidly flew

Trying to finish before the curfew.

But I heard him shout as I watched quite disturbed

The porch pirates stealing the gifts from the curb,

“I hope that the new year will turn out much better

But until then remember we are in this together!”

As for our eagles, they are thriving! Mating behavior has already begun and will increase in frequency as January comes around. The first egg of 2021 is still 2 months away though. Juvenile and nomadic adults are more visible now as the leaves have fallen.

Orv and Willa are working on their nest in the daytime and roosting in the park overnight even as hundreds of visitors flock to this year’s socially distanced Christmas activities.

I hope that your holiday celebrations are as happy and fulfilling as you have dreamed and that your rapidly approaching new year is full of unexpected joys!

Time flies!

Published in: on December 17, 2020 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Conquering Challenges, Overcoming Obstacles

Like many around the globe, I am thankful that this year is finally drawing to a close! It has been a doozey! It seems like 2020 has had more than its fair share of challenges and obstacles. Microscopic viruses, massive storms, political and economic distress… Almost every day another crisis made the news.

But life is like that, isn’t it?

Life is all about growing by conquering challenges and overcoming obstacles. With every new birth parents are faced with ‘what if’ questions. With every death someone is asking, “What now?” And every day in between there are multiple situations that demand attention. Trials are a normal part of life.

Wild eagles, especially urban eagles, face the same dilemma. Changing factors such as weather, food supply and disease affect all wildlife but urban wildlife must also face the threat of manmade challenges including automobile traffic, powerlines and the like. But eagles are very resourceful creatures and are more than adequately prepared to handle most obstacles that might come their way.

That includes chain saws.

Early this month several large trees near Orv and Willa’s nest tree were removed from the hillside behind Wright Hall. I had mentioned in earlier posts that there were trees that were in danger of falling onto this building that houses the Wright brother’s original 1905 Wright Flyer III. Although we were hoping that the work could have been accomplished a month or two earlier to avoid potentially interfering with nest renovations, the company contracted to remove the trees needed to have a clear line-of-sight with workers in the trees as the work was done. That necessitated delaying the work until most of the leaves had fallen. Electrical power to the park also needed to be interrupted as energized power lines presented a threat to worker safety. So, for two days Carillon Park was closed as the work progressed.

If you have ever been to the world famous San Diego Zoo then you realize how multiple exhibits can be displayed in a relatively small place when the terrain is hilly. Exhibits there seem to be more atop one another than side by side. So it is with Orv and Willa’s Hillside Condo. Although their hillside is huge, the distance is not all that far from the bottom of the hill to its crest, albeit the elevation change is dramatic. Trees on the hillside below the nest are literally below the nest. This meant that the workers needed to take special care when hoisting the severed tree trunks up and over Wright Hall with the use of a 250′ crane. Throughout the process, Orv sat in his tree near the park entrance and kept an eagle eye on the workers.

The following images show what the area looked like after the work was completed and some of the lumber that was removed.

The removal of the trees made the nest more visible and possibly more vulnerable to winds so the question in everyone’s mind was how Orv and Willa would respond to this unexpected challenge. With fortitude and determination they soon were adding new sticks to their nest! Just a few a day for a while but then with a more intense interest as the days passed and the leaves fell. The wicked winds of this past weekend showed that the nest is still viable.

This less obstructed view allows us to better evaluate the nest’s structure and allows me to illustrate how an eagle’s nest is constructed over consecutive years. This next image shows three stages of ongoing development. The area labelled with the number 1 is the area of the original 2018 nest as it sits on that fallen limb which I have labelled ‘joist’. This is the nest’s main horizontal support and it is slowly rotting away with time. The portion labelled with the number 2 shows additions to the rear (uphill side) of the nest. This area actually sags slightly below the original nest explaining why the eagles seem to disappear as they move towards the rear of the nest. The third area shows sticks that have dislodged from the nest and have become caught in the limbs below their condo. This is common with eagle nests as movement within the nest can shake a few sticks loose.

So how are the sticks gathered for the nest? By hard work. I have seen eagles swoop at sticks in the top of a tree, grabbing one with their feet and snapping it off as they pass by but usually there is a bit of choosing and chewing (or rather gnawing) involved, as Willa illustrated so beautifully in Roger’s images below.

So now Carillon Park is preparing for its annual Christmas festivities which includes transforming the iconic bell tower into a giant Christmas tree.

Even with the ongoing, ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions hundreds masked patrons will find there way into the park over the next month. Lights, caroling, roasting chestnuts, hot chocolate, even a jolly old elf in a red suit will be part of the annual activities flowing below Orv and Willa’s favorite nighttime perch. These are just a few of the things that are rather unique to urban life and to urban wildlife as well.

I am grateful this Thanksgiving for our ever-growing eagle watching family and for the eagles we watch.

This final, beautifully dramatic image captured by Roger’s wife Marcia, says so much. Determination, focus and teamwork are necessary for survival.

For Orv and Willa and for all of us, 2020 has been a year of striving together in conquering challenges, overcoming obstacles.

Published in: on November 19, 2020 at 7:09 am  Leave a Comment  

The Hope of Promise and the Promise of Hope

H-O-P-E, four letters that hold the key to life. “Without hope the people perish.” A person can overcome almost anything as long as they are hopeful, but when all hope fails, trouble looms.

That may be the larger threat from the trials we all face with the ongoing Corona Virus pandemic. Many are fatigued by the mandated changes to life. Fatigue may lead to frustration, frustration to despair, despair to depression and depression to disaster. Isolation may hold a sharper reaper’s scythe than the disease itself.

I know many of the dear followers of this blog are “up in years” as they say. Many live in extended care facilities that are now in virtual lockdown. Even those of us with a more liberated way-of-life are laboring under changes that we had never seen coming. My prayer is that through it all we each maintain an attitude of hopefulness as we face the next virus update.

My, how things have changed! Last winter there were no masks in our home but now a hook near the door to the garage holds several, freshly laundered and ready to go. And a few more masks await us in our cars. Every grocery store, restaurant, public building and even our church requires the wearing of a mask to pass through their doors. The Sunday school class that I coteach normally holds about 30 senior adults but now socially distant (disinfected before and after class) seating allows for less than half that number and a few of those chairs remain empty each week. To accommodate those uncomfortable with the idea of venturing out to a masked and socially distant classroom, I host an online class each Thursday evening. This virtual meeting is an effort to assure some manner of social interconnection for everyone. An additional, small, biweekly Bible study gathering with some dear friends has become a ‘virtual’ meeting as well. My eagle presentations are fewer in number and farther between now days and carefully orchestrated to meet Covid 19 mandates. There is nothing normal about this new normal.

Last week my wife and I made the drive from Ohio to Tennessee to socially isolate in prettier surroundings and while there we were able to share a dinner with my friend Al Cecere, founder and past President and CEO of The American Eagle Foundation. Normally our conversations and correspondences lean heavily on the subject of eagles but this time the predominate subject was the virus and its effects on life and activities. My wife is a clinical research coordinator and some of her current studies involve Covid Virus treatments so she carried the bulk of the after dinner conversation.

I bring all this up because I am concerned about you and yours. I believe that there is an illness out there that is more threatening than Covid 19. That illness is homesickness. Now, you might wonder how can we be homesick if we are largely trapped within our homes, but any overseas G.I. will tell you that homesickness has little to do with four familiar walls and a roof. Homesickness is all about the separation from the smiling faces we hold dear, the laughing voices we cherish, the sights, sounds, aromas and traditions that overwhelm us with a sense of belonging and comfort. We need those things, desperately. This new normal is not normal and although our minds understand its necessity, our hearts are not so easily pacified. Of all the changes in my life, what I miss most are the tight, unhindered hugs of my grandchildren. I understand the need for maintaining some separation from school aged youngsters but my arms ache to embrace them. I am sure that many of you feel the same estrangement from loved ones and now, with the holidays upon us, we cannot lose hope.

Hope keeps us going when the going gets tough, when the burdens grow heavy and the trial stretches on and on.

Eagles naturally inspire hope. Their majestic wings carry them effortlessly above or through every storm. Much of nature was designed to encourage us and to serve as a reminder of God’s love for us. The roaring, crashing waves of the sea; the soft, golden promise of a sunrise; the mysteriously deep shadows of the mountains; the shimmering, silver glow of the moon and stars on a clear summer’s night; the brilliant explosion of autumn’s foliage; a soft, wintery blanket of freshly fallen snow; the expectant aroma of a warm spring breeze… The list is as endless as God’s love. But for me, the eagle says it all! Isaiah 40:31 promises that, “They who hope in (wait upon, trust in) the Lord shall renew their strength. they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

These virus restrictions have gone from a sprint to a cross country marathon. I pray that you will find the hope to run on victoriously.

Orv and Willa are doing just that within the colorful canopy of Carillon Park.

They are spending their days hunting and working and being together, building a strong nest and an even stronger pair-bond.

Choosing the perfect stick is not as easy as it may seem and that task can keep a bird on its toes!

It takes many, many sticks of various shapes and sizes to build an eagle’s aerie.

It is a joy to watch them mount up on eagle’s wings and effortlessly rise higher and higher. The look of confidence and determination is matched only by their focus on the task at hand.

Above the fray of human struggles they prepare for the future, trusting in both the hope of promise and the promise of hope.

Published in: on October 30, 2020 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Interrupted Silence

“Silence is golden.” or so they say, and it is often true that a period of silence is refreshing, no matter how brief that period may be. This makes silence as precious as gold, hence silence is golden. (Unless you are the parent of a toddler, then silence is suspicious!)

As parents, that idiom takes on special significance due to the 24 hour demands of parenting. We embrace every opportunity to calmly sit back and pray for our family, read, enjoy a hot cup of coffee or tea, or just breathe deeply. But those silent moments of parenthood are frequently interrupted by a cry from the crib, a youngster’s nightmare-induced screams or a stranded teen’s phone call. It is a blessing to meet our children’s pressing needs but those interruptions add to the value of the next silent moment.

We are currently enjoying a period of silence at our eagle’s nest. Orv and Willa are frolicking in the post-childrearing silence and in each other’s presence.

The nest building instinct is just beginning to sprout again with a random stick carried home every now and then, but with no real vigor for now. Instincts are a lot like flowers. The seed of instinct is always within them but as changing seasons trigger growth we watch the first shoot of a behavior appear. Gradually it grows in intensity until it bursts forth in full bloom. Then it slowly withers away until seasonally induced hormones trigger it once more. For the moment, Orv and Willa have but three concerns: each other, food, and defending their domain.

Their period of silence faces the occasional challenge from other nomadic eagles passing through Dayton. Newly pair-bonded, five year old couples are felling those instincts for the very first time and are seeking a nesting site of their own. Finding an established, unoccupied nest would be a real work saver for them so Orv and Willa (and Eastwood’s Jim and Hope) are making sure that the No Vacancy signs are clearly posted. For years I have been saying that the area near Island Park could easily host another nesting pair and likely would over time. That seems to be what a nomadic pair of bald eagles are thinking too. They have been closely investigating the area and we should know more as their sprouting nesting instincts begin to grow.

But, Orv and Willa are about to face yet another interruption to their silence and this one is a bit more intrusive and unexpected.

Urban eagles have to adapt to urban challenges. Since first nesting in Carillon Historical Park (named after its majestic bell tower) in January of 2018, Orv and Willa have adapted well to many human-induced annoyances.

Their nest tree is midway up a steep hillside directly behind Wright Hall, a building within the park that holds the original 1905 Wright Flyer III. This is the actual flying machine that Wilbur and Orville Wright flew over Huffman Prairie, perfecting the plane’s abilities. It is the world’s first practical airplane.

As an elderly man, Orville helped design the building, provided the parts and oversaw the reconstruction of the machine within the walls of Wright Hall. In fact, the Wright Flyer III is of such historical significance that Wright Hall and the connected bicycle shop are now known as the Wright Brothers National Museum, and are under the supervision of The National Park Service!

Some believe that the aircraft is the cornerstone of the park’s many historical exhibits. (But I would argue that that honor goes to the eagle’s nest above Wright Hall.) Anyway, there are several trees on the steep hillside behind the building that are in danger of falling putting the Wright Flyer in jeopardy. Those trees must be removed and they are very near Orv and Willa’s nest tree.

Earlier in the year, the park officials had asked me when would be the most opportune time to remove the trees without disturbing the eagles. I advised them to wait until after the eaglets had fledged and to try to accomplish the removals in September but by no later than October 31st. The removals will be no easy task as the building, the hillside slope and the nearby powerlines will require a 250′ crane and coordination with the utility company. Complicating matters, the company that has been hired to remove the trees must have visual communication between the trimmers high in the limbs and the workers on the ground. Therefor they require waiting until most of the leaves have fallen before safely beginning the work. I pointed out that swooping, angry eagles might present an additional hazard if the work is delayed too long. Well, after everyone’s best efforts, the work will begin shortly, providing that unexpected urban interruption to Orv and Willa’s silence.

Our eagles have proven themselves to be very adaptive. Eagles sometimes will build a second nest within their established territory around their third or fourth year just as Jim and Cindy did at Eastwood. Because the Eastwood nest is in the City of Dayton’s Mad River Well Field, a drinking water recharge facility, heavy equipment like backhoes, dump trucks and graders pass under their nest and work nearby on a regular basis. Jim and Hope seem undisturbed by the noisy activity so I suspect that the Carillon eagles will be fine. Still, I wish I could let Orv and Willa know that this interruption is no real threat and only a temporary nuisance.

In an Ohio autumn, silence is golden, crimson and yellow like oils on The Master Artist’s palette. It is a wonderful thing to make the time to bask in the quiet rustle of the cascading leaves and embrace the cool, crisp promise of the approaching winter’s rest. Sitting on the riverbank reminiscing about the fading year and looking out over the water, a flash of movement can bring an unexpected smile in a moment of interrupted silence.

Published in: on September 26, 2020 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wild and Free!

There is something in every human heart that yearns to be wild and free. We all sense it. We know that we awaken each day under bondage to burdens, cares and concerns that tether us to realities that are every bit as restricting as a heavy metal ball. Our midnight-hour dreams often carry us away from that oppressive weight allowing us to glimpse a freedom that we long to embrace. Occasionally those dreams may allow our burdens and fears to come crashing down upon us like shards of glass and we toss and turn or even awaken in the darkness to escape the nightmare.

Perhaps that is one reason we admire the eagles so. In the midst of their everyday struggle for survival they soar wild and free in a way that touches our hearts with hope and admiration.

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(Dear reader, we have not ventured out together in a while so let’s spend a day with Orv and Willa! I’ll be by to pick you up in a minute!)

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You are waiting expectantly as I arrive! The weather today is perfect for eagle watching.  The air is a crisp and clean 58 degrees and the forecasters are calling for a high of 78 with low humidity and a soft breeze. After the summer’s stifling, stagnant, moisture-laden air, this late August day carries the first hint of autumn’s welcomed approach!

“Good morning! Can you believe this weather?” you ask as you buckle your seatbelt. That simple question launches our conversation as we set off for Carillon. (It is funny how conversations progress from topic to topic, meandering like a curious child on a stroll changing his focus from bird, to bug, to flower, to sidewalk crack…) By the time we have purchased our morning coffees we have covered the weather, our mutual weariness of the Covid restrictions, our similar feelings for the abundance of political shenanigans these days and  few other topics. As we near the river our conversation slows as our eyes busy themselves with searching the skies and our lips are equally preoccupied with sipping our coffees.

“Roger’s already here.” you observe as we turn onto Carillon Boulevard. “He must live here.” I quip. We both admire his dedication and skill with his camera. You cannot get the picture if you are not in the right place at the right time and Roger seems to have a real knack to knowing how to find both. “I used to compete with him in our pursuit to capture the perfect image but I gave up on that about ten years ago.” I admit. “You just can’t compete with a God-given talent.” As we park we notice two other eagle photographers parked a little greater distance down the road.

There is a slight haze on the river, concealing its secrets in the early morning sunlight. A great blue heron silently stalks her prey along the water’s edge. A belted kingfisher is perched atop a fog shrouded log that a higher water level had deposited on the far shore. Small gatherings a geese dot the riverscape and a lone osprey circles upstream. The stage is set. All the players are in place so we stand in the cool air and chat with one another as we wait for the warming sunbeams to raise the curtain for Act One.

As that curtain slowly rises we find ourselves surmising where Orv and Willa’s Prop and Rudder have gone. Although Prop was fairly young when she vanished last month she was a very capable flyer. Rudder’s more resent vanishing act occurred after a few additional weeks of experience. In either case we have no way of actually knowing where they have disappeared to. “Isn’t that what wild and free mean?” you ask. “After all, that is what we anticipate, what we hope for. We look forward to the youngsters growing stronger in both physical abilities and and hunting capabilities so that they may become independent.” We all nod in agreement, yet with a real sense of loss for not knowing more of the details. “We have no reason to suspect that either juvenile has encountered some tragic event.” I add. The truth is, we may never know the answers we seek. Even if they pass our way over the coming months, we will likely never know if the juvenile we are watching is Prop or Rudder. Then, as if on cue, a lone juvenile emerges from the vanishing vapor and passes high overhead on its way to wherever it desires to go. We smile.

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Now the group along the levee has grown to about ten in number. Some are toting cameras with long lenses while others hold only a cell phone. One has no camera at all, content just to watch the adventure unfold. The levee provides ample space for social distancing from which to view the excitement.

From somewhere upstream the lone osprey has returned and is circling high above the river searching the flowing waters below for breakfast. We watch as it kites, hovering in the air, folds its wings and plummets downward. Cameras sing capturing the big splash as the bird hits its mark.

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A few seconds later it rises above the water carrying its catch. It stutters a bit as it shakes the excess water from its wings and begins to slowly gain altitude. As we concentrate on the osprey our eyes are drawn to another rapidly approaching hunter! Willa is coming in fast and she is focused on the osprey, or rather the osprey’s fish. “Where did she come from?” someone asks. It is amazing how suddenly a huge eagle can appear seemingly out of nowhere. We watch as the smaller osprey takes evasive action but Willa will not be deterred. In less than a minute the masked hunter releases its prize and the eagle dives for the falling treat. She catches the fish a few feet above the river’s surface and heads to a nearby perch as the hungry osprey makes a wide circle and heads back upstream.

All attention is now focused on the mistress of Carillon as she dines on her stolen meal. We don’t know whether to feel happy for her or sad for the osprey.

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Actually, the real loser here was the fish. Willa contentedly dines as we watch. The morning sunlight has grown more intense illuminating Willa’s bright head feathers as she sits within the shadowy foliage.

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She is really something!

We decide to walk inside the park to hopefully find Orv or, if we are really lucky, Prop or Rudder. The park is extremely quiet as we pass through the entrance. It is half past ten and only a few masked people are wandering through the outdoor exhibits. As we walk we search the treetops, paying special attention to several familiar perches. As we near Wright Hall we check out the nest.

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No longer the focal point of activity, the nest stands idle for now. Orv and Willa will begin adding to its mass this autumn and winter to prepare it for February’s eggs. The old, dead limb that serves as its main support is showing more deterioration than ever. Moisture and decay will eventually take their toll on the brace as more weight is added to the nest. Hopefully Orv and Willa will begin a second nest in a nearby tree this fall to serve as a backup to their Hillside Condo.

Our search through the park is peppered by conversations with the visitors we encounter. Some ask where the eagles might be. Others want to know their history and seek an update on Prop and Rudder. Some admit that they were completely unaware that eagles were nesting in the park, or in Dayton at all for that matter. It is nearly noon before we return to the levee after finding no sign of Orv or either youngster.

The group along the River Corridor Bikeway atop the river bank has grown to about 20 now with the edition of two families picnicking on the grassy slope. Some of the regulars explain that Willa had left the tree about twenty minutes prior to our return and had flown downstream. We again join in conversation with others as we watch and wait. Waiting is the biggest part of eagle watching.

After almost an hour we both comment on our own growing hunger and decide to grab a late lunch in Culp’s Cafe, within the park’s main building. We are seated inside the restored Barney and Smith streetcar and are soon approached by our server. She asks if we know what we would like for lunch and I answer, “Anything, as long as it isn’t a raw fish stolen from an osprey.” For some reason the server looks a bit puzzled and responds, “I’ll give you a few more minutes.” before walking away. After our very tasty meals you insist on picking up the tab stating that it is only right since I drove. (Thanks, by the way.)

Once again we return to the levee and all cameras are pointed to the opposite river’s edge. There Willa and Orv stand in the water finishing up a late lunch of their own.

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After their meal and an apparent squabble or two Willa lifts off and passes directly over our heads as she heads back to the large tree along the entrance road. We are so focused on her that we almost miss Orv’s approach. (Almost.)

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He follows her to the tree and lands just a few feet from his mate.

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This Follow The Leader behavior has become more apparent over the last few days and signals the approach of Courting Season. Now that the demands of childrearing are behind them their focus is turning to each other. Autumn and early winter are more carefree and less demanding so they can work on strengthening their lifelong pair-bond that will sustain them through whatever trials lie ahead. I call it The Dance and the opening strains of its overture are already spiraling upward like late summer thermals, lifting their bodies and spirits heavenward. As 2020 winds down the eagles will become more aroused in their mutual devotion and admiration as they dance across the skies. The age old melody will crescendo as mating begins in January. I confess to you that this is my favorite time of the year as their pristine plumage and crisp, clean air will provide for wonderfully inspirational scenes against the brilliant explosion of fall colors.

Together they perch for the next two hours. Orv even poses for the cameras as he dries his feathers and warms his body in the afternoon sun.

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Passing cars slow to a crawl as drivers and passenger peer up at the treetop to see what the photographers are aiming at. Some pull over altogether and leave their cars to snap a picture or two. Encountering wild eagles can turn an ordinary day into something extraordinary. We continue to watch and share the excitement for the next two hours as we capture images from different angles. Finally Willa takes flight and heads toward the river. Orv follows in a matter of seconds. That is how the dance progresses. Slowly they circle. Gradually they gain altitude. Higher and higher, together they dance.

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Tethered below, together we watch as the King and Queen of Carillon eventually dissolve into the clear, blue sky and vanish from sight.

As we drive away we realize anew how blessed we are to witness it all. With all the challenges that cross our paths these days, we long for that untethered liberty exhibited by those majestic, soaring wings. Unbridled, unbroken, untamed and with unbounded devotion they dance effortlessly into the future, together, wild and free!

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Published in: on August 20, 2020 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment