Unexpected But Necessary Delays

Life is full of them. As much as we try to expect the unexpected and to be aware of the possibilities, we are often surprised by the events that challenge our schedules and change our plans.

Over the last several weeks I have experienced many of these unexpected but necessary delays in my own life that have stymied my ability to keep you all posted on recent events with our eagles. Having put our home of 26 years on the market, we were pleased but rather unprepared, when it sold quickly. That quick sale made it necessary for us to move all of our furniture and belongings into several storage units and to relocate to temporary housing as we searched for our new home. That process also went fairly quickly but then things s-l-o-w-e-d way down. Once we took possession of the new place we had to move in. With the help of family, a host of very gracious volunteers and a few U-Haul trucks, in just a few weeks we had made a some needed updates and relocated all the furniture and more than 70 large, cardboard boxes of stuff from the storage units to the new house! Another delay came in the long process of unboxing all that stuff. (Along the way I learned a few good lessons like to never pack the grass trimmer, its rechargeable battery and its charger in three separate boxes! Grass grows fast in the summer and the lawn of the new house will make having all 3 components necessary.) Another delay came in scheduling the installation of internet service and then finding the time to update everyone on this blog while still opening mountains of boxes. But as they say, all that is behind us now, well mostly anyway. The garage is still full of boxes.

When I last posted here, young Prairie was experiencing an unexpected delay of his own. His 12 day rehab stay in the Glen Helen Raptor Center had done wonders for his health, his abilities and his confidence. On July 23rd we gathered in the preopening hours at Carillon Park to share in the excitement of his return to the wild!

The day went something like this:

After careful planning and coordination it was decided that the best chance for a successful release would be early morning on a day with good weather and few distractions. Willa, Orv and Aero roost in the park at night so early morning would likely find them somewhere nearby. Releasing Prairie well before the 9:30 AM opening would allow the family to reunite before visitors arrived and should something unexpected occur, we might need the additional time to handle that situation.

Arriving before 7 AM I found quite a few photographers already outside the park’s fence and Aero landing in a tree nearby.

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Due to Orv and Willa’s growing popularity I had notified the local news media of the pending release and they soon arrived as well. Just at 7:00 the guest of honor arrived in a chauffeured vehicle. Once safely inside the park the Glen Helen folks worked on finding the most advantageous, unobstructed flightpath through the trees. Then a large (and I might add, overly heavy) picnic table was relocated to serve as a launchpad of sorts. When all was ready, the media and those of us in the park took our positions while those outside of the park found their best angles to view the release.

The large, covered crate was removed from the vehicle and placed on the table. As Rebecca Jaramillo, the director of the raptor center, removed the cover, young Prairie sensed the excitement as well.

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Rebecca opened the door and Prairie stepped out into freedom! Now often the released eagle will launch without hesitation but young Prairie is a true gentleman. He politely paused near the end of the table to look back at Rebecca in gratitude. Eagle watcher Greg Hemker caught the moment with his camera.

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Rebecca smiled and pointed towards the trees. “It’s OK. That way, away from the roadway.” she reassured him. And with that warm farewell he was off!

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The flight was strong and steady, gaining altitude as he flew!

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Onward and upward eventually passing over a large limb in perhaps a missed perching attempt, the young flier nailed the next shaded branch in a perfect landing as we all smiled and cheered!

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For 20 minutes he sat quietly and gathered himself. Then he released that perch and made a large, graceful circle passing close to the front of the nest before landing in another nearby tree which he had shown a fondness for in the days prior to his capture on July 11th. Young Prairie was truly home and he knew it!

A short time later he left that tree and winged his way to a tree near the park’s edge where his sister Aero was perched a few branches away.

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Aero seemed unimpressed by her brother’s sudden return and the aggression she had once shown to her younger sibling was now absent. The stronger, more confident Prairie was not going to be as easily bullied by his older and more dominant nestmate.

Orv and Willa were half a mile upstream during the release. I found them together atop a tree watching the river flowing by and relaxing in the morning glow.

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Within an hour of the release Orv made his way back to the park and found both youngsters perched together! Willa soon followed and the reunion was complete! Orv solidified the reunion by bringing a fish to the prodigal Prairie. We could not have hoped for a more perfect reunion.

Over the past few weeks our Carillon Eagle family has thrilled hundreds of onlookers. The youngsters are growing in grace and abilities and are frequently seen together along the river.

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There are occasional tussles between them and the larger Aero is still the more dominant of the two but that is to be expected. In reality those agitated disagreements are all part of the socializing behavior that is necessary for survival in the wild. They have even had an encounter or two with other juveniles passing along the Great Miami River highway.

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And when all else fails they pause long enough to practice free throws which is really appropriate since UD Arena, home of the University of Dayton Flyers, is directly across the river from Carillon Park.

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I am forever grateful to Rebecca and her staff for doing what they do so well. This move to a new home has isolated me from much of the adventure so I will try to remember that if we move again in another 26 years, not to do it when young eagles are flying. Life already has enough unexpected but necessary delays.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on August 12, 2019 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Very Carefully

It is 2 o’clock in the morning and two things have jolted me out of bed. I have come to realize that sleep will not return until I deal with those things that awaken me in that manner. So here I sit in a silent house tapping away on my keyboard.

Item one is the realization that I had left you, my dear readers, hanging in suspense as my most recent post covered young Prairie’s rescue. Well, I was able to make the 25 minute drive to Yellow Springs and visit with Prairie yesterday morning. He/she (It sometimes gets a bit frustrating not being able to definitively determine an eagle’s gender without a blood test.) was doing very well in the 150 foot flight cage.

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The afternoon’s veterinarian’s examination found the eye irritation gone and the youngster showing no signs of physical injury and no visible genetic defects! Great news! The examination did reveal a lack of muscle mass and development which fits extremely well with what we were all suspecting. That is not uncommon for the younger eaglet in a brood. Older, larger and stronger Aero was very dominant and often ate the lion’s share of the food deliveries. Early on Orv and Willa would feed the pair simultaneously so that each would be nourished and Willa would sometimes position herself between the two eaglets and feed one on her right and one on her left making her body a physical barrier between them. But later in the nesting process food is just deposited in the nest and the youngsters must fend for themselves. That is where Aero had the greatest advantage leaving Prairie the scraps after most of the meat had been consumed. Aero also “ruled the nest” when it came to exercise, leaving Prairie less developed. After Aero fledged, Prairie only remained in the nest for an additional 3 days which did not allow much time for it to compensate for its lack of nourishment and exercise while it had the nest all to itself. No one was in the closed park when Prairie fledged so we have no idea if its departure from its safe haven was intentional or accidental. Either way, Mom and Dad secluded their more frail youngster for over a week in an attempt to meet those needs. But psychologically the domination by Aero had made Prairie a bit less aggressive as well. After the good report from the veterinarian we are hoping that several more days in the open and secured flight cage will enable Prairie to strengthen its body and mind. Unmolested by its sibling and with the availability of ample food and water Prairie should grow healthier with each passing day. The challenge now is to avoid human contact and imprinting. Imprinting is when a wild animal becomes so accustomed to human presence, especially in regards to the provision of food, that they lose their healthy wariness of man and even begin thinking of humans as a source of food or companionship. That always ends poorly for the wild animal.

OK, that handles the first thing that stole my slumber. Now for slumber thief item two.

If you have followed this blog for long you know that sometimes I awaken with a few poetic verses rumbling around in the vast empty spaces of my cranium. (All of that echoing rattle makes it really hard to sleep.) Well, that scenario happened again an hour ago so I jotted down the words as quickly as I could and then read them to see what they said. Call it inspiration (which I do) or exasperation, I have learned that sleep will not return until I put the verses down on paper. I guess I am still impacted by the question, “Why not just let nature take its course?” that I have heard all to frequently over my years as an involved eagle advocate. That question must have been the catalyst for these words:

Nature Calls

Nature calls and the strongest rise
The lion prowls and the eagle flies,
The whale dives and the spider spins
And across the globe new life begins.

But threats abound and the danger’s real
And fragile life may soon lack zeal
When survival’s struggle takes its toll
And strength grows weak in body and soul.

There comes a time when within that scene
The compassion of man must intervene,
For wild things may rise or wild things may fall
On how we answer nature’s call.

Now the burden is lifted and my eyelids are growing heavy, but I always end my postings with the title so if you were wondering how a veterinarian examines a wild bald eagle you will find the answer in the title.

(Good night.)

 

Published in: on July 16, 2019 at 3:26 am  Leave a Comment  

When Nature Calls

What? When nature call? Doesn’t that have something to do with needing a restroom break? What does that have to do with eagles?

Valid questions that may have entered your mind when you saw the title of this post but it is almost a shame that we have come to attach such a common meaning to that well-worn phrase. Nature calls in so many other, more noble ways. Nature calls us to be still and know God’s beauty. Nature calls us to step away from the din of modern living and its stressful demands and breathe. Nature calls us to be refreshed, calmed, exhilarated and restored. And then there are times when nature calls for our help.

Just such a call for help came through on my cell phone last Thursday (on my birthday). A local eagle watcher spoke on nature’s behalf. She had been in the park and had noticed young Prairie sitting in the grass for quite a while and allowing curious park visitors to get way too close to it. As I began the twenty minute drive to the park I placed a phone call to our local raptor center and left a message letting them know that we may be in need of their assistance. I then called the Carillon Park staff and advised them of the situation and asked them to have some volunteers keep folks a respectable distance away until I arrived. Then I received a return call from the raptor center’s director seeking more information and promising help should I deem it necessary. Then yet another call came through from the park staff updating me on the current situation and offering to open a maintenance gate so I could just drive across the grass to where the young eagle sat.

During the last five minutes of the drive I reviewed Prairie’s actions since it had fledged 12 days earlier. As the younger of the two eaglets, Prairie was much more timid and a much less accomplished flyer. It had spent a week in seclusion on the hillside behind the nest where Mom and Dad had fed and guarded it. After emerging from seclusion six days ago it had been extremely vocal, crying out for food and attention. Its flights were few and far between and lacked the grace and strength that should by now becoming more apparent in a 100 day old eagle. Yesterday it had refused to open its left eye making us wonder if an earlier tussle with Aero up on a tree branch had resulted in an injury or if the eye was simply painful due to dust or debris. And now I had learned that another squabble with its older sibling had taken place just this morning after Orv had brought a duck to Prairie and Aero decided that it should be shared. Prairie had received the duck while in the tree where it had been perched since yesterday. But the young eagle was unable to hold onto the limb while grasping the prey and had fluttered to the ground where the ensuing dispute with Aero had taken place. Another thought that had crossed my mind was the continuing hot spell of 90 degree highs coupled with the knowledge that Prairie had not yet left the park to get a refreshing drink and bath.

As I arrived at the park the large, green maintenance gate was open and as I drove through it I could already see the young eagle sitting on the lawn far ahead. Arriving on the scene I briefly talked with a member of the park staff and some eagle watchers who were standing guard nearby. The morning air was already growing hot and muggy as I approached Prairie and began appraising the situation. It was sitting upright and tall but had both wings draped limply beside its body.

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It was silent but alert and watching my approach. I saw no obvious sign of injury, no blood and no signs of regurgitation on its feathers. As I circled it from about 15 feet away I could see that it was turning its head to watch me with its right eye and that its left eye would open occasionally but mostly remained partially closed. The semi-visible eyeball looked intact and the nictitating membrane was flashing properly across the eye.

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Also there appeared to be no fluids leaking from the eye that might indicate a more severe eye injury. After a few minutes and a few pictures I moved a step or two toward the bird. It reacted by fluttering a few feet further away. Both wings and both feet appeared healthy but the fluttering was weak and it had gained only a foot of altitude on the short flight. Now I am only an observer but with more than a decade of experience I have seen several eagles in distress. Strained muscles, disease, genetic issues, dehydration, poorly developed muscle strength… many things can keep a young eagle on the ground, but experience has taught me that a grounded eagle is an eagle in trouble. Parasites, predators and dehydration are serious threats when mobility is reduced. Already flies were irritating the youngster and with the flies’ eggs come maggots.

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I again called the raptor center director’s cell phone and we discussed my observations. She agreed that intervention was necessary but there was a tactical problem. She was out of town, the retired past director (who seems to spend more time at the center volunteering now than she did as the director with all the meetings and demands of that position) was teaching a class in Springfield, and the back up person was undergoing some emergency dental work. She asked me to keep an eye on things while she called the state wildlife district office in nearby Xenia, Ohio. She suggested that we place a shallow tub of water near Prairie so it might drink, splash around and cool down. She also suggested that a water hose spraying a fine mist might entice the bird as well.  As I waited for the return call we tried both suggestions but Prairie showed no interest in its private water park.

The next call that came through told me that a wildlife technician team was on their way but would take another 30 to 40 minutes. So there we stood and waited. We moved a more respectable distance back so as not to add to the eagle’s stress. At one point Prairie began to walk toward a nearby brushy hillside so I walked to a position between the young eagle and the brush. Capturing an eagle in the open is difficult enough but capturing one hiding in the brush is almost impossible. Panicked birds with flapping wings can be injured by entanglement in the underbrush. So we sat and watched Prairie as Prairie sat and watched us.

When the state wildlife crew arrived they agreed that the eagle needed to be captured and examined. That is when the excitement began. Lacking a large towel or blanket, a jacket would have to suffice for a cover. Gloves for protection and a large fishing net were produced from their truck and the small group of onlookers took up positions at the base of the brushy hill to hopefully form a barrier of sorts. As the technicians slowly approached Prairie I recalled a scene from the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  where the childcatcher crept through the village square looking for outlawed children. I almost laughed at the thought.

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However, Prairie was not laughing at all!

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As the team neared the eagle, it flew several hundred feet and landed near a distant tree along the brush laden hillside. This flight confirmed our decision as it had covered some distance but had only gained 2 or 3 feet in altitude. This bird could not go up. As one technician distracted Prairie with the swaying coat, the second made a wide circle and approached the bird from behind a large tree that blocked the eagle’s view.

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After a few quick hand signals the net swept toward Prairie who made a panicked run for the brush. Just as the young eagle crossed onto the hillside, the net hit its mark! Momentum carried the netted eagle and its pursuers into the bushes. There, during the next several minutes, the feisty and rather unhappy eagle was carefully extracted from the net and wrapped securely in the coat for a short walk to the Division of Wildlife vehicle.

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Prairie was then transported to the Glen Helen Raptor Center in Yellow Springs, Ohio for observation and examination. Over the last 4 days we have received nothing but good reports. The eye has recovered from whatever was irritating it. It was drinking water. After a few hours adjusting to its new surroundings it began eating. This morning it was relocated to a 100′ long flight cage where it can safely exercise. Its flight is still somewhat weak but getting stronger. Tomorrow it will be examined by a veterinarian. If no other issues are found it will enjoy several days of free food and carefree, unimpeded exercise before being released back into Carillon Park. Meanwhile Willa has been flying along the river searching diligently for her missing offspring and even perching low in the very tree under which Prairie had been grounded.

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Left on the ground, young Prairie would have been doomed. Someone asked me, “Why not just let nature take its course? Why intervene?” To me that question shows a great, yet common misunderstanding. We humans are part of nature too. When humans intervene on an animal’s behalf, nature is taking its course! Like helping lost children find their parents, pulling a person from a burning automobile, freeing a fawn from a thicket or assisting an eagle in need of help, there are times when we humans must be willing to answer with action when nature calls!

 

 

 

 

Published in: on July 14, 2019 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Discoveries

As our eagles’ adventure continues we are often thrilled with what we witness as each new day carries with it new discoveries. And there is so much to discover! Wildlife is always revealing more and more of itself if one is willing to wait, watch and listen.

Wednesday, June 26, was a hot and humid day. For several days many fans of Orv and Willa had gathered in the park to see what discoveries the day may hold. With binoculars and cameras in hand they returned again and again waiting for young Aero or Prairie to take that unbelievably reckless step over the rim of the only world they had known and into the freedom of the sky. Whenever there are multiple eaglets in the nest one proves to be more aggressive and more adventurous. Aero was proving to be that eaglet. Perhaps several days older than Prairie, Aero had long ago established its dominance within the (literal) pecking order. For the last few days it appeared to be on the verge of fledging but each strong flutter landed it back in the nest. Prairie remained for the most part in the back of the nest and largely out of view as its older and larger sibling stretched its wings. That is why the anticipation hung in the air with the same weight and density as the stifling humidity when the park opened that morning.

It did not take long before it became apparent that things had changed at the nest. The eaglet looking down at its assembled admirers appeared to be Prairie and it sat there without the usual harassment from Aero. Somewhere in the early morning light (or possibly the previous twilight) the larger eaglet had apparently fledged from the nest! But where was it?

Fledgling eaglets are dark in color and show excellent skills when it comes to hiding in spite of their large size. They can sit on a shadowy limb for hours, unnoticed, still and silent. Orv and Willa’s activity in the park had also changed over the past several days as they had become less active at the nest. Occasionally they would deliver food or pass overhead as if coaxing an eaglet to fly or they would perch a few trees away enticing a youngster to join them. Mostly they gave Aero and Prairie space and time to do what instinctively they knew they must do.

Several of us walked through the park looking behind buildings, in the shadowy recesses below bridges and carefully searching the leafy canopy to see if we could spot the novice flyer. We were hoping that we would not find Aero injured and scared. If we discovered it on the ground we would have made sure that park visitors stayed safely away so as not to frighten the eagle or cause it undue stress before it could fly to a better perch. But our searching found no signs of the eaglet. Usually a young eagle’s location will be revealed by the chatter and flurry of activity by smaller birds that are none to keen on the idea of a large bird of prey in their domain. Often the eaglet will call loudly for a parent’s attention and companionship making its location obvious. But the brush and trees were unusually quiet, as if the air was too heavy to carry sound. So we waited, watched and listened.

Then shortly after noon someone spotted an eagle landing high in a tree to the east of the nest tree. The realization that the eagle was not an adult but rather the missing Aero brought smiles to faces and action to shutter fingers! Aero looked perfectly healthy although a bit awkward as it moved hesitantly along the limb.

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One up and one to go!

With Aero out of the nest, young Prairie was able to begin exercising with more vigor and freedom than before. Observably less agile than its stronger sibling, we guessed that it may take a day or two for Prairie to fledge. Aero was proving to be a more accomplished flyer than we had expected. It had already developed a fondness for treetops instead of the more open, lower tree limbs. Meanwhile Prairie watched, slept and fluttered on the infrequent breezes over the next several days.

On Saturday morning, June 29, the nest was empty.

Again folks checked the grounds to make sure that the young Prairie was not injured somewhere within the park. Unable to find any sign of the youngster the waiting, watching and listening continued. It is not uncommon for young eaglets to seclude themselves within shadowy recesses as they gain skill and strength. Willa had changed her behavior as well by perching less frequently on her tower perch and spending more time openly perched in the treetops within the park or somewhere unknown on the hillside behind the nest tree.

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But as the days passed by we saw no signs of Prairie. On the other hand, Aero was becoming more and more noticeable. It flew throughout the park and often made its way to the river where it perched alone watching and learning…

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or dined on a fish that Mom and Dad had provided.

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It seemed like both parents were spending more and more time with Aero and we still had no idea as to the whereabouts of Prairie. As the days passed our anxiety increased. We humans can be an impatient lot when it comes to accepting what we do not know and cannot control. The wildness of wildlife includes its unpredictability. We had no proof that anything tragic had happened to young Prairie but with each passing day the odds were growing that something had happened and that we may never know just what that was.

Reality was revealed this past Saturday afternoon.

That was when another local eagle photographer spotted a second eaglet near the nest! Prairie had been spotted after 7 days in seclusion! The eaglet seems a bit less refined in its abilities as compared to its sibling but healthy and strong nonetheless. Sunday it made its official debut much to the delight of the eagle watchers within the park. It spent time in the trees, on the ground, in the air and even on a picnic table where photographer Dave Brown captured this image.

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This image reveals Prairie’s size and more. Eagles are not that fond of being on the ground unless they are dining on a riverbank, eating carrion in a field or emerging from a refreshing bath. Treetops offer safety where as the ground exposes them to predators and humans. Prairie had been on the lawn and young flyers may have difficulty getting airborne from the ground until they have strengthened their muscles through exercise. A slightly elevated perch like this often helps a recently fledged juvenile get itself airborne until it builds enough strength to fly with more confidence and ability. Soon Prairie will hone its skills enough to begin to join Mom, Dad and Aero along the river.

Every day brings more exciting observations as more of the story of Dayton’s most famous eagles is revealed. As the adventure continues we will watch Aero and Prairie learn as they grow stronger and wiser. Together with Orv and Willa’s young family we will wait, watch and listen as we make even greater discoveries!

 

 

Published in: on July 9, 2019 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  

One More Time

We have been here before and here we are again. One more time we find ourselves awaiting that moment when a young Bald Eagle spreads its wings, releases it hold on the only world it has ever known, turns its back on the security of the nursery and steps out into the unknown.

I have no idea what that must feel like to a young eagle.

It has become a tradition that each year I post a little poem that I penned way back in 2011 while waiting for Eastwood’s Jim and Cindy’s first eaglets, Spirit and Pride, to fledge The Treetop Palace.

 

TWO LITTLE EAGLETS

Two little eaglets
Way up in the tree.
Two little eaglets,
Looking down at me.

You sit there in your aerie
Staring at the sky,
And every time you flap your wings
My heart lets out a sigh.

Silly little eaglets
Hovering o’er the nest,
Do you even know that you can fly?
Your wings will stand the test.

Do you even care that I’m waiting here
To see you soaring high?
I’m tethered to the earth below
But you, you own the sky!

If I were an eaglet
And could do what you can do,
Without a moment’s hesitation
I would launch into the blue.

But wait! One’s perched upon the edge!
It leans into the breeze!
It spreads its wings! Then hops back down.
You’re such a little tease.

I know that you are old enough
Your wings are sure and strong,
Dancing high across the sky
Is where eagles belong.

You’re made for inspiration.
You can make the mute heart sing
Rejoicing in your majesty
Borne on outstretched wing.

“Why don’t you fly?” I ask out loud.
“When will you learn to soar?
I know that you are ready!
What are you waiting for?”

Then deep within my spirit,
The eaglets speak somehow.
They say, “We’ll take that leap of faith
When we hear God whisper, ‘Now!’”

 

We wait and hope and wonder what the future might hold for Aero and Prairie. The passing of time will reveal what tomorrow have in store. Our eaglets are 84 days old as I type these words. They are well into the fledging window but the low branches above their nest encroach on their exercising space so their muscles may not be as strong as they should be for steady flight. Saturday and Sunday Carillon Park held their Railfest celebration featuring all things train. Hundreds of visitors passed below Orv and Willa’s tree and stared in amazement as the young eaglets played on the breeze above the nest. They are ready and awaiting their own “Now!” We are waiting too.

My wife and I recently returned from a 14 day trip to Alaska where we saw many wonderful sights and amazing wildlife. I was unprepared for the creative beauty and grandeur of our northernmost state. As we wait, I will leave you with a singular image from that trip that captures a bit of the wild beauty of our Alaskan eagles.

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Every year we wait. Every year we hope. Every year we rejoice in the wonders of God’s creative genius. Even after all these years the thrill is the same as we wait together one more time.

Published in: on June 23, 2019 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Can Take Your Breath Away

Breath is an extremely important thing.

That statement would be almost universally affirmed for obvious reasons. So why do we often hear the expression that something would “take your breath away” as a means of describing a frightening or exhilarating experience? Perhaps just because breath is an extremely important thing.

One such experience for me is encountering an eagle in the wild. There is something about their power, grace and majestic beauty that makes me gasp in pure wonder. Most of the readers of this blog understand exactly what I mean. So hold your breath as I share a few of Roger’s amazing recent images!

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Orv is a excellent provider. He stays fairly busy bringing food to and from the nest. We have noticed that he prefers fishing over staying at home with the growing eaglets though. His time away from the nest is considerably longer than Willa’s. Sometimes he flies to the nest, drops off his catch and (quite literally) high tails it out of the area before Willa can give him a list of chores for the day. Carillon Historical Park is a popular fieldtrip destination, on many days hosting around 600 children. While addressing one group of around 20 fourth graders this week I quipped that Orv’s long absence from the nest would earn him a tongue lashing from Willa. One young boy spoke up saying, “No it won’t. He just has to tell Willa that he was practicing catching fish so he could better teach the eaglets when they fly.”

Coming or going, Orv is impressive. But I prefer coming.

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Willa’s beauty and grace seem boundless. When she takes flight the children scream with delight! Having become quite familiar with their habits it has become fairly easy to predict their immediate actions so I have begun encouraging class groups to wait a moment or two below the nest as one of the adults will soon depart. As the eagle steps up toward the rim of the nest I advise any nearby photographers to get ready to capture a departure.  If it is Willa taking flight, the oohs and ahs are instantaneous! And if she chooses to circle near the nest patrons throughout the park begin to point skyward.

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And Willa is no novice at hunting either! Seldom do the adults return home without grass, sticks or something tasty in their talons. (Providing you like raw meat, that is.)

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Then there are those rare moments that Orv and Willa frolic together for a short time making the sky over the park a wonderland of inspiration. Now that the eaglets are getting larger, Mom and Dad can steal a moment or two to strengthen their pair bond. The park’s red tailed hawks are less aggravating this year as the eaglets were hatched on schedule instead of a month later than normal for the area. The hawks have also apparently relocated their nest a bit further from Orv and Willa’s aerie but every now and then they still make their presence known. This relative calm makes brief moments of togetherness possible.

DSCN3190et2swSpeaking of the eaglets, at 45 days old they are becoming more and more noticeable and much more of an attraction for the park. Almost every day someone tells me that they came into the park just to see the eaglets! Sadly though, as the following image shows, we are only seeing two eaglets at a time, so we have likely lost one. That loss was somewhat expected as raising three eaglets to the point of fledging is a pretty demanding feat. But the two remaining eaglets look healthy, awkward and beautiful!

 

 

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Whether it is your first time or your millionth, each glimpse of these marvels excites and energizes the spirit. The Bible often uses the eagle as an illustration of God’s majestic grace and provision. Is it any wonder why? Encountering a wild eagle can turn an ordinary moment into a moment that can take your breath away!

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celebrity Status

Celebrity has its costs.

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One of which is privacy!

Even the word “celebrity” has at its root the concept of being celebrated. When one is famous almost everything you do is somehow deemed newsworthy. A marriage, a speeding ticket, a trip to the beach, even something as private as a medical diagnosis is flashed across TV screens and magazine covers. And the cameras are everywhere! Paparazzi (like local eagle watcher, Greg) follow your every movement, even when you are just primping, preening and trying to scratch that itch that is just out of reach.

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How embarrassing! Poor Orv, no privacy at all.

And Willa is just as cursed with the curiosity that comes from fans of celebrities. She can’t even feed her three eaglets without every movement being watched and documented through telephoto lenses!

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(Wait!)

 

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(Did he say three?)

Why, yes Orv, I did! Orv and Willa have three eaglets in their Carillon Park nest! The oldest is just over three weeks old and the others are likely about two and four days younger. They are just now at a point where they are large enough and mobile enough to occasionally be seen from the ground.

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But boy are they cute!

Carillon Park has dubbed me their “eagle expert”, a name I wear with some chagrin. (The thing about being called an expert in anything is that the more you learn about a subject, the more acutely aware you become about your lack of knowledge. Maybe that is how the word  originated. “Pert” means sassy or saucy. So an ex-pert is no longer as sassy or saucy as they once were.) As such I share information with park visitors, many of whom have come just to view the eagles. I have also been interviewed by various media outlets hopefully encouraging folks to visit our human-acclimated eagles instead of disturbing more isolated nesting sites in the region. So let me do so here. If you are close to Dayton, stop by the park, meet some incredibly friendly people and view the eagles in person! Our pictures simply cannot capture their true beauty and grace. Orv will be perched by the entrance and looking for you.

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We are extremely excited about the possibility of having three eaglets fledge from the nest in late June or early July but three present some real challenges as well. The nest is about five to six feet in diameter, which may sound pretty big, but by June 12th the youngsters will be as big as Mom and Dad. That means 18 to 21 feet of juvenile wings flapping around and bopping sibling heads. The demands of feeding three eaglets will take its toll on Orv and Willa as well. During this past week both the former and current directors of The Glen Helen Raptor Center were in the park for individual visits and each voiced their concerns that bringing all three to a point of successfully fledging will be pushing the odds a bit. But it is possible.

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In the meantime, there will be an awful lot of activity in the air, in the nest and behind tripods around the park. All three television network affiliates are on board for the adventure as well as local print and radio media! But then that is as it should be considering Orv and Willa’s celebrity status!

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 9:29 am  Leave a Comment  

Wait For It

Three funny little words, three short syllables, but they can carry a powerful punch.

While watching a video with a friend the first word might be spoken in a long, drawn out manner and the entire phrase repeated: “W…a…i…t for it. W…a…i…t for it.” letting you know that something unexpected, exciting or comical is about to happen. But by simply adding the word “just” to the phrase and speaking it in a terse manner you can sound like an exasperated parent responding to the whining, repetitive request of an impatient child: “Just wait for it!”

For young children, as well as for those of us a bit beyond childhood, waiting is not easy to do. Well, not if what you are waiting for is joyfully or fearfully anticipated. (Isn’t that odd? Waiting for a coming vacation is just as difficult as waiting for the results of a medical exam, meanwhile waiting for a table in a restaurant is usually no big deal.) But, then again, all waiting stinks. I don’t even like waiting through a TV commercial, or 8 to 10 consecutive commercials that are stuffed between 3 minute segments of a program. When we had no choice but to wait, back in the day, it didn’t bother me so, but now if I cannot fast-forward through the ads, I get frustrated. On the other hand, fast-forwarding through commercials means fewer trips to the refrigerator or kitchen cabinet for snacks. Commercials are unhealthy. (Where was I going again? Oh yeah, waiting!)

As a young man I twice found myself pacing hospital waiting rooms until I was ushered into the delivery room. (Who was the person who first thought that it was a good idea to put nervous, young fathers in that environment anyway? My wife and her doctor even concocted this thing called a “due date”. When I first heard the term I thought it was a question and answered, “Not anymore. I’m married.” Then I thought it had to do with when the doctor expected to be paid. Eventually I learned that it was a wild guess as to when young fathers would be pacing waiting room floors before passing out in delivery rooms. The problem was, nobody informed the baby! I mean, really, shouldn’t someone have notified the guest of honor? After all, it is the baby’s coming out party!)

Anyway, baby eagles have a due date of 35 days after their egg is deposited in the nest. Now eagles are a bit different from people in that both Mom and Dad incubate. Therefore they each have ample opportunity to pace the floor (or limb) as they wait for it. Willa paced like a pro!

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Now we knew from Willa and Orv’s behavior that the first egg arrived on Sunday, February 24th, so we were able to calculate that the due date for hatching was March 31st. (That really wasn’t that hard to figure out but we paid a doctor to complete those calculations decades ago.) Like good expectant uncles and aunts, we spent the last week of March waiting for it and pacing. On the 31st Roger caught Orv carrying a catfish head to the nest.

 

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He thought that maybe Orv was feeding an eaglet but I quipped that maybe he just wanted to get “ahead” of this whole parenting thing.

Now I remember my wife constantly moving about the house to prepare it for our daughters’ arrivals, creating a soft, welcoming environment for our babies. In fact, they even called her behavior “nesting”!  Well, Orv and Willa took nesting quite literally!

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Whichever one was not in the nest coped with the angst of waiting by flying back and forth with talons full of grass to cushion and nestle their babies. (Again, way cheaper than the way we prepared for our daughters’ arrivals!)

The 31st came and left with no apparent eaglet. (Had someone forgotten to notify the eaglet of the due date?) The 31st of March was bitterly cold and the 1st of April was bit better weather for pacing. But we felt like April fools as we paced and watched nothing interesting happening. Now my self-education and 10 years of experience had taught me that escaping from an egg shell is no easy task for a little eaglet. There is no room in the shell’s confines for exercising so an eaglet must pip a hole and rest, make it larger and rest, pick at it a little more and rest. Work until exhausted then sleep in a repetitive pattern. (Sounds a lot like the first weeks of parenthood, doesn’t it? Well, except that sleep part. I don’t recall much sleep.) It sometimes takes the eaglet about 48 hours to completely escape its fragile prison and once out in the fresh air and warm and cozy under Mom or Dad, it sleeps some more. So long ago I had added 35 days of incubation + 2 days of egg-scaping + 1 day of egg-saustion = 38 days! All of that complicated math brings us to April 3rd, which was yesterday.

And yesterday was sunny and warm and we saw (W…a…i…t for it!) this!

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Orv carried to the nest one whopper of a fish! Enough to feed a family! Then we watched from the ground as he left his catch with Willa and went to a nearby tree as she shredded the fish into bits and leaned forward to put tiny morsels into her new eaglet’s mouth!

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Now the question is how many eaglets. There are typically two, but one or three are possibilities and much more rarely four. Any siblings will hatch over the next few days, usually with a day or two between hatchings. We will guess if there are more than one by the amount of hunting and feeding we see, but we won’t know for sure for a few weeks yet. When the eaglets grow strong enough to climb up from the nursery floor and peek over the edge of the nest, (now that my math skills are all warmed up) counting bobbleheads should be pretty easy. By June 12th they will be fully feathered and as big as Mom and Dad and around June 26th they will be ready to fledge!

Today as I stood along the roadway that separates the park from the river, a very tired Orv passed low overhead.

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I know what long hours lie ahead for him and his mate but I also know from experience that that time and energy is well invested. Eventually he landed in the tree above me and took a 5 minute breather. As I watched he stared blankly into space.

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There was something very familiar in that stare. New parents have a lot on their minds. More questions than answers. More duties than time allows. But in the midst of that hour they somehow know that God will provide what they need in His perfect timing.

All they have to do is trust Him and wait for it!

Published in: on April 5, 2019 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s a Spring Thing

Spring has sprung and winter’s done!

I have never been a fan of shivering so the promise of warmer weather is as much appreciated as it was anticipated. But spring is welcomed by Dayton’s eagles as well because it is the season of new beginnings.

Orv and Willa’s first eaglet of the year should hatch in just 10 days so we are in the ants-in-your-pants stage (that’s not a technical term) of waiting. Visitors to Carillon Park have asked me why hatching in early spring is so important and the answer is “winter”. It takes 7 months or so to get the eaglet from a newly arrived egg to self-sufficiency before encountering winter’s demands. That is the challenge that Orv and Willa will face this year and every year for the next two decades. For now they incubate the egg (or eggs) and rest, conserving energy for the demands that begin in 10 short days.

So while we wait together, let’s enjoy a few images of Orv and Willa as they do what they do so well: inspire!

RGP 1116 In Roger’s image above you can see Willa’s brood patch. Feathers are made of keratin, just like our fingernails, and layers of feathers that trap air provide a wonderfully effective insulation system to protect the eagle from the elements. But those same feathers also become a barrier that keeps the heat generated by the incubating adult’s 106 degree body temperature from reaching the egg. Ergo, a brood patch develops where feathers fall out and warm skin is exposed! Fascinating design and function!

The following images are also Roger’s work. They show Orv and Willa coming and going, bringing home soft bedding material, or just making their presence known.

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Here are a few images of activity at the nest captured over the last few weeks. I will never tire of seeing the look in a child’s eyes as they see a wild eagle for the very first time. That childlike excitement even shows when those eyes have seen 7 decades or more of life!

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Maybe being only 10 short days away from hatching explains why I found Willa scratching her head and possibly wondering, “What was I thinking?”

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The group of photographers and watchers continues to grow as the big day draws near. There are sometimes nearly a dozen people in the park or along the river levee straining to catch a glimpse of Orv or Willa as the eagles go about their duties with diligence and grace. Every now and then I like to introduce you to another talented photographer. The following two images of Orv were captured by Beth Larsen and are posted here with her permission. (OK, I actually asked to use one image but come on now, how can anyone decide which one?) I hope you enjoy her stunning work.

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These birds are beyond amazing and reflect the beauty and majestic gracefulness of their Creator. As the weather warms, so do my hopes and dreams for this year’s eaglets. Tomorrow is full of promise and possibilities and I just can’t help but embrace the growing anticipation of the blessings that lie ahead as this new season dawns. It’s a spring thing!

Published in: on March 22, 2019 at 12:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Are We There Yet?

Every parent that has ever taken the family on a road trip knows the emotions associated with that simple little question. Flowing from a child’s lips to a parent’s ears those words can bring a smile and a wink or a frown and a grimace. The parent’s response often depends on how many times the question has reached their ears…. in the last 5 minutes!

But why is the question asked in the first place and why is it asked so repeatedly?

“Are we there yet?” often flows from the heart of a frustrated child, anxious to be somewhere they are not. That frustration grows in the fertile soil of expectation. And when liberally watered with anticipation, frustration can grow like a weed! (The truth be told, that same process is playing out in the mind of the parent as well. That is why the smile and wink evolve into the frown and grimace. When the child first asks the question the parent answers and expects the child to be satisfied with that answer. When the question is asked again and again the parent anticipates the peace and quiet of some magical future moment when the child’s curiosity will be sated… or at least they will drift off to sleep. When that fails to happen, expectation + anticipation = frustration!)

The approach of each nesting season plants that same process in my heart.

My expectations grow as eggs arrive in Florida, then Georgia, then Tennessee… As February comes I anticipate our nesting season’s arrival. Jim and Cindy were extremely punctual, always laying the first egg near Valentine’s Day. So when that week came and left with no egg in either of our Dayton nests I found my frustrated heart daily asking, “Are we there yet?”

We’re there!!!

Three days ago, on a bitterly chilly and windy day, shortly after noon, we arrived. The persistent winds were in the 30mph range and the frequent gusts were pushing 60mph! Just outside of Carillon Park, the normally placid Great Miami Refrigerator where Orv and Willa store their fish (already running high and looking quite muddy from recent rains and melting snow) appeared to be flowing backwards with wind-driven surface water.

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This made standing to photograph our eagles a real challenge. We must have looked like meteorologists documenting an approaching hurricane. Even our vehicles were shaking in the gusts. But still Roger was able to capture the moment with clarity.

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That is Willa silently saying “We’re here.” as only a mother can. We knew we were close because all the signs were right. Just like seeing familiar landmarks as you near you destination these past few days assured us that we were getting close. Of course there was this necessary sign.

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(Actually we passed that sign so frequently we could have been driving in circles.) We also noticed that the nest was becoming more of an attraction than before. In the world of eagles where breeding takes place only once annually, the nest serves a very specific and limited purpose. It is a nursery. Although resident eagles may check on the nest every now and then and add sticks over a period of months, they only stay in their nests when they need it to meet that purpose. Instincts come and go gradually. Orv and Willa had been earnestly remodeling with sticks and softer materials like river grass. That focus slowly fades as they spend more time together. Gradually the nest becomes a focal point of a different kind as Orv began catching fish and leaving them in the nest so Willa could come to dine on his gift. Each activity serves as another landmark on our journey of anticipation.

Last week I caught this behavior.

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Now their pair-bond is strong and their interaction is often very tender but after consuming an Orv-provided fish, Willa landed on this branch. Orv left the adjacent tree, flew to the nest to eat the scraps and take out the garbage (without being asked to do so!). He then flew in and landed a few inches from her. She sidled up against him and whispered something into his ear and judging by his expression I’m guessing it was, “You’re gonna be a daddy.” Five days later the egg arrived.

Laying that first egg was a lot of work so when Orv took over incubation duties Willa felt like dancing!

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The “big event” made us feel like dancing too! We were finally there! It also made the news as each of the area television affiliates (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX) have interviewed me about the egg’s arrival. There are only two nests in Dayton but there are a dozen or more nests in the local viewing area and more will be started this fall as local eagles mature. Most of these nests are in remote settings where human activity may be alarming to nesting eagles and curious humans can cause a nest to fail (not produce or fledge eaglets) by causing stress for the nesting adults, just by being in the area. Five of those nests welcomed their first egg of 2019 between last Thursday and Sunday (including Jim and Hope who are back in the old Treetop Palace this season!). Disturbing and stressing a nesting eagle can be fatal for the embryonic or young eaglet and it is a federal crime. But Orv and Willa are different. They have chosen a very public setting where human activity is a normal part of their environment. My hope is that by promoting Orv and Willa’s activities those curious humans will come to Carillon Park and not unintentionally harass more remote nests.

Now is the time to visit the park to see Orv and Willa in action. The trees are still without leaves which makes watching them and photographing them a lot easier. The Wright Brothers National Museum is within the private Carillon Park and within the museum’s Wright Hall is the original Wright Flyer III, the flying machine that Orville and Wilbur perfected at Huffman Prairie. And Orv and Willa’s nest is directly above Wright Hall!

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But the real reason to come this nesting season is the possibility of witnessing sights like these passing or perched just overhead!

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In about 35 days, around March 31st, the first egg should hatch. Already the anticipation is building and I know that my heart will soon be asking, “Are we there yet?”

Published in: on February 27, 2019 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment