The Discarded Pages of Life

When I was a schoolboy classrooms were fairly low tech places where students learned necessary facts and developed necessary skills from dedicated teachers. In those days little effort was made to entertain us or to capture our imagination unless that motivation came from the heart of those dedicated teachers.

Corporately each classroom was pretty much the same. Every room carried the aroma of stale paper and chalk dust. (My favorite classroom aroma will always be the sweet smell that came from that little plastic cylinder of white paste with the applicator built into the lid.) Some rooms were “decorated” with an age-appropriate paper border of block or cursive letters that I am sure were purchased from the teacher’s private funds. There were no TVs in the classrooms, no smartboards on the walls, no computer monitors and no docking stations. The plain, glossy block walls and scarred wooden floors proved to be amplifying echo chambers for noisy children during the occasional momentary absence of the teacher. Each room contained the basic needs for education in that era. A large, well-worn blackboard dominated one wall, not far from the teacher’s equally worn wooden desk. The long narrow tray on the bottom of the blackboard held various sized stubs of white or yellow chalk. Rectangular black eraser slept silently here and there in the tray’s chalky bed waiting to be awakened to smear the board in the teacher’s hand or to become a missile in the hand of a mischievous child . There was always a large, round clock on the wall that ticked much too slowly for both student and teacher. A supply closet of some type was in each classroom as well as a large, hand cranked pencil sharpener that could consume a new No. 2 pencil in no time flat! Also hanging somewhere in the room was a stern looking picture of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. (I remember wondering why none of the other presidents ever wanted their picture taken.) One other standard feature of every classroom was a thick, square pad of paper hanging on the wall. On each sheet, printed in bold, black print, was the month and the date. Each morning the teacher (or perhaps an exceptionally well behaved student) would rip off yesterday’s page and reveal a new day full of potential and possibility. The old page would then be unceremoniously discarded in the green, metal waste can beside the teacher’s desk.

Those discarded pages of life were easily forgotten but they had seen adventures and wonders. Each page held budding friendships and broken hearts, moments of recognition and comprehension, valiant scholastic victories and crushing defeats, for every student within that room was a living story still being written.

Over the past few weeks it has been my privilege to talk to hundreds of school children, teachers and parents as they have passed through Carillon Historical Park. As the park’s new “eagle expert” I have seen the excitement in the eyes of many children and adults as they catch their first glimpse of a Bald Eagle’s nest. But the real excitement comes when an eagle passes overhead! (Apparently “Awesome!” and “Cool!” have not gone the way of “Groovy!” and “Far out!”)

Our Eastwood eagles, Jim and Hope, began feeding eaglets around Good Friday so their brood is about 3 weeks old now. I have not been able to get any publishable images due to our current sprinter weather. (Sprinter is my term for this transitional season of spring one day and winter the next.) I have seen Jim and Hope simultaneously feeding eaglets which means that they have at least two this year!

The Carillon Park pair is doing well in their incubation duties and their eaglet(s) should begin pipping in about a week. First year nests sometimes fail so we are keeping our fingers and toes crossed. Having their nest within the park does have its photographic advantages though, so here is a sampling of what we have been seeing and why we hear “Awesome!” and “Cool!” so often.

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Every day is a blessing. Whether this day holds a valiant victory or a crushing defeat, just like the fresh ink of the story being written in the lives of schoolchildren, we older “kids” are still an adventure in progress too. The remaining pages of our wall calendars may be fewer in number than they once were but there are more “Awesome!” and “Cool!” moments to come. May we all live each day, including this day, in anticipation and appreciation of the blessing that lie ahead and may we forever cherish the memories recorded on the discarded pages of life.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 8:33 am  Comments (22)  

Wound Just a Bit Too Tightly

Spring has sprung in Dayton, Ohio!

Or at least that is what the calendar claims. I love the aroma of spring grass sprouting and hyacinth in bloom. The encouragement that dances on the colorful, delicate petals of tulips and daffodils refreshes my winter-weary heart and the warm breezes of springtime inflate not only my lungs, but my hopes and dreams as well. Spring is an explosion of promise!

So I eagerly arose from my bed on this first full day of spring, flung open the back door of the house and breathed in a deep, refreshing breath of… ice crystals! Really? This does not look like spring to me.

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And the only bird I saw was a silent Cooper’s Hawk concealed deep in the snow-laden brush along the creek.

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Perhaps this particular spring was wound just a bit too tightly.

So, since today looks like a good day to stay indoors in hopes of a warmer (and greener) tomorrow, grab a jacket and join me on a virtual trip through the last few weeks of eagle activity here in Dayton!

Soft music from the car’s radio envelopes us as we make our way together down Route 4. The daily pressures of life can be tiresome and we both need a break. This is a day for relaxation and adventure, of stepping back in time and forward into the future. As we cruise past Eagle Lake on our left we see either Jim or Hope perched high atop a well field tree and we smile. We know that if one of the pair is standing guard then the other is in the Treetop Mansion faithfully incubating an egg or two (or three?). We make a quick exit onto Harshman Road and swing by Eastwood only to see basically the same sight. We can barely see the eagle in the nest. You comment that at least Jim and Hope know that we are still checking on them. I chuckle, but I do feel like I am somehow neglecting them this year after faithfully reporting on Jim and his mates’ activities for more than a decade. But they are no longer the only eagles in town and they were the ones who had made the choice to nest 1/2 mile from public view, not me. As we head back onto southbound 4 we calculate that Jim and Hope should be feeding eaglets by Good Friday, just over a week away!

As we exit Route 4 onto southbound I-75 we quickly scan the treetops near Deeds Point hoping to spot a juvenile Bald Eagle or two, but the trees are barren of foliage and eagles. In two minutes we have exited I-75 and are now southbound on Patterson Boulevard, which parallels The Great Miami River on the right. With my eyes on the road and yours on the river, we still see no eagles. In another few minutes we are approaching the iconic Deeds Carillon bell tower, standing proud and true like a musical sentinel guarding the southern edge of Dayton.

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Just as we turn into the driveway of Carillon Historical Park the tower chimes out 9:30 AM. “Perfect Timing!” you opine, “The park just opened.”

We park in a convenient spot and glance towards the nest. We cannot make out any eagles from here so we gather our cameras and leave the car. “Look!” you exclaim, pointing above me. I look up just as the male Carillon eagle zips by carrying a branch in his talons. “Missed him!” I lament. He was just too close and too fast for any chance of snapping a picture. “And I’m the guy who always says, ‘Keep looking up.'” I mutter to myself. Now it is your turn to chuckle while adding, “Well at least we know where he was heading with that stick.”

We make our way through the big doors of the Kettering Family Educational Center and head to the reception desk in the lobby. We are met by a friendly smile of the young receptionist while we are still 20 feet away. “Good morning! Welcome back! I hear that they are pretty active out there this morning.” “That’s why we’re here.” we say together, both chuckling as we hand her our membership cards. “Good luck out there! Let me know what you see.” she adds as she hands us our adhesive visitor stickers. We apply the stickers to our coats and greet the gift shop cashier as we head for the back doors. “Good luck today” she exclaims with a smile.

Opening the back doors and stepping into The Green is like stepping back in time. The spotless grounds before us are dotted with historical structures and volunteers in period dress. The enticing aroma of a wood fire draws us towards the Morris House but our focus is on the distant treetops behind Wright Hall. Even from the Family Educational Center porch we can see a white head reflecting the sunlight and our pace quickens. As we approach the edge of the porch I pause to snap a quick picture, capturing both Newcom Tavern and the nest in the image.

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I realize that we are a bit far away but we have no guarantee that the eagle will not fly in the next few seconds. (Do you, dear reader, see the eagle in the above image? Look carefully before reading on as I will zoom in a bit closer in the picture below.)

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(Do you see him now sitting in the nest? Not yet? Well let’s get a little closer still.)

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(Well, if you still can’t find the eagle in the nest, maybe I should point him out to you.)

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(Yep! There he is! Now just for fun, let me show you what my camera saw zoomed all the way in on that nest from the same spot on that porch.)

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(How about that! This last image may help you understand how Roger and I can capture some of our images. Roger’s images dwarf mine in quality and detail, and I quit competing with his lens and giftedness long ago but a powerful zoom sure makes nature photography a lot of fun! Now, where was I? Oh, right! We were on our way to the nest!)

As we scurry past Newcom Tavern, the Morris House, the Newcom House, Deed’s barn (where the automobile electric starter was invented) and the Sugar Camp cabin (where the Nazi code breaking machine was invented during WWII) we are keeping our eyes on the nest. Finally, in front of the building that houses a huge Corliss engine we pause to photograph the nest and to catch our breath. Of course, we immediately lose our breath again as the female flies overhead carrying a new stick to the nest.

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They are certainly determined! We find our usual seat on the little bench in front of the old print shop and next to the tiny Sunoco station. The sunlight is a welcome plus on this rather nippy day and we settle in for an hour or (hopefully) more of eagle watching. Stick after stick is delivered and carefully added to the walls of the nest. As we sit we chat with passing park visitors, many of whom are surprised to learn of the eagles’ presence. We hear little girls scream with excitement (and a few grandpas scream like little girls) as the eagles pass overhead. Extremely friendly park volunteers and staff pass by and pause to enjoy the aerial show while homeschool groups are full of questions and enthusiasm. But mostly we take pictures like these:

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It takes a lot of coming and going, harvesting and arranging to build a Bald Eagle aerie. They have to harvest grass from the riverside to intermittently line the floor and to carpet the nest bowl. They even have to deal with the pesky Red Tailed Hawks that still think that they own the place.

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All of that work makes an eagle tired and a bit sleepy. During a well deserved break for a little preening, a warm sunbeam and a gently swaying branch lull the female to sleep.

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As we watch her sleep, we can’t help but laugh at her, but apparently she was not amused.

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Eventually I decided that she was really just winking at me and then I felt flattered.

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A stiff breeze whipped up the coolness again and it was time to get back to work. She shook off her sleepiness and set her mind to the tasks at hand with marked determination.

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After a brief stop at a nearby tree to gather her thoughts in front of a sliver of moon, she was off!

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There was more grass to gather from the nearby river,

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more sticks to be found

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and more hay to be made

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before the approaching night.

All in all, we had an exciting time today as we walked through the historical exhibits at Carillon Historical Park. Quite frankly, our day at Carillon was a walk in the park. History isn’t all dates and times and past events. History is also here and now. We made history today and we witnessed history being made above us. Now, as we make our way back home we are a slightly physically tired but much more relaxed than we were when we started our day. Stepping back into time and stepping out into nature is a good way to spend the day when life leaves you wound just a bit too tightly.

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 6:26 pm  Comments (22)  

Egg-sighting Times Are Here Again!

Most of you already know where this post is heading. But after writing this blog for almost a decade and constantly searching for new ways to share the repetitive cycle each year, I am grateful when this annual story takes on new twists and turns. In our last post I mentioned a few of those twists, but this story resembles a pretzel more and more each day.

This was actually our first year in which Jim and his current mate, Hope, shared the entire courting season together as Hope came on the scene in January of 2017, a month after the loss of our beloved Cindy. (For those of you who are newer followers of our blog, let me encourage you to view past posts to learn some of the amazing history of our original Queen of Eastwood!) Hope, we learned, has a mind of her own. As I mentioned in the last post, our new queen is full of surprises and the first few twists were all hers. To recap, twist number 1 occurred when she returned to Eastwood from the annual vacation quite a while after Jim. She had us worried for some time. Then we were surprised when she abandoned the Treetop Palace which had served as a nursery for 15 eaglets over the last 7 years and began constructing a new nest. That was twist number 2. Now she has thrown us a new twist. On Wednesday, in a steady rain, we spotted this:

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Hope was incubating eggs in the new nest! Twist number 3 was that she actually did something we were expecting, just a few days later than in previous years. The 35 days of incubation will take us to around March 28th for pipping and hatching!

However, by far, the biggest twist came when those young, pair-bonded Bald Eagles began building a nest in Carillon Historical Park above the building that houses the original 1905 Wright Flyer III. Their arrival has led to my favorite twist of the season. Over the past 10 years we have had to view Jim and Cindy’s Treetop Palace (and now Jim and Hope’s new Treetop Mansion) from about 1/2 mile away making our only photo opportunities a bit few and far between. We have needed either near perfect weather conditions or one of the eagles to venture our way. Not so with the new  Carillon Park nest! Daily the eagles pass over the historical exhibits as they gather nesting materials allowing our telephoto lenses to capture the action with much greater detail even on overcast days and in misty drizzle! (And I really, really appreciate having heated bathrooms nearby!) I have been impressed at how their new nest is growing but I still wish that it was twice its present size. They are young and learning and initial nesting seasons are often difficult for young Bald Eagle pairs but only time will tell. The following series of images illustrate how diligently they have been working but although the nest is getting taller, it is not getting much wider. When both adults are in the nest there is little room left and even a single eaglet will need room to grow and move about. The viability of a nesting attempt relies on many factors from the internal status of reproduction systems of the parents and the strength of their developed instincts to multiple external conditions like weather, nest foundational support and the nest itself. But these two seem determined to pull it off. Now for those images.

 

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Female at lift off.

 

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Male with framing lumber.

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Female adjusting her cargo in flight.

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Outgoing and incoming builders.

 

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Perched in mid-air.

 

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One…. more…. stick.

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And yet another.

 

 

 

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Decisions, decisions.

 

 

 

 

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This one will do nicely.

 

 

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Togetherness.

 

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Isn’t she something?

 

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The plunge.

 

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Not a lot of room to spare.

The above images were all taken under cloudy skies between showers. Imagine the fun we would have in sunshine! As you could see by the images the male is somewhat younger than his mate so I do wonder if he is physically mature enough to reproduce and that nest could really be bigger, but only time will tell. They are definitely trying to do all they can to succeed though.

Carillon Historical Park opens at 9:30 daily and is a series of historic Dayton area homes and other structures that are easily accessible to all. Half way through your casual stroll past the outdoor exhibits you will find the eagles’ nest high above Wright Hall. Adult admission is only $8.00 and various annual memberships are available as well. Even parking is free. Since there is no guarantee how this pair will do this season, their presence in the park may be brief this year, but if they successfully produce an egg or two and all goes well, they will be here every day through June!

I cannot imagine a more comfortable setting from which to view wild eagles in Dayton, nor a more cordial group of volunteers and staff with whom to spend the day. As spring approaches park activities will increase providing even more opportunities for an enjoyable day. You can even enjoy beautiful music from the most famous bells in Dayton, ringing through the air from the iconic Deeds’ Carillon Tower. Even the eagles pause to enjoy the music!

 

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That’s the bell tower on the right and the eagle on the left.

There is history in the making at Carillon Historical Park, music drifting on the breeze, promise in the treetops and wonders in the sky over Dayton once more! (And did I mention heated bathrooms?)

 

Egg-sighting times are here again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on February 24, 2018 at 12:18 am  Comments (17)  

For Crying Out Loud!

We are entering the 10th nesting season since Bald Eagles first made their return to Dayton, Ohio after that 7 decade absence. You know, watching a process repeat itself over and over again that many times teaches you what to expect next, but this year has had more twist and turns than a crumpled up Smoky Mountain road map!

Once Hope finally returned to the area we were looking forward to new nestoration activity and less anxiety, but Hope had other plans. After 7 successful years of fledging a total of 15 eaglets from The Treetop Palace, Hope decided that it was time for a change. So she invaded a neighboring Great Blue Heron Rookery, claiming it for her own. You could almost hear Jim lament as he sat alone in his faithful abode watching his bride pass by with yet another stick, “For crying out loud! What’s wrong with this place?” But Hope just ignored his complaints and gave him the silent treatment. (We men are defenseless against the silent treatment. Over time we have learned that somehow we have probably done something wrong and it is best to just admit we are licked and go along with it.) Before long Jim joined  in on the construction, just occasionally stopping by the old place to shake his head. Well, the last week has seen amazing progress and when the heron begin returning to their heronry next month they will find a new development has been constructed and they will most likely face forced evictions. Can you guess which nest is NOT a heron’s nest?

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I am sure the heron will scream, “For crying out loud!”

Jim and Hope are in full courting mode, patrolling their domain each morning to look for any claim jumpers and acting all lovey-dovey during their idle hours. (Finally, something I was expecting to see.) Typically Valentine’s week is egg laying time, but this year, who knows! I caught them taking a well deserved break yesterday after a busy morning of construction.

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They were perched about mid way between the old Treetop Palace and the new Treetop Mansion, which is visible through the trees on the right.

Then there was that other twist. We were expecting that the annual juvenile gathering at the west end of Eastwood Lake would draw more eagles again this year, as has been the pattern. Pattern, shmattern! It failed to happen at all! Whether weather, ice, ice-fisherman or something else was the cause for little activity on the lake, the transient eagles we encountered this winter were all along the rivers. I shared several images of these wanderers in our last post and most of that group disappeared soon after it was posted. But one male and female stayed behind and were causing a bit of a stir themselves. This lone Great Blue Heron had his own, “For crying out loud!” moment when the fish he had been slowly approaching was suddenly snatched away!

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Looked pretty filling too. The young pair-bonded couple looked intent on staying put along the Great Miami River near the southern edge of Jim and Hope’s domain. And the female looks to be a pretty good sized bird.

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We found her one early morning looking quite annoyed that the passing traffic was disturbing her sunrise solitude. She sat there on her lofty perch, quietly watching the sunlight twinkle softly on “her” river and enjoying the peaceful serenity of the moment until the humming traffic turned too noisy and interrupted her quiet time!

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“For crying out loud!” she chided, “Why are you noisy humans always in such a hurry?” (I have to admit that she asked a pretty good question.)

But the biggest “For crying out loud!” moment came when this female and her mate decided to move in, permanently!

Last month I shared this image of a distant eagle flying pass the landmark Deed’s Carillon Tower.

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Well, if you know Dayton at all then you know that this iconic structure is on the grounds of the Carillon Historical Park on the southern edge of Dayton. Our city has been the home of many inventors over the years, by far the most famous of which were Wilbur and Orville Wright. Carillon Historical Park is dedicated to preserving Dayton’s history and its inventions. In addition to the airplane, many common items like the step ladder, the cash register and the automobile electrical self-starter were invented by the very uncommon minds of past Daytonians. The pristine grounds of the park apparently looked quite attractive to this young Bald Eagle couple, so they decided to move in without even paying admission! And I find it very appropriate that they chose a sycamore tree that towers over Wright Hall, an attractive brick structure that houses the original 1905 Wright Flyer III.

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Now, this young couple is very late getting started and that small nest may not be on the most supportive limb but watching them work has been exciting.

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I have met several wonderfully friendly volunteer workers and staff at the park over the last few days and, for crying out loud, this may be Dayton’s second eagle’s nest! The park staff is ecstatic with their new living exhibit but the resident Red Tailed Hawks have not been so welcoming.

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Now I am quite certain that this young pair-bonded couple may not be successful in nesting this year. In fact, they may likely abandon the nest soon. The male looks quite young and bodily systems take some time to develop fully and instincts too begin in sputtering jumps, but just like the automobile electrical self-starter made hand turning a crank obsolete, these feathered self-starters are on the ‘Wright’ track and hopefully, whether this year or next, their nomadic ways will become obsolete and history may be made in the treetops of Carillon Historical Park! And, for crying out loud, Dayton may have two active eagle’s nests!

By the way, Bryce, the 12-year-old young photographer that I introduced to all of you a few months ago, is still at it and honing his skill with his big lens in a most impressive way. I will close this post with one of his recent images. Not only does it personify the title of this post, when I first saw it I said, “For crying out loud!”

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Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 9:11 pm  Comments (22)  

Winter Wonderland

No, I’m not talking about ringing sleigh bells and glistening lanes. This winter wonderland is much more exciting than that!

Last winter I wrote about the gathering of a dozen or more eagles of various ages around the west end of Eastwood Lake and I fully expected that scenario to repeat itself this year. Well, I was wrong. This year’s weather was quite a bit different. Where last winter was fairly snowless and warm, this January brought below zero temperatures and several inches of the white stuff. The cold made the calm surface waters of Eastwood Lake and other local lakes freeze solid making local ice fishermen happy but making it impossible for Bald Eagles to access their refrigerators. This meant that the flowing waters of our Dayton rivers were the only open buffets for our feathered friends. The Mad River, the Stillwater River and even the much smaller Wolf Creek all flow into The Great Miami River in downtown Dayton and the turbulent waters where rivers meet or cascade over low dams and rocky riverscapes make the formation of ice even more difficult. Our winter wonderland is a world of trees, rocks and riverbanks where eagles perch and dine.

Since things are running a bit behind schedule for Jim and Hope I have decided to share a few river adventures with you featuring a couple of dozen images of the transient eagles that have been fishing those rivers over the past few weeks. The easiest time to find them is in the early daylight when hungry eagles look for breakfast but if you sit by a river for an hour or so you are likely to see at least one. Keep in mind that all of this is rather new for us as eagles had been missing from our city from 1938 to late in 2008. That is 70 years! Many Daytonians have never seen a wild eagle and even now, nearly 10 years after their return I regularly meet folks who have no idea that they are here. They think I’m crazy until I share a picture or two or an eagle flies over us as we speak. (Some people just need to slow down and look up more often.)

Now it is time for those images.

That 1938 nest was just across the river from where a large sycamore now stands. This sycamore.

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Please understand that this tree stands alongside a busy thoroughfare aptly named Riverside Drive and 4 eagles are pretty hard to miss but apparently people do just that.

One morning as I was trolling for eagles along The Great Miami River right in downtown Dayton, I stopped at a red traffic signal and noticed this tree right out my driver’s side window.

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I snapped this picture just before the signal turned green. After circling the block to get a better picture of the trio I ended up waiting at the same signal but from the opposite direction. As I waited I saw a Five River MetroParks employee park near the tree and emerge from her truck to pick up some nearby litter. With her attention focused on the litter on the ground she had failed to notice the three eagles in the nearby tree, the lowest of which was perched just 10 feet above the ground. As she approached the litter under the tree the two older eagles flushed when she was about 20 feet away. She jumped (Who wouldn’t?) and continued to move towards the litter as she watched the two eagles glide low over the river. The traffic signal finally turned green and as I drove forward I rolled down the passenger window of my car and shouted, “There is a third eagle in the tree!” She was now just 10 feet or so from the lower eagle and as she looked up it flew. She jumped again! Looking at me she caught her breath, laughed and exclaimed, “Thanks!”  At least she noticed we have eagles in Dayton again.

These two were just 50 feet from the busy I-75. How can anyone miss that?

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This one was flying over a newly installed enhancement to The Great Miami River downtown near the Daytonview Bridge. What appears to be blue sky behind the eagle is actually river water and the dark horizontal line is a ripple above the flowing water between the rocks. The mixture of textures adds even more beauty to the image.

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At times they seemed to be everywhere, right here in Dayton, Ohio! The single digit temperatures and occasional brisk winds made photography a bit of a challenge but this opportunity will not last long. Once the lakes thaw the eagles will be harder to find and fairly soon Jim may chase these visitors away as the new nesting season begins, even if some of the visitors happen to be his own offspring.

If you are familiar with Dayton at all you probably know that the Dayton Art Institute and The Masonic Temple stand side by side just across the river from our central business district. One morning I found an eagle perched in the shady side of a tree near there. The golden rays of the rising sun were just beginning to filter through the large limbs of the stately old tree. Slowly the sunbeams found the otherwise shadowy eagle’s face resulting in this image.

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But those are just a few of my pictures. Roger has been very busy too and his images are beyond words. Enjoy a few of the images he captured in this winter wonderland!

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He managed to capture many pictures of eagles on successful fishing expeditions, good for the eagle but not so much for the fish.

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We both captured images of eagles near Dayton landmarks like the Masonic Temple,

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the Dayton Art Institute,

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Colonel Edward Deeds Carillon Park,

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and high in the trees near the iconic Island Park band shell.

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On one frigid day I found 5 eagles in the treetops of Island Park which was motivation enough for me to take a short hike in the 4 degree weather (Let me emphasis that it was a short hike.) where I snapped several dozen images including these two.

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Even in 4 degree temperatures you just can’t pass up an opportunity like that!

And then there were the patriotic opportunities, like these.

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We soon had discovered the favorite perches of these transient eagles. This enabled us to park (in our nice warm cars) and wait for the big birds to come to us. By being there first we were just a part of the scenery for the eagles and that allowed us to capture some beautiful close up images like these.

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But being there first does have its dangers. This eagle landed a little too directly overhead. This is not the best place to be around an eagle, especially just before they fly, unless there is a car wash or a change of clothing nearby.

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But even with all the hundreds of images that we were able to capture this past week, they cannot capture the thrill of seeing a wild eagle in person and this window of opportunity will close soon. If you are near Dayton treat yourself to a sack lunch down by the river side. If you work downtown maybe take a walk on your lunch break. You just never can tell who might be watching you as you are walking in a winter wonderland!

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Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 11:37 am  Comments (38)  

Thresholds

Webster’s Dictionary defines a threshold as “an entry point, a place of beginning.”

We cross over thresholds every day as we enter a building or just passing from room to room within our homes. Those doorway thresholds are indeed entry points and places of new beginnings as we see past the walls that have been obstructing our views and encounter the things, and (more importantly) the people within that space. Thresholds can bring smiles or tears.

Many reveled last night as we crossed over the threshold of a new year while others spent that time in prayer and solitude. The threshold of a new year is perhaps the most superficial threshold of all for it is factually just the turning of one more calendar page, but we easily embrace it as a fresh start, a new beginning in life. 2017 is now a memory, the room we have just left behind us with its happiness and sadness, victories and losses, smiles and tears. The new room before us is a space for future investigation full of unknown possibilities and unexpected surprises. The mysteries that 2018 holds are yet to be explored.

Eagle nests have thresholds as well and their thresholds stretch 360 degrees! An eagle passing over his or her threshold may encounter a cascading river, a dense forest, a meadow of wildflowers, a farm field, a peaceful lake, a noisy roadway or any number of other sights depending on which direction it chooses as it leaves its nest. With that thought in mind I recently visited a few eagle’s nests in neighboring Ohio counties. Here are two of them.

This first nest is atop a tree in Hamilton County.

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The resident eagles here may pass over this river, the field beyond, roadways, a busy railroad track or even a large industrial complex as they leave their home.

Below is a nest in neighboring Clark County.

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The resident eagles here will find trees, cattle and farms just beyond their circular threshold but a mile or so to the west is a dam and large reservoir, a state park with camping, cabins and a sandy, swimmer’s beach. If these eagles venture south they will pass over a busy interstate highway.

Returning back to Eastwood I found Jim and Hope seemingly contemplating their options as well.

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As we begin 2018 we have to wonder what the new year may hold for us all. We, just like these eagle families, will likely face many issues that are simply beyond our control. There lies the mystery and excitement of 2018. But much of what we encounter in this new year will be determined by what direction we choose to go as we cross its many thresholds.

Published in: on January 1, 2018 at 12:07 pm  Comments (8)  

A Tale of Two Palaces

Once upon a time, long ago in a land not so far away, a handsome young prince called Jim and his beautiful bride, Cindy, sought far and wide for a kingdom of their own. Their journey led them to a wonderful land where the rivers flowed as freely as the wildlife played! In this land all was well. Field and stream, meadow and woodland abounded with life and excitement. It was a land full of promise and potential. “This shall be our kingdom!” proclaimed the young prince and his beautiful bride nodded in agreement.

Now this new king and his lovely queen were of independent spirits needing no royal court or attendants. They were quite anxious and able to accomplish all they desired through personal labor and sheer determination. So, being of like mind, they began at once to construct a magnificent palace for what kingdom has not such a structure, what king can rule without a palace from which to do so? Therefore while still wearing their royal robes they began at once to construct their kingly residence.

(Did I fail to mention their regal appearance? Please forgive me for their appearance was the envy of all! From the crown of their heads to their shoulders they were covered in the most brilliant white one could imagine! Whiter than snow were their heads, whiter than the clouds that drift across the heavens on a bright summer’s day! Why, their heads appeared so purely white that in the sunlight they glimmered with the luster of angels’ wings. From their shoulders down they were robed in a dark chocolate hue with a single golden, embroidered thread sparkling here and there throughout the garments. Each robe ended in a fanning white train as glorious as the crown of their heads. Their feet were shod in bright yellow slippers with toes of the deepest, polished ebony. Is it any wonder that those they encountered were utterly captivated by their beauty?)

So the first step of any home construction project is to find the perfect location and this was to be no ordinary home for this would be their royal palace! Together they searched for an ideal site. Soon their eyes fell upon a giant sycamore tree with branches tall and true. Theirs would be a palace in the treetops where they could survey their domain and raise prince and princesses free of threat from man or beast. And so the real work began. Every timber was carefully selected and set into place by the monarchs themselves. It was a labor of love and the hours of working together only strengthened the bond between them. Day after day they toiled side by side. Day after day the palace walls grew higher and higher until at last King Jim decreed, “It is complete!” “It is so beautiful!” added the queen, “But what shall we call it for every palace must have a name suiting its grandeur and prestige.” The young king hesitated not a moment and declared, “I christen thee The Treetop Palace.” And with those words the work was officially completed and their new life in this new kingdom truly began.

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Years of happiness and bliss followed. Oh, there were some challenges along the way, and some very tragic losses as well, but together the young rulers conquered every challenge, soaring to new heights and raising many princes and princesses in The Treetop Palace nursery.

Then one very dark autumn day tragedy struck and the young king lost his queen. For days he mourned, searching his kingdom in hopes of finding her again. But his searches were all in vain for she was no more. There was a great shadow of darkness and sorrow shrouding the kingdom. King Jim finally ended his searching and seemed more forlorn and lost than ever. But one day Joy returned to the realm as a young maiden began to pursue the crestfallen king. King Jim began to soar again and hearts were gladdened once more! But then, quite unexpectedly, young Joy departed and King Jim was once more alone. Thankfully, as soon as Joy departed Hope arrived and our sorrowing king was smitten anew!

With this renewed Hope the beloved King Jim soared. He had found a new queen and together they returned to The Treetop Palace. Together they worked on strengthening the palace walls. Together they labored. Together they danced across the winter skies. Together they bonded. Together. As spring arrived new offspring played in the palace nursery under the care and provision of King Jim and Queen Hope. It was good to see the king’s heart full and happy once more. The royal children soon grew strong and before long flew from the palace to seek fame and fortune of their own and the king and queen took a well deserved vacation.

Months passed before the late autumn return of their Royal Highnesses. Upon their arrival the king and queen began to construct a second palace!

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They chose another large sycamore tree not far from the old Treetop Palace. This new site was home to a dozen or so other couples of lesser standing in the kingdom and when those couples return in the spring they will be quite surprised to find a new palace in their neighborhood and will likely be forced to find new accommodations of their own. Why a new palace you ask? Perhaps Queen Hope found too many memories of Queen Cindy still dwelling in the vastness of The Treetop Palace. Perhaps the limbs of the old sycamore had become a bit less trustworthy over the years of bearing the ever-growing weight of a royal palace. In reality, it is fairly common for monarchs (especially Bald Eagles) to maintain an extra palace or two just in case it is needed. But whatever the reason, there are now two growing palaces within the domain as King Jim and Queen Hope work on both the new and old homes. The real question is “Where will they decide to raise the new princes and princesses?” Only time will tell. Whether they choose The Treetop Palace or their new Palace of Hope we are hoping for a “happily ever after” ending to this tale of two palaces.

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 11:51 am  Comments (26)  

Hearts Full of Gratitude and Praise

(Let’s roll the clock back a week. The following is a compilation of events and times that illustrate the joys and wonders of eagle watching.)

The crisp early morning air is alive with glittering ice crystals and shimmering promise as we begin our quick visit to Eastwood. It is Thanksgiving morning, 2017, and the awakening world around us is just now brushing the sleep from its eyes.

As we make the short ride to the park our conversation lingers on thoughts of the holiday. The word “thanksgiving” overflows with memories of wonderful feasts shared with loved ones over the years and the close, enduring bonds of companionship that forever link us together in unspoken mutual support and respect. Even those long-departed souls are still somehow closer during the holidays. The sweet memory of their smile, their laughter and their embrace flicker in our hearts like candles on our Thanksgiving table and bring light and joy into our homes once again. They are almost touchable at times and their presence in our hearts can snatch us away to places that were once ours together, bringing a smile to our lips and tears to our eyes. (Isn’t it interesting how often smiles are accompanied by tears?) We speak of the plans for the day and of those who will share the meal with us this year. The anticipation of what lies just a few hours away is palpable. The list of the yet unfinished tasks that must be completed before today’s meal is long but we have taken a short break from those demands to invest a bit of the day in hopes of seeing an eagle or two.

As we near the park our conversation changes to the subject of our search. Jim and Hope are finally together again. After much (apparently unwarranted) concern our local love birds are in their courting mode. They spend the day working on their nest, dancing together in the sky or contentedly perched side by side atop a suitable tree. That is how we hope to find them this morning.

The sun is a bit higher in the sky as we turn slowly into Eastwood. Across the road in the well field we notice a distant Whitetail buck encouraging a younger buck to stay a bit farther way from his doe.

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We smile. The night is full of adventure and adventurers and their activity is just now winding down as ours begins.

We creep down the long, straight, entrance road at a little more than an idle as we search the familiar trees for large bodies with 7,000 feathers. Many of the trees are like old friends as well. The large sycamore on the right is where the Red-tailed Hawk loves to hunt and several years ago the sycamore on our left was a favorite perch of a visiting juvenile Bald Eagle. The small trees near the bottom of the short hill are commonly filled with Eastern Bluebirds and an occasional Eastern Meadowlark. And here, on the left, is all that remains of what was once a Pileated Woodpecker’s tree. Eventually we make our way to the west terminus of the roadway. The morning sun is now crowning the treetops like a brilliant gemstone giving a welcomed warmth to the otherwise biting air.

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We pause for a moment to acknowledge that we are now where the young eagles gather! Hopefully in just a week or two, juvenile and sub-adult eagles will begin their brief annual visit to this end of the lake, adorning the treetops, frolicking in the skies and standing together on the ice. There were as many as a dozen one day last year!

They will gather here until Jim chases them away as the new nesting season draws near.

As we turn and head back towards the entrance we spot a Belted Kingfisher fishing from the top of one of the newly installed fishing line recycling stations at the edge of the lagoon.

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(I am honored that Five River MetroParks is using one of my images of an entangled Great Blue Heron to encourage fishermen to properly dispose of unwanted line and I hope that these receptacles, that are now popping up throughout the park system, will be greatly used.)

As we gradually make our way east along the lakeshore we pass under another familiar tree. This is the tree where two years and one week ago a young, rehabilitated Bald Eagle had perched for 23 hours after being released back into the wild.

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Eventually hunger and the need for companionship encouraged the youngster to fly. (We chuckle when you comment that these trees are not really trees at all but more like pages in a photo album.)

Just a bit further east we notice an unusual form across the now busy road and in the distant tree tops of the well field. The form is sillohetted in the morning sky.

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It stands upright like an eagle and it is high enough in the tree to be Jim or Hope but it is just too large. Puzzled by this object we drive a bit more quickly to the east end of the lake for a different vantage point. There we relocate the object and our questions are answered as our suspicions are confirmed. It is not an eagle. It is two eagles!

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What we were seeing through the trees were Jim and Hope perched nearly side by side with one slightly higher that the other making it appear as if we were seeing one very tall bird. Success!

But the steady stream of traffic on Harshman Road all but blocks our view of the far off pair so now we drive even more quickly to the entrance at Harshman Road, hoping for a less obstructed view. We park the car, grab our cameras, locate the birds, find a point where the foreground trees are less of a nuisance, begin to focus carefully on the distant eagles in the hazy sunlight and snap the shutter… just as this happens.

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Some days are like that.

We watch as the second eagle follows its mate and after a few shivering minutes we realize that they have perched somewhere out of sight. But they are together on this Thanksgiving morning and for that we are thankful.

With a busy day ahead of us we retrace the road back to the demands of the day. The warmth of the car is comforting but it cannot compare to the warmth of our hearts. We have so much to be thankful for: the cherished memories of loved ones long gone, the promise of time with the precious loved ones we have now, the beauty of creation, the wonders of nature, time, opportunities… and the loving God who provides blessing upon blessing. We may not have been able to catch a decent glimpse of an eagle this morning but as we drive down the road we ponder the past hour together and think of the day ahead when suddenly, outside the car window, something like this happens…

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and we enter into the holiday season with hearts full of gratitude and praise!

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 1:30 am  Comments (8)  

Remembering Cindy

The human heart was created to love, for fellowship, for cherishing, for bonding with its Creator and with His creation.

We must have love to develop a healthy psyche and a fulfilling life.

This truth is sadly and glaringly evident in the world around us. Everyday we encounter it in a myriad of ways. We live in a day when our headlines are full of reports of horrendous events where individuals commit unbelievable crimes upon others. Those perpetrators are often called “loners” or “misfits” or “outcasts”. We hear statements like “This person just fell through the cracks.” meaning they were somehow isolated and unnoticed by society and those around them. Being unloved and feeling unimportant or unnecessary will lead one into despair which can manifest itself in a deep-seated craving for attention and notoriety. Without wholesome loving relationships people can become consumed by the monster of emptiness.

But the monster of emptiness is not just lurking in the mind and hearts of criminals because this monster’s lair can be hidden anywhere. I have seen this monster’s consuming work in the hearts of young children. There are two young girls who are very precious to me. Each were adopted, but from very different situations. One came from a very unstable environment that left her emotionally shattered and fearful while the other came from a caring foster mother, full of hopes and dreams. In both girls I have witnessed what loving interaction and unquestionable belonging can do.

Adolescent minds are particularly vulnerable to the instability of feeling unloved and alone making them easy prey for the monster of emptiness. Chemical changes within an adolescent body create an unstable world of boiling emotions and self-doubt. Balance is a challenge in their turbulent world and outbursts of emotional stumbling are frequent. In our age of personal computers, headphones and streaming media, adolescent isolation is common and may give a teen (or young adult) a soothing sense of control, a point of mental focus and emotional retreat, but too much isolation may prove toxic. We even have virtual glasses that clamp around a cell phone and clamp out all contact with real humanity. Parental guidance is hard in this stage of growth, but it is necessary to maintain a healthy balance of privacy and wholesome interaction with others.

Busy parents and single adults may have constant activities and demands but still be empty and lonely inside, drifting slowly away from those relationships that anchor them securely to reality and to others. The monster knows that a full calendar is not indicative of a full heart.

Many older adults feel alone and unnecessary. The busyness of life has passed them by and without a healthy support system of loving contact, the monster of emptiness can consume them with despair. The realization that the years behind them far outnumber the ones ahead is a constant companion and the longing for what once was easily overshadows any hope of what might be.

(This is not where I was planning to go with this blog, but it is where I have been led to go.)

The point is: we need each other. The only defense against the hideous monster of emptiness is a healthy fullness of God and of each other. Loss, isolation and separation hurt but the burden of pain fades more quickly when others share its heavy load.

One of the greatest pleasure of eagle watching is the bonding that takes place with others as one bonds with the wonders of Creation. That is Cindy’s legacy.

One year ago this week we lost the original Queen of the Treetop Palace. There are people in Virginia, Florida and across the country who understand that loss in a very deep and personal way. There is a grace and freedom that is carried on eagles’ wings that personifies liberty and strength like nothing else. There is a bonding that takes place between an eagle watcher and the watched (and between watcher and watcher) that is hard to put into words. Whether the eagle is called Cindy, Mom Norfolk, Ozzie or by any other name, the grief of losing something so free and wild is hard to bear alone. As the eagle population continues to swell across our land many more will come to know the thrill and bittersweet agonies of following an eagle family through various trials and victories.

On this anniversary of Cindy’s untimely death I offer this little poem of tribute in gratitude for her inspiration and dedicated to all who have known such loss.

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Sent on Eagle’s Wings

by Jim Weller

The skies above are fresh and clear,

bright sunbeams fill the air,

As songbirds sing in bushes near

and dance without a care.

The sweet aroma of the breeze,

warm sunshine on my skin,

the rustling song of leafy trees…

I scarce can take it in.

Yet in a corner of my heart

a pang of loss abides,

a silent whisper, a secret part

of the beauty at my side.

For these skies have known a special grace

of joy beyond description,

that once caressed this unbounded space

free from inhibition.

On eagle’s wings she chased her dreams

while carrying my dreams higher,

and singing loud with chattering screams

my burdened heart inspired.

With majesty she kissed the sky 

As she soared into the blue,

Her breathtaking beauty made me sigh

As little else could do.

 

Then silent fell her song, too soon,

her wings would spread no more.

For she had soared beyond the moon

To rest on golden shores.

 

But now this pang reminds me

of the beauty I have known,

of a blessing far behind me

that I once called my own.

As I bow my head in gratitude,

for the sweetness of my loss,

upon the ground a form glides by,

the shadow of a cross!

With squinting eyes I look and see

low in the sky above

an eagle passing strong and free,

a reminder of God’s love.

As tears well up the pang subsides

and my heart is freed to sing

For God’s secret blessing blooms inside

Sent on eagle’s wings!

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Isolation is a killer. What better way to remember those we have lost (with and without feathers) than by loving a lonely child, teen, adult, neighbor or anyone else in need of friendship and purpose. Love is costly. One must invest time, prayer, effort and other resources in the lives of hurting people without the expectation of seeing any tangible return on those investments, but the intangible returns are guaranteed and they are always priceless.

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 2:28 pm  Comments (47)  

Typically Atypical

The nature of wildlife (and the wild life of nature) can be a bit perplexing at times. But it is always fun to watch and there are several ways that one can participate in watching wildlife.

By far, the most common method is to just open your eyes in a natural setting. Your own backyard can become a fascinating arena of activity when you pause to watch as feathered friends flit from bush to bush noisily chirping at fledglings or dining on berries hidden in the foliage. A little time spent sitting on a hillside, even in an urban park, may reveal groundhogs at play, scampering squirrels or more feathered, serenading  friends. If you venture into the countryside foxes, coyotes, deer and all sorts of amusing creatures may emerge from the shadows as you sit quietly and bask in the wonderment of it all.

But the best way to watch wildlife for optimum excitement and enjoyment is to slowly grow to know individual animals. You can actually build a unique kind of relationship with wild creatures, although it may be a bit one-sided. As you watch over time you learn their habits and begin to anticipate their movements. Individuals within every species have their own personality and preferences. One may be bold while another is shy. Some may scamper and frolic while others move with cautious, measured steps. Some may be more boisterous than other. Recognizing individual animals by their personal traits is quite fun and often amusing.

But the nature of nature is change. Life in the wild is wild so animals must adapt to new situations to survive and situations are always changing. The atypical is typical.

In our last post I mentioned that Jim was still awaiting Hope’s arrival from her summer hiatus. Well you can imagine our smiles when we saw this sight several days ago!

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This tree is a familiar, favorite perch for Jim and his mate. It is a place we check out several times a day and their preferred place to watch the setting sun so we were extremely happy to see two eagles together in this tree! But then, during the last several days we have seen very little of either bird. In years past Jim and Cindy were always together in October, but this is Hope, not Cindy. We must wait and allow her to define herself and for their relationship to blossom.

So in the mean time, to satisfy our need for eagle activity, we have been venturing just north of Dayton to Englewood MetroPark and viewing the transient eagle activity there. I have seen at least 3 adults and 3 juveniles snatching fish from the 6 inches of water that covers the lakebed. That water is all that is left from recent rains that allowed the Stillwater River to flood into the shallow reservoir behind the dam, and it is rapidly evaporating. When it is gone, the eagles will move on too but for now it is fun to watch the interaction of these amazing birds. Here is a bit of what we have seen.

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We must trust in unseen hands and allow these beautiful wild creatures to tell us their story. They know the script that God has authored for them. You cannot put nature in a box for then it would cease to be wild and free and it is that wild freedom that allures the mind and speaks to the heart. As Jim and Hope’s story unfolds we will relate it here. We know not what tomorrow holds but we have faith in The One who holds tomorrow. Life in the wild is indeed wild. It is a place that is overflowing with questions and possibilities. This is just the onset of a new courting season, a new adventure, and it promises to be typically atypical.

Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 5:41 pm  Comments (7)