Too Long in the Shade

It is midsummer in Ohio and the weather knows it! Today was one of those hot, steamy days where stepping out of my air-conditioned car instantly made my glasses fog up and my body erupt with perspiration. The heat reflecting off of the asphalt almost singed my nostrils as I inhaled and penetrated the soles of my shoes with each step. The thermometer read over 90 degrees and the humidity seemed to match that number. Just a typical midsummer day.

It was so hot that I did something atypical. After picking up a lite sandwich for lunch I decided not to dine in my usual place at the sun-drenched east end of Eastwood Lake where the eagle watching is a less obstructed. Well, more truthfully, I was heading back to my usual spot when the shade of a small tree a few hundred feet further west whispered my name with an alluring coolness in its voice. I parked in its island of darkness, took one final breath of air-conditioned comfort, rolled down the windows and turned off the car.

The usually bustling park was nearly empty today. Even the fishermen had stayed home reasoning that the cold-blooded fish were too smart to approach the heated surface of the lake. One lone boat raced around the lake towing a skier behind it. As I began to eat my sandwich I notice that even the songbirds had taken today off. Ruby and Ringo, the resident Red-Tailed Hawks had abandoned their utility pole perches and were probably sitting in the shade themselves, somewhere. In fact, the only avian activity that I could see was a small group of three Turkey Vultures lazily circling on thermals in the distance. As I slowly consumed my lunch, the warm air consumed my thoughts and my ambition, so I sat and watched that small cluster of vultures. I was hoping to see Jim and Cindy’s juvenile today but I was fairly confident that even the thermals could not entice her from the coolness of the well field’s dense foliage.

Slow loop after slow loop the red-headed trio drifted closer. They had now drifted far enough to the south and close enough to my location that the thirsty leaves of the tree above me blocked my view of a portion of each loop and in my head I began to play a little counting game as I watched. In a heat-induced stupor I slowly counted…One. two, three, they disappeared behind the branches. One, two, three, they reappeared again. One, two, three, the branches consumed them once more. One, two, three, four, they finally emerged agai…Wait! Did I see four? Sure enough! A fourth large, dark bird had joined the funeral-parade! But this bird looked different, a bit larger, a bit broader, a more visible head and it drifted on flat wings and lacked the dihedral “V” of its companions. This fourth bird was a juvenile Bald Eagle! (It is amazing how fast a stupor can evaporate!)

Eagle (left) with Turkey Vulture

Eagle (left) with Turkey Vulture

I put down the last bite of my sandwich and started the car. I am sure now that the blast of cold air from the air conditioning must have been refreshing but I failed to notice it at the time. Zipping up to my usual spot and reaching for my camera, I watched the youngster begin to drift to the east, away from me.

As I stopped my car the trio of vultures continued to slide southward so that now their circles and that of the eagle only randomly intersected. For the next forty minutes I sat in my hot car in the direct sunlight and watched our baby prove that she had mastered the art of high altitude soaring!

She's got this!

She’s got this!

Made me smile.

Made me smile.

She was having a ball up there and I was having a ball down here. I watched her as she effortlessly ascended to the clouds, folded her majestic wings and tumbled fifty feet or so before stabilizing herself again.

A high altitude dive!

A high altitude dive!

At one point her circles had brought her back towards my location. “Having her high overhead would allow for a better image than having her high in the distance.” I thought to myself while hoping she would lose a little altitude as she passed. But, unfortunately, as she reached Harshman Road a different pair of Turkey Vultures passed just below her, heading east towards the well field. She swooped at them and then chased them for a minute. By the end of her playtime she had reversed her direction and gracefully drifted farther away.

A playful chase.

A playful chase.

Even when she appeared to be just a tiny spot, gently kissing the clouds she was 100% graceful. Watching her soar so effortlessly made me envious of her ability to do so. Gravity weighs heavily on me at times and today was one of those days. As the juvenile disappeared into the treetops near the nest I realized that I was drenched. In the heat of the moment (pun intended) I had forgotten about the temperature of the air saturating my car’s interior.

As I rolled up the windows and cranked up the air, I started thinking about the past hour. It was uncomfortably hot and I had opted for the soothing shade of that small tree. How long had the baby been flying low over the well field blocked from my view by my desire for comfort. There is a life lesson hiding in there somewhere. There are many hot, sticky periods in life that tend to make us uncomfortable and maybe even irritable. Our natural tendency often moves us to escape the heat and seek the coolness of a comfortable solution. But what wonders we may miss if we stay too long in the shade.

Published in: on July 29, 2015 at 1:38 am  Leave a Comment  

The Things You May See

Summer is a fascinating season at Eastwood and this year is proving to be a fascinating summer. Days of monsoon rains in the western half of Ohio have been interrupted by hot, humid days of hazy sunlight. Watching our local eagles has been a real challenge as they have been hiding deep in the safe, remote recesses of their territory and the moisture-laden weather has apparently added to the heaviness of my eyelids.

The heavy precipitation means rapidly moving, muddy river water so avian fishing efforts have been focused mainly on the more tranquil and transparent lakes that pepper the well field’s landscape. Hours of watching and waiting without having much to watch can be taxing. To break up the monotony I will sometimes take a quick drive or stroll around the park. The patches of sundrenched wildflowers in the meadow are exploding with brilliant colors and activity. Goldfinches, House Finches, hummingbirds, Song Sparrows and other feathered creatures feed on the thistle adding to the profusion of colors. Resident mockingbirds add a melodious soundtrack to the virtual fireworks of hues.

Gold in the meadow.

Gold in the meadow.

House finches and thistles.

House Finches and thistles.

Listen to the Mockingbird.

Listen to the Mockingbird.

Along the Mad River, in the shaded coolness of the heavy, woody foliage, is where the larger wildlife is often hiding. That was where during a quiet moment of gazing upon yet another wildflower garden a bit of movement drew my attention as a young doe slowly raised her head and curiously peered at me through the blooms.

A surprise among the wildflowers.

A surprise among the wildflowers.

We watched each other for at least fifteen minutes. I was captivated by her eyes. She was questioning my intentions. She still wore a few fading fawn spots on her back and her actions seemed somewhat familiar to me. She silently watched me for a few moments with her ears independently rotating like two radar installations as she searched for audible clues. The wind was squarely at my back so I knew she was catching my scent as well. After a brief pause she cautiously advanced a few steps before pausing again to repeat the process.

I believe I will call her

I believe I will call her “Wildflower.”

Could this have been the little fawn that I had mentioned encountering in a post in the spring of 2014? She had walked slowly from her mother’s side inspecting my presence in much the same manner. That young fawn had crept to within just a few feet of me before her mother’s stomping foot called her back. This time her cautious advances had moved her to around 40 feet from me before the pausing of a passing car caused her to flee.

Just before she fled.

Just before she fled.

On a subsequent visit to this same secluded wildflower patch I found the big Eastwood buck, velveted antlers and all, foraging among the greenery. He too carefully studied my presence but made no attempt to move towards me.

Eastwood's big buck.

Eastwood’s big buck.

After a few minutes of staring at my camera and shutter-clatter-induced ear twitching he returned to his foraging, slowly and casually dissolving into the trees, apparently assured that I was no threat.

But I had come, as always, to watch eagles and no matter how patient and attentive I remained, there were just no eagles to watch. Not on this day anyway. It has been over a month since Jim and Cindy’s lone 2015 eaglet had fledged and I ached to know of its success.

That is why I was elated when I received a message from our fellow eagle watcher, Lisa. As she was driving down Route 4 she had passed by Cindy and her youngster! The two eagles were perched in a tree that we have become very familiar with near the southeast corner of Eagle Lake. We have long called this particular tree “Jim’s Tree”. If Jim has some free time on his talons he will quite frequently perch in this tree to watch the setting sun as he surveys his lake. The sighting of the youngster constituted enough of an “emergency” that Lisa pulled to the shoulder of the highway long enough to quickly snap a few images from some distance away.

Cindy and her baby.

Cindy and her baby.

As she watched, the juvie flew from the tree to the lake, gracefully grabbed a fish and flew to a utility pole for dinner! (Well that answered that question. The youngster is fishing like a pro!)

After the successful catch. (I hate it when they land here.)

After the successful catch. (I hate it when they land here.)

Now, two final observations: Judging by the relative size of the juvenile as it was perched by Cindy, I am guessing she is a she. And although perching on any utility pole is a potentially disastrous thing to do, novice fliers, or more precisely novice landers, seem to prefer the uncluttered crossarms of these poles. You can see the avian protection devices or local utility company has installed on many of the poles in the well field. The Eastwood Eagle Watchers and the wonderful people of the City of Dayton Water Department had requested that something be done to reduce the threat to the eaglets after we lost the eaglet “Spirit” in a nasty pole related incident in 2011. Our group identified the poles that were most frequently visited by the eaglets and those poles were quickly retrofitted with devices. The image posted here shows the plastic, inverted triangular devices that are intended to discourage perching by obstructing the wooden beam. (These devices met with limited success.) The device protruding up near the pole top is a standard rangepin that was installed to obstruct the wider pole top itself. The most important devices by far are the brown-colored, plastic devices that cover the insulators of each bare conductor on the pole as well as the first 6 feet or so of each conductor on either side of the pole. Not only do these devices add an additional element of insulation to reduce the risk of electrocution, they make the wires more visible and therefor less of a threat for a wing or muscle being damaged by contact with a single conductor while landing on, or flying from the poles. And because these devices fit loosely on the wires, the hard plastic proves to be an unnatural and unstable perch should an eaglet attempt to land on the device itself. In time the youngster will master the difficult art of landing in trees with her 6’+ wingspread and grow to prefer the protective seclusion of the limbs to the openness of the poles.

In stormy weather or in hot, muggy air, if you can keep your heavy eyelids raised, you never can predict the things you may see.

Published in: on July 20, 2015 at 3:11 am  Comments (8)  

A Very Clean Short Story

It is easy to forget that an eaglet usually spends about 80 days after hatching sitting in a spacious but roofless nest in the top of a very tall tree. Imagine spending 11 weeks drenched by rain, covered by snow, buffeted by winds or baking in the hot sun and all without a real drink of water or a much-needed bath. Is it any wonder that freshly fledged eaglets love the water so? This is the story of one such eaglet that I will call Edgar. Edgar is actually a 2015 Brookville, Indiana eaglet that our chief photographer, Roger Garber, photographed this past weekend. Using Roger’s images as a guide, I wrote this short story filled with eagle facts for you to share with your own “eaglets”.

A Bath for Edgar

It had been a very hot day and young Edgar had been playing a lot! Now, everyone knows that young boys that play a lot on very hot days can get very, very dirty. That is true for any young boy, even if that young boy is an American Bald Eagle, like Edgar!

Everyone also knows that dirty boys need to take a bath and that is just what Edgar wanted to do! So Edgar landed by the big lake and gracefully jumped up onto a great big stick by the water.

RGP830 He carefully looked around to make sure that he was all alone and that there were no hungry animals nearby. He checked the trees and the skies above

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and he checked the water below.

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As he looked into the water he was surprised to see a bird that looked just like his brother staring up at him. But when he touched the water with his sharp claw (called a talon) the water moved and the bird disappeared! Then he slowly searched the bushes. His eyesight is a lot better than yours and mine and everything looked safe to him. But then he noticed a man with a big camera sitting very still by the water’s edge quite some distance away.

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“Hey!” Edgar called out, “I’m gonna take a bath over here.” The man with the camera quietly turned away as if he had no idea that the young eagle was talking to him. Confident that he had gained a little privacy Edgar spread out his beautiful, long wings that measured more than 6 feet from tip to tip and half-jumped/half-flew into the cool water making quite a splash.

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Now, a young eagle weighs about 10 pounds and stands about 30 inches tall so that splash was really a GREAT BIG splash and Edgar was really happy about his fancy dive. The water felt so refreshing that Edgar didn’t even notice that the man with the camera had heard all the noise and was watching him with a big smile on his face.

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Every one of Edgar’s more than 7,000 feathers were really dirty so he splished and splashed and splashed and splished over and over again! He closed his eyes and ducked his head under the water. “Boy that feels good!” he thought as he dunked his head under for a third time. He shook his head back and forth and water went flying everywhere.
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The young eagle was enjoying his bath so much that he did not even hear the CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK of the man’s camera. The man was so enjoying taking pictures of Edgar that he was not in the least bit worried about the noise from the camera.

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But when Edgar’s head bobbed up for the fourth time his sharp hearing picked up the clatter of the camera in spite of the water trapped between the feathers on the side of his head. As he looked in the direction of the noise he found the man looking right back at him!

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Now Edgar was pretty upset! “Hey! I thought I told you that I wanted some privacy over here!” he complained as he flapped the water off of those big wings. But the man just heard a lot of shrill, “Kikikikikikikikiki.” and kept taking pictures.

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This just made Edgar angrier! Why, he was madder than a wet…er…eagle! The soggy youngster folded up his wings, lowered his head and began marching out of the water. This man had interrupted his bath and had ignored his warnings and now he was going to hear about it!

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“CLICK, CLICK, CLICK.” chattered the camera as the man continued to snap pictures. The man was so busy taking pictures that he simply didn’t notice the angry eagle’s approach. Getting closer and closer, Edgar marched on determined to give the man a piece of his mind. He may have to wait until he is 4 or 5 years old before he would have beautiful, white head and tail feathers like his mother and father but he felt that was already a big, brave eagle on the inside!
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American Bald Eagles really like their solitude and do best when people stay a respectful distance away and this young eagle wanted to make the man understand that his bath time is his bath time! Finally the man lowered his camera enough to see that the young eagle was not very happy. He still could not understand Edgar’s scolding calls but he certainly did understand Edgar’s body language!

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“I’m sorry if I disturbed you little eagle.” apologized the man as he tucked his camera under his arm and turned to walk away. Edgar stopped. “I showed him!” he thought as the man got into his car. “Hmmph!”

As Edgar spun around to return to the water to finish his bath he glanced up into a nearby tree to find his older brother and sister cheering his bravery.

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They were proud of their little brother and Edgar was pretty proud of himself too!

Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 3:05 pm  Comments (26)  

As History Unfolds

In my last posting I had mentioned that too often frustration was a large part of the eagle watching process, especially when there is only one pair of nesting eagles in the entire county. And if that nest is in the center of a large fenced-off, non-public area the chances of having a “close encounter of the eagle kind” are even more remote. That is the situation with Jim and Cindy and lately the weather has been anything but cooperative. That is why on those days when we are experiencing rare peeks of sunshine I rush over to Eastwood Lake with a freshly charged camera battery and renewed hopes!

Such was the case last Thursday when the rains lessened and the sunlight managed to sneak through a few breaks in the overcast skies. Those skies were pretty crowded with moisture and thermals created by the warmth of those sunbeams. The evaporating dampness did not make for the best picture-taking conditions, especially at a distance, but the opportunity to see something (and at this point I was ready for anything) was just too good to ignore. It had been too long since I had seen Jim and Cindy and thermals are an eagles playground! So realizing that my ankle-high lawn was still too soaked to mow, I hopped into the car and headed to Eastwood Lake. I immediately discovered that the skies around the lake were also crowded with large birds, but not my elusive eagles. I saw Ruby and Ringo, the resident Red-Tailed Hawks, briefly soaring along with their new baby, and small groups of wandering Turkey Vultures were dotting the sky at regular intervals. They like playing on the thermals too. They always seem to travel in groups, or at least pairs. For about an hour I occupied my time watching the various vultures drift closer and lower until they passed overhead and then slowly drifted away.

The slow, methodic rhythm of their circles can be almost hypnotic. It is reminiscent of concentrating on the pendulum-like swing of a pocket watch dangling from a chain. While watching them from the inside of your car you can almost hear a soft voice chanting, “You are getting sleepy.”

But my mind and my pulse were quickened as I noticed a different rhythm in the sky! In the far-distant corner of the well field I spotted a long, slow cadence that I have come to love. It was the strong, majestic wing beat of an American Bald Eagle. Through the camera lens I could see it was Jim and he was heading in my direction. (How quickly sleepiness can flee away.) Although he was still about 3/4 of a mile away I began snapping pictures. After all, I had not seen him for days and he could stop, dive out of sight or change directions at any time.

IMG_9317eSo I snapped away. As I began to take pictures I became acutely aware of another factor that can lead to frustration at Eastwood, traffic. The best viewing spot at the lake sits lower than the adjacent Harshman Road. The guard rail and passing vehicles can be a real nuisance when you are trying to photograph a bird on the far side of the roadway and the evaporating moisture from its asphalt surface creates distorting heat waves to boot. It seemed that the heavy traffic was determined to block my view of the approaching eagle and focusing on a moving object between passing cars can be a real challenge as well! But he was still approaching and I was determined to get an image suitable for sharing on this blog. Jim kept coming and coming. It appeared to me that he might actually be heading to Eastwood Lake behind me and I was in the perfect location to photograph him as he passed directly overhead! This could be a great opportunity!

Now, remember that frustration thing?

Just as he approached the west end of Eagle Lake I could see him looking down at the water. I watched as he lowered his legs. His bright yellow feet were clearly visible, his toes were flared and his talons were ready for action! My camera’s shutter was singing! As I accepted the fact that he would not be crossing to my side of Harshman Road, surely, even with all of the traffic whizzing by I would have at least one good image of Jim in this dramatic, action-filled pose. And this is what I got.

IMG_9325etSHow about that for a good picture? When I finished banging my head against the dashboard I had to chuckle. Some days just go that way. Two hours of waiting for this. Frustration. But I had seen him again at last and for that I was grateful.

Allow me to take a minute or two to give you a better understanding of Jim and Cindy’s domain. The main body of The City of Dayton’s Mad River Well Field where their Treetop Palace is located is on a piece of land known as Rohrer’s Island. After some rather lengthy online research over the past few evenings, reading several newspaper articles, historical accounts and reviewing old atlases, I have learned a bit more about the Rohrers. Apparently the Rohrers were of German descent and arrived in the American colonies in the 1700s. Eventually some migrated from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area to the Ohio Territory in the latter part of the 1700s or the early 1800s where their original property consisted of over 1,000 acres in Mad River Township. There were a lot of settlers moving west in the early 1800s and the Dayton area experienced a bit of a population boom. Most of the new families traveled by flatboat down the Ohio River to Cincinnati and then overland to Dayton. Large properties were often subdivided and sold off parcel by parcel to newly arrived families or parcels were donated for churches or schools. By the mid 1800s the Rohrer farm had dwindled down to less than 300 acres, including a prosperous dairy farm. That land included Rohrer’s Island. (There is still a Rohrer Park in Riverside.) Here is a current satellite image of that island.

DSCN9389etx+If you click on the image to enlarge it you will see several markings. The red dots indicate the location of the fence that restricts access to the main body of the well field and protects Jim and Cindy’s solitude. The blue crosses show the course of The Mad River. It flows from the right side of the image to the left side, east to west. You will notice a small waterfall on the right where the river forks. The separate streams reunite near the left side of the image, just east of Harshman Road. The land mass between the two channels is Rohrer’s Island. The arrow by the yellow #1 points to Jim and Cindy’s sycamore tree and the Treetop Palace they have used since the 2011 nesting season. #2 is the sight of their 2009 nest and #3 is their 2010 nest. They still maintain these nests as a backup home should the need arise. The #4 indicates the area at Eastwood Lake from which we watch the nest. (The actual distance from #1 to #4 is 1/2 mile.) The #5 is the cornfield where our eagles sometime hunt or steal rabbits from coyotes. And finally the #6 is Huffman Dam and Huffman Lake, just east of the dam. You will also notice the large number of lakes and reservoirs within the well field, the largest of which we call Eagle Lake. Eastwood Lake, barely visible on the far left is considerably larger than Eagle Lake. Remember that frustration thing again? Ohio Route 4 on the north side of Eagle Lake is a controlled access highway and no parking is permitted, the south side of the well field is bordered by an active railroad track, Harshman Road is a 4-lane, 45 MPH thoroughfare with no parking and the Route 4 & 444 interchange on the east completes the circle of non-parking boundaries, so Eastwood is as good as it gets. I hope this image and short history helps you better understand Jim and Cindy’s environment and our situation. Usually once the eaglets have fledged, Mom and Dad will keep them back in the more secluded areas of the well field nearer that little waterfall.

By the way, as I was studying various satellite images I happened to zoom into the nest tree and saw this!

DSCN9388etxHow cool is that? Eagles from outer space!

Not all of Thursday was frustrating though. Later in the day as I headed home I found our lovebirds perched in Jim’s tree! I did not notice the eaglet but they are much harder to spot in the shadows. This image was taken from Route 4. The sign says “EMERGENCY STOPPING ONLY” and after a pretty frustrating day, this seemed like an emergency to me!

IMG_9406et2SsWe can learn a lot from history and we will learn even more as history unfolds.

Published in: on July 13, 2015 at 10:55 am  Comments (16)  

Emotions Run Wild

An unexpected encounter with a wild eagle is an emotional experience. It is as exhilarating as the fastest roller coaster and can leave you just as breathless.

Over the years it has been my privilege to witness the reactions of many people as they have seen their very first wild eagle. The waves of facial expressions are almost always the same. The first reaction is their eyes widening, then their jaw drops momentarily before their lips begin to form a broad smile. And sometimes there are tears. You can count on the inevitable gasp for air and usually a verbal exclamation (not always G-rated), although some react with silence, too in awe for words. Never have I seen anyone react with a “ho-hum” attitude. Even those folks who are there because they were dragged along kicking and screaming at their spouse’s insistence (and I have seen a few) respond with joy. And if that eagle should pass within a few hundred feet, well then “Katie bar the door!”

But those are first encounters. What about the emotions experienced as you watch an eagle family over a period of weeks, months or even years. Whether that watching is accomplished via an online video-feed on your computer screen or through a scope or binoculars in the field, following the daily activities of a wild eagle family is an emotional journey. In either case you find yourself building a relationship with these amazing creatures. Initially you are attracted to their majestic beauty but are soon captivated by their determined fortitude and unbounded resiliency. You are drawn into their struggles for survival and you are inspired by the obvious tenderness between pair-bonded mates. They are armed with an arsenal of deadly weapons  so absolutely necessary for their daily needs but are extremely gentle and caring when meeting the needs of their mate and offspring. And if that relationship is cultivated and nourished through watching a local nest in the field you can actually experience the sights, sounds and smells of their world! You are not limited by the cameras’ point of view but can sometimes find yourself part of their world with eagles in front of you, behind you and above you! You can look into their eyes as they look into yours. You can witness the graceful landings, the power they display in taking flight, the failed attempt of connecting talons to fish and the joy of a successful hunt! Emotion upon emotion in a few seconds of time.

Some people imagine that this relationship is similar to the relationship between a human and their dog, cat, horse or other pet but those relationships are based on mutual dependency. The animal needs the human for food, affection and housing while the human needs the animal for companionship and comfort. A wild eagle usually needs only to be left alone and respected. They function best when their is no human interference. We are merely observers of their relationship with each other and their environment. Their independence and freedom is a large part of what we admire about them (and perhaps a bit of what we crave for our own lives).

Our local eagles, Jim and Cindy, have exercised their independence flawlessly over the last few months. They have remained far from our camera lenses as they have faithfully carried out their parental duties. We have seen their lone eaglet only from the distance of 1/2 mile as it paced around the nest, jumped and flapped its way from branch to branch just outside of the aerie. We have seen Mom and Dad perched in a nearby tree and sometimes perched just above the nest. We have watched as they brought food to the hungry eaglet and then flew off. Lately Jim and Cindy’s visits to the nest have become fewer and farther between and have grown in brevity as they have encouraged their young one to take that first big step out of the nest.

This morning I found the nest empty.

Another emotion of eagle watching is frustration. Had the eaglet fledged? Was it successful? Statistics prove that 50% of eaglets do not survive their first year and it is estimated that 70% of those non-survivors perish as a result of that first flight. Flying is a lot easier than landing and the perils of landing are many. I watched the apparently empty nest for quite a while and searched the neighboring trees in futility hoping to glimpse the upright, tall, dark form of a resting eaglet. Finally, unsatisfied, I started for home.

As I drove eastbound on the highway that runs just north of the well field I spotted a large, dark form gliding through the trees near the nest on flat wings! Was it the eaglet? (Joy and hope are two more emotions that swell up in an instant in the heart of an eagle watcher.) One of the curses of driving on a highway is that you are not allowed to stop. Frustration. I drove about a mile before I could legally make a U-turn but when I returned the bird was nowhere to be found. I waited and watched for a while longer before returning home to this keyboard.

I am fairly confident that the bird I saw was an eaglet. I am full of joy that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a witness of this amazing story once again!

When watching wild eagles, emotions run wild.

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 4:34 pm  Comments (8)  

Just Too Busy!

You know how you can intend to do one thing but then reality gets in the way and that “one thing” gets pushed back over and over and over again? Yeah? Me too.

I envisioned long hours of eagle watching (not that there is much activity to watch) but I ended up spending almost 2 weeks in Georgia working on my daughter’s home and moving her back to Ohio for a new job here. Then 5 days later we headed to New York City and New England for 12 days of vacation. I drove 2,202 miles in those 12 days and I took hundreds of pictures but the highlights of the trip were the avian encounters that crossed my path. I found high-flying Peregrines above the towering Empire State Building,

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Red-Tails nesting within the façade of one of NYC’s ornate, old buildings

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and gulls perched atop lighthouses.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family and all but I am not a big city guy. The concrete eagles decorating  the ledges of antiquated structures and the shiny, gold-covered eagles on historic Boston buildings are beautiful works of art but the are no match to the feathered majesty of our own Jim and Cindy.

Now I am back home and anxious to see my soaring friends once more. The not-so-little eaglet will fledge in the next few weeks and is spending a lot of time on the Treetop Palace rim staring down at the world below. We have not been able to get any closer images but if you have been to NYC picture one of those façade eagles, except this one moves, blinks, paces impatiently back and forth and flaps its wings… a lot! It knows that it is called to greater heights and grander things but just cannot get airborne yet. It has never taken a bath in the lake, never taken a drink of cool water bigger than a raindrop and has no idea where Mom and Dad keep finding those tasty fish. We hit 91 degrees today and there is little shade up there so it is bored and warm. All of these factors will serve as motivation to fly when the time comes to do so. Oh what an amazing adventure awaits our young friend in the near future! What a wonderfully amazing adventure lies just beyond tomorrow!

One other highlight of the recent trip was running across this lady who really carries a torch for me.

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I think I saw her winking at me but all I could catch with my camera was a glimmer of promise in her eye and her pursed lips made me think that she knew something that I didn’t know. Perhaps she had seen an eagle flying across the harbor just behind me and was amused that I had missed it. Perhaps she had winked at the eagle and not at me. Perhaps, just maybe, she knew that

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when you are too busy to watch an eagle fly, you are just TOO busy!

Published in: on June 11, 2015 at 2:16 am  Comments (3)  

A Lesson in Patience

Boy do I really miss our eagle-cams!

The hot air of summer has found the Miami Valley of Ohio a little early this year. We have been flirting with record high temperatures but the skies have been clear and the humidity has been low. It has been beautiful weather for hiking wooded paths along flowing streams or sitting quietly and counting one’s blessings. (That reminds me that this week we have picked up our 500th follower on this blog! Each of you are a blessing.) It has also been excellent weather for sitting at Eastwood and watching our local eagles. (Or rather waiting for our local eagles to do something worth reporting.) I have spent about 4 hours each day of the last several weeks somewhere in Jim and Cindy’s domain and have very little to show for it.

We have come to believe that there is only one eaglet in the Treetop Palace’s nursery but the little prince or princess is now visible every day as we watch through our lenses. A month ago it had appeared that Jim and Cindy were feeding two eaglets but either one did not survive or we were just misinterpreting what we were seeing from 1/2 mile away. (Did I mention that I really miss our eagle-cams?) I have many distant images of the happy family but nothing of any decent quality. Most of them look something like this. (Remember that you can click on any of our images to enlarge it.)

Eaglet in the middle of the aerie!

Eaglet in the middle of the aerie!

On one recent day as I watched and waited I saw Cindy leave the nest and begin circling towards Eastwood. The nice weather has flooded the lake (no pun intended) with enough fishermen, boats, kayaks, jet skis and other watercraft that the solitude-loving eagles have been staying over the nonpublic Eagle Lake, so when Cindy headed in our direction I expected her to turn and circle over its more serene waters, east of Harshman Road.

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But she kept coming…

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and coming…

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and coming!

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Finally she circled a few times over our heads

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before drifting high above the noisy activity on Eastwood Lake and then making her way back to the well field. It was an all-too-brief encounter but pretty awesome nonetheless!

That moment provided me with another lesson in patience. Days of ho-hum watching and taking pictures of orioles,

Male Baltimore Oriole.

Male Baltimore Oriole.

warblers

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

swallows

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

and red-tails

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

will eventually pay off.

Speaking of patience: The reconstruction of the Harshman Road bridge over The Mad River should begin soon making access to the Eastwood area more difficult. That inconvenience coupled with limited access to the nesting site, no eagle-cams and only one eaglet to watch may make this entire summer a lesson in patience!

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (11)  

A Little Ray of Sunshine

They say that “April showers bring May flowers.” But they also bring thunder, lightning, high winds and (if you live in Ohio) sinus headaches. April showers can last for days on end and once they finally move on and things dry out, you have a day or two to pick up sticks, mow tall grass and prepare the garden for those May flowers before the showers return.

But the showers are as necessary as they are persistent. Each droplet contains a refreshing blessing, a tiny bit of restorative moisture to replenish the thirsty earth and rejuvenate the stagnant sky. Without those showers we would live in a very dry, dusty and lifeless world. Frequent showers deeply and thoroughly saturate the soil enabling roots to grow deep and strong.

On such days it is difficult to see The Treetop Palace. And even on the intermittent sunny days the evaporating moisture obscures the view enough to challenge the capability of our cameras. But we too are persistent.

We have come to believe that there may be at least two eaglets in Jim and Cindy’s nursery! There have been times when it appears that both adults are simultaneously feeding eaglets from either side of the nest. Feeding trips are also frequent enough to support this assumption. But time will tell. Roger was able to capture an image of one of the bobbleheads recently.

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(Note: The arrow was added to the image to highlight the location of the eaglet. Although the showers have been many, we have not seen any giant, white arrows fall from the sky…so far. You can click on the image to enlarge it and better see the youngster.)

On these cloudy days, a little ray of sunshine is quite welcomed. It warms the heart and brightens the horizon helping us see beyond the storms to the promises of tomorrow. It causes us to smile. It moves us and encourages us. Sunshine pierces the gloomiest of skies and illuminates the beautiful world around us. In so many ways I find this eaglet to be a little ray of sunshine.

Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Comments (10)  

In Spite of the Challenges

Life is full of challenges.

And for wildlife, life is full of wild challenges. Threats are everywhere and not all threats are natural threats. Far too many are man-made. For wild eagles those threats are too numerous to list and wild eagles are never far from disaster. Even being at the top of the food chain is no guarantee of survival. Not only do they face the perils of survival in the elements of weather, disease, parasitical infestation and the dangers of maneuvering a 7-foot wingspan with hollow bones through tree limbs, they also have to deal with man’s ignorance, stupidity and carelessness. (Now, before you get too concerned about where this post is leading, relax and reread the title.) We all know how the eagle population was recently endangered by pesticides and other factors but even as we witness their remarkable recovery, they still confront many potential threats.

We have heard reports of Bald Eagles being killed by aircraft, automobiles and electrocution. And in the last few months I have seen multiple reports of eagles being shot from the sky, in spite of severe federal penalties for doing so. Add to this list the growing number of governmental permits for wind turbines, solar fields and “eagle harvesting” you can easily see how menacing their world is. (Now I have managed to even depress myself.)

BUT…

The American Bald Eagle is a remarkably resourceful bird! In spite of the challenges that they face, they manage to survive and thrive. Those images of incubating adults covered by inches of frigid snow that have crossed my computer screen shows the true nature of these birds! They were masterfully designed to survive in spite of the challenges.

And so it is with Jim and Cindy. In the midst of February’s terrible weather that obliterated any chance of viewing the nest, Cindy deposited her eggs in the nursery of The Treetop Palace. When the weather cleared we estimated that the first egg had arrived around the 17th or 18th. That meant that the 35 days of incubation would end around the 24th or 25th of March. Last Tuesday was March 24th and also the day we noticed a marked change in their behavior! Both adults spent much of the daylight hours on or near the nest. There was a noticeable increase in the number of egg inspections as well. All were positive signs that an eaglet was pipping. (One of the challenges that we have faced this year is the lack of our eagle cams to give us a closer look. Another is that during the first week or two of incubation, they have added a few more sticks to the western wall of the aerie making it nearly impossible to see the head of the incubating adult in the nest. Instinctive behavior does not flip on and off like a light switch but starts quietly, crescendos and then fades like a symphony.) Also on the 24th, Jim started making food runs to Eastwood Lake to grab a takeout order for Cindy rather than just relieving her on the nest. Here are a few images from that day.

Guarding from above.

Guarding from above.

Hatching day!

Hatching day!

Takeout from Eastwood.

Takeout from Eastwood.

I waited to share this news with you until I was certain that the eaglets had arrived but this weekend brought a confirming uptick in food runs and more times of both eagles being on the nest. I even found Jim at dusk at nearby Huffman Lake having dinner with a squirrel. Since he was perched low over the Mad River I had to photograph him through the trees.

Squirrel dinner at 7PM.

Squirrel dinner at 7PM.

As he eventually flew off into the twilight, I snapped a picture of him carrying his dinner towards home. I know it looks like a monkey in his talons but since we have an  extremely few number of monkeys in our trees, I am pretty sure it was a squirrel.

Looks like a monkey but it's a squirrel.

Looks like a monkey but it’s a squirrel.

All of this means that Jim and Cindy’s 2015 eaglets should fledge sometime in late June. That window is 70 to 92 days with the sweet spot of 84 to 87 days for each bird. It will be a while before we can count bobble heads  for a better idea of how many eaglets are up there.

Jim and Cindy and their eaglets are doing well. Even without the much-missed eagle cams we will keep you posted. 2015 promises to be another good year for eagles and eagle watchers in spite of the challenges.

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 4:04 pm  Comments (15)  

What Took You So Long?

Today tis St. Patty’s Day, a day for the wearin’ o’ the green. Surely this Mallard laddie must have just flown in from visitin’ the wee people on The Emerald Isle.

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It is also three days until spring! And yesterday’s 70-degree, sunny weather sure felt like it! From sunup to sundown spring was in the air bringing a little spring to the step of each winter-weary Daytonian. The western sky at sunset was particularly spectacular.

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Jim and Cindy appreciated the warm sunshine too as it melted away the last bit of ice on Eastwood and Eagle Lakes. I spent a few hours lakeside hoping to see one of our local monarchs fishing from its waters but I left somewhat disappointed. I did see a bit of soaring but the action was all quite close to the palace. That is as it should be. We are just over a week from the pipping of the first egg. (If you are new to that term, pipping is when the unhatched eaglet  uses it eggtooth [a small, temporary growth on the top of its beak] to puncture the eggshell.) Mom and Dad are already calling to the imprisoned eaglets and the parental bonding process is well underway. The eaglet will use that tiny hole as a new way to experience Mom, Dad, sunlight, wind and so much more for the very first time. (Do you know what they call that excited sound made by an eagle watcher when they see a pipped eagle egg? A pipsqueak.) The entire escape from their fragile prison may take as long as 48 hours and the exhausted eaglet may have to rest for up to a day before it will begin to feed.

That is why I was not surprised to see little of Jim and Cindy yesterday. They instinctively know that hatching is drawing near. The eggs beneath them are beating. They move and vibrate as the eaglet within stirs. Adult eagles are designed for this process and every year during the last few weeks before hatching our adults become almost motionless. Unless they are hunting, feeding, going to or from the nest, defending it from a threat or repositioning an egg, Jim and Cindy, whether incubating or perched nearby appear almost lifeless. They know that the annual feeding frenzy will soon begin so now they conserve body fat and energy. During January’s courtship their feathers were brilliantly fresh and clean but by summer they will be tattered and soiled from the unending task of feeding and brooding. Eaglets grow remarkably fast and are constantly in need of nourishment. That roofless aerie will bake in the sunlight and chill in the moonlight. Eaglets cannot reach a lake or river to drink and bathe. Birds do not nurse so their only source of hydration is from rainwater and the moisture found in the prey that Mom and Dad bring home to them. Jim and Cindy know what awaits them so for now they are quiet and still.

Each chapter of their story is a marvel. They are perfectly equipped to see this job though. The pair-bond they share is so necessary for the success of the nest for it is indeed a two-eagle-job. The harshness of winter is fading away and the promise of spring is in the air. This winter was a doozy. I join Jim and Cindy in welcoming spring back to the Miami Valley of Ohio. But I have to ask: What took you so long?

 

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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