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 (12)  

While We Wait

Jim and Cindy’s Treetop Palace is cradling precious eggs far more priceless than any ever crafted by Fabrege. These eggs are not bejeweled and trimmed in gold. They are not sitting on a pedestal, bathed in special lighting or protected by a glass case and paid guards carrying guns. They are too valuable for such trivial characteristics. These eggs are far more treasured than any egg found in a museum. Although to the naked eye they may seam quite ordinary, after careful examination their real beauty begins to emerge.

For these eggs have never been touched by human hands. Their pedestal is a rugged, living sycamore tree and they are illuminated by the warming sunrays, shimmering moonbeams and twinkling starlight. Their protection comes from a massive basket of sticks, carefully and lovingly woven together by master builders. Their guards serve not for pay but from devotion and are armed with talons and the determination to protect these eggs from any threat and at any cost. The extraordinary value of these extraordinary eggs comes not from what is on the outside but from the miracle transpiring on the inside. Life. Inside each fragile eggshell a tiny American Bald Eagle is developing. Eyes, heart, wings, taloned-feet… all being formed, slowly and meticulously inside a very plain shell. Priceless, precious and simply amazing. Many speed by without even noticing the miracle over their shoulder.

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But we watch we wait.

As we wait, other feathered visitors are gracing the skies with their own special beauty. Maybe they lack the grandeur of a Bald Eagle but they are unique as well. Ever watchful, Jim and Cindy are aware of  their presence within their domain. So while we wait, let’s enjoy the late winter spectacle together.

We have recently noticed two visitors from the north that have been hunting in the grasslands of Huffman Prairie where the Wright brothers perfected their flying machine in the years following their historic 1903 powered flight. The first visitors were a few Northern Harriers. These low-flying hunters skim over the ground in search of voles, mice and other tasty rodents.

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Rough-Legged Hawks have also journeyed southward to hunt the prairie. Their bold, distinctive markings make them easy to identify as they hunt from tree limbs or higher in the sky.

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Pileated Woodpeckers are beating out their rhythms from trees as they search for insects that are living within the wood.

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The Northern Cardinal sings his springtime serenade as we pass by.

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And, of course, the ever-present Red-Tailed Hawk is always entertaining and sometimes very accommodating to photographers as they fly from post to post…

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or hunt from a tree limb…

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or wonder what it would be like to be a Bald Eagle.

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Sometimes they even say hello!

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But the masters of our skies are Jim and Cindy and even though they are focused on the nest, they occasionally focus on other things as well.

Thursday morning as I was making the rounds of Eagledom I spotted Cindy flying rapidly across the highway about 1/4 of a mile in front of me. (When eagles are trying to get somewhere fast it is pretty obvious.) As I cleared a grove of trees on my right I saw Cindy landing in the stubble of the adjacent cornfield. Then I noticed two very bushy coyotes about 100 feet from her hightailing it towards that grove of trees. When I reached the far edge of the cornfield I could see Cindy in my mirrors flying back toward the wellfield just across the highway carrying something in her talons. From their favorite guard post our eagles have a clear view of that cornfield and I surmised that she had seen those coyotes catch a rabbit and decided that rabbit sounded pretty good for lunch. What a girl!

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There is just so much natural beauty to see while we wait.

Published in: on March 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm  Comments (24)  

Reminiscing

A follower of this blog posted a comment earlier today asking for a little historic information on Jim and Cindy. He suggested that during our wait for eaglets to pip, hatch and finally stick their precious, fuzzy bobbleheads above the rim of the nest, it may be a good idea to recap some of the highlights (and lowlights) of past nesting seasons. I found that to be a wonderful idea. We have about 480 followers now and many of them have only been on this journey for a short time. So if you have been following our postings over the last 4 years, these bittersweet memories may have a familiar ring to you, but to many they are brand new.

I made a quick scan through several hundred images and selected a little more than a dozen to highlight Jim and Cindy’s babies and their stories. Let me caution you that some images may be disturbing. I was there when most of them were taken and they still bother me but I think that they are a very important part of the story and illustrate how fragile and wild life in the wild can be.

As always, the stars of our story are Jim and Cindy.

Our stars.

Our stars.

Our beloved Bald Eagle pair arrived in Dayton in the fall of 2008, shortly after the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through town. The young adults were not very successful in their first two years of nesting. In 2009 they hatched an eaglet but it lived only a few days and in 2010 they incubated an egg but it failed to hatch. That was a sad scene as Cindy abandoned incubation after about 40 days but Jim stayed on the egg for several more days and was becoming visibly weak before he too finally gave up.

The story became a much more happy one in 2011 with the relocation to their current tree and the successful hatching and fledging of two eaglets. They had been named Spirit and Pride through a contest sponsored by The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

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RGPhoto144 Spirit

Unfortunately tragedy struck on Independence Day. Young Spirit was severely injured in a fail attempt to land on a wooden power pole. We believe Spirit caught his left wing on a wire and either impacted the pole or the ground at the base of the pole with enough force to blow out his right knee and crush the right side of his ribcage. We had seen his sister, Pride, sitting atop that pole for much of the day but had no idea that her sibling was lying in the tall grass at its base. Late in the afternoon of the next day we were summoned to the wellfield after a worker there had spotted the injured bird. We were heartbroken when we arrived within the fence and saw this.

The sun sets on injured Spirit.

The sun sets on injured Spirit.

Our local, Glen Helen Raptor Center recovered Spirit and after examination by a veterinarian it was determined that the injuries were too severe and the eaglet was euthanized at the age of 100 days.

This tragedy heightened or resolve to protect our eaglets from an unseen threat. The novice flyers saw the utility poles as an open perch unaware of the possibility of electrocution should they contact two of the bare-wire conductors.

Risky business.

Risky business.

Heart stopping moment.

Heart stopping moment.

You can see why we were concerned. The threat was real and potentially deadly. Jim and Cindy only perched in the neighboring trees but the inexperienced eaglets still had trouble landing through the branches and preferred the open poles. Conversations between the wellfield office and our local utility company led to the installation of devices to obstruct the crossbeams and to insulate the conductors at the poles. We were able to direct the utility crews to the poles most frequently used by the eaglets as well as the poles nearest the nest. Spirit would not die in vain. We believe that Pride is still with us. We have seen a large female fishing from The Great Miami River during the last two years and Jim and Cindy interact peacefully with her rather than chasing her off. They even allow her to eat fish from their river without stealing her food!

Could this be Pride?

Could this be pride?

The 2012 nest was even more successful as Jim and Cindy fledged 3 eaglets that year!

2012 Family

2012 Family

But that season was not without a major scare or two. On June 30th, just a few days after the last eaglet had fledged from the nest, a straight-line wind raced through the area and blew most of the aerie out of the tree. We feared the worst but early the next morning we found all 3 eaglets and Jim and Cindy somewhat shocked, but otherwise well .

Shocked and bewildered.

Shocked and bewildered.

In 2013 Jim and Cindy fledged 2 eaglets from a new nest that they had begun building in September of 2012. The new nest was in the same fork of their Sycamore tree. Here is a look at those eaglets.

2013 Family

2013 Family

But shortly after their maiden flights there was yet another challenge. On July 1st a wellfield worker summoned us with the report of a downed eaglet. We found the youngster in the middle of a field of tall grass, apparently unable to get itself airborne again. Young, novice flyers sometimes have difficulty getting airborne from the ground without the aid of an elevated perch and gravity. We called the raptor center and as we waited we formed a large human ring around the field so the hopping eaglet would not get into the nearby thicket. As the raptor center personnel approached the bird it managed to fly about 10 feet but only rising a few feet above the ground before crashing down again. Upon examination the bird was found to be suffering from a mild wing injury and dehydration. During its week of rest and recuperation Cindy repeatedly patrolled the area apparently looking for her missing baby. The youngster healed rapidly and was released on July 7, 2013.

Free again!

Free again!

After initially landing in a tree, it flew again and was instantly joined by its very happy mother. We were thankful for a relatively peaceful nesting season.

Then last year we were blessed with 3 more eaglets. They were a very happy family.

2014 Family

2014 Family

On one visit we were surprised to see Jim carrying something new to the nest. He had caught a young beaver! We were accustomed to fish, ducks, turtles, squirrels and even a raccoon or an occasional groundhog but this was different! Even Cindy looked a bit surprised as he arrived.

Leave it to beaver.

Leave it to beaver.

But just after fledging, tragedy struck again. Another eaglet down, another eaglet lost. This time the eaglet had suffered a severe injury to its right wing damaging both muscle and bone.

Oh no! Not again!

Oh no! Not again!

We had no idea how long it had been injured. The youngster was taken to the raptor center where it died of its injuries within hours. Its two siblings are doing well as far as we know and are very likely two of the first year juveniles we have seen in the area this winter.

Of course there are many other babies in Jim and Cindy’s domain.

Someone to fawn over.

Someone to fawn over.

Another baby.

Another baby.

And this last picture always makes me laugh because it reminds me of an old west cowboy wearing chaps and ready for a shootout.

Draw partner!

Draw partner!

Life is a precious gift and like so many precious things, life is fragile. I say it often but life in the wild is wild. It is so important that we do all we can do to protect these majestic birds and their habitat. Our eagles are urban eagles so not only do they battle the elements they must contend with man-made threats as well. Power lines, automobiles, fencing, idiots with shotguns and so many more obstacles to their survival exist in this urban environment. But in cities across this continent the American Bald Eagle has one thing that its wilderness-dwelling relatives do not have, caring people to watch over them and intervene when necessary. Many of the readers of this blog are part of a group like that. Whether in the mountains of Tennessee, the coastal regions of Virginia, sunny Florida, the red clay hillsides of Georgia, Midwestern Iowa, along the Pacific coastline, north of our border in Canada or anywhere in between, there are eagle people. They are good, ordinary people overseeing and protecting the wellbeing of a local aerie and sharing the joys and pains of their own memories. They are bittersweet memories that bring both a smile and a tear as we spend some time together, quietly reminiscing.

Thank you.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 7:21 am  Comments (24)  

Egg-sighting News!

Jim and Cindy have some news to share with all of you that is very egg-sighting! I don’t want to say egg-zackly what it is but I am not egg-saturating when I say it is egg-straordinarily great news. Before you become egg-zassperated and as an egg-sample of my good will, I will give you an egg-stra moment or two to guess what it is.

Go!

Boy! You are good guessers!

Sunday was February 15th, their typical first-egg-laying date. But our weather has been anything but accommodating. We have had snowfalls, high winds, frigid subzero temperatures and generally lousy weather. When I first tried to view the nest from Eastwood Lake the falling snow made even seeing the Treetop Palace, 1/2 mile away, almost impossible, let alone any occupants therein. The next day the snow had stopped but the blowing snow and the ice crystals in the frigid air so muted the nest that even my binoculars were useless. The air has been so cold that focusing our cameras has been a challenge even after they are acclimated to the outside temperature. Finally yesterday Roger and Lisa were able to capture some usable images from Eastwood. You can see Cindy’s head just above the rim of the nest as she sits on the nursery floor.

Cindy protecting her precious egg from the cold.

Cindy protecting her precious egg from the cold.

Cropped image of Cindy in the nest.

Cropped image of Cindy in the nest.

Unfortunately we cannot know for certain exactly what day the first egg arrived but it was likely Wednesday, the 18th. That would mean the first eaglet of 2015 should hatch around March 25th. Jim and Cindy have now joined the many other eagle pairs (nesting north of Florida) that are incubating eggs. Those Florida nests already have eaglets that are several weeks old!

That is not the only eagle action in town. Several juveniles and sub-adults are fishing the local rivers and we are checking into the possibility of a new eagle’s nest on the northern fringes of Jim and Cindy’s domain. The weather has hindered that effort as well. This new nest is large, high, very isolated and near water. Those are all positive signs. There have been a number of Red-Tailed Hawk nests in this area so it may just be an overzealous hawk’s home, but eagles are known to sometimes evict hawks and assume ownership of the smaller bird’s nest before enlarging it.

Here are two recent pictures of a juvenile Bald Eagle fishing on the all-but-frozen Great Miami River downtown. Notice the condition of the water in the second image.

Young hunter.

Young hunter.

Icy catch.

Icy catch.

This final image is Jim. He had been fishing from the icy river also. If you look carefully you can see a tiny icicle forming on the point of his beak. Now that’s cold!

Jim in the frigid air.

Jim in the frigid air.

For now I am just trying to stay warm as I look forward to the first week of spring and even more egg-sighting news!

Published in: on February 21, 2015 at 1:02 am  Comments (10)  

Why We Do What We Do

We are in that annual period of impatience and angst as we eagerly await the signs of incubation that will begin the 35 day count down to the next period of impatience and angst. Jim and Cindy have been visiting The Great Miami Refrigerator…er…I mean River, standing together on the ice of Eastwood Lake and perching side by side in the treetops.
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That in itself is a negative sign of sorts. If both adults are off of the nest, there are no eggs in the nest. But there are a number of positive signs for which we watch. After Cindy lays the first egg she will mostly stay in the nest for a few days until the second and possibly a third egg arrives. Jim will be seen bringing food to his preoccupied mate. But if she does leave the nest Jim will immediately take over incubation duties. We will see him arrive just before Cindy flies off and then he will waddle awkwardly into position before settling down over the precious and fragile package. The waddling is a result of the adult walking on its knuckles as it curls its toes and balls up its feet to remove any possible chance that one of its talons might pierce the egg. As they incubate their tail will stick up at a 45 degree angle as the parent gently nestle the egg in the warmth of the feathers of its lower chest area. We may see the adult stand momentarily and appear to bob its head as it carefully rotates the egg on the nursery floor before settling down again. And when it is not feeding or hunting, the non-incubating adult will perch in a tree near the nest to conserve energy and to fend off any potential threat that may arise. Of course, a lot of this behavior may be difficult to view from 1/2 mile away and our observations may be hindered even more if Jim and Cindy’s recent “nestorations” have added sufficient height to the walls of the nest to conceal the activity within its bowl. These are some of the signs we watchers watch for.

But why do we do what we do? This question puzzles many that do not hear the silent call of these majestic creatures. But those of us who are so blessed are drawn to the beauty of the Bald Eagle’s story like mythological seafarers were drawn to the siren’s call. We see this moment in life as our opportunity to witness something wonderfully captivating. This is not some virtual adventure created on a computer or within a Hollywood studio. This narrative was not created by man at all. It is real. It is as wonderful as it is raw. And it is utterly riveting and full of surprises. I have witnessed the faces of toddlers and the aged as they have been carried away by the overwhelming grandeur of the unexpected sight of an eagle overhead. That moment will be permanently etched in their memories and will come to mind repeatedly as time passes.

Why do we do what we do? I don’t know how many of the readers of our blog read the comments that are left by readers on the bottom of this page, but they are often quite moving. One recent comment touched me deeply and has played over and over again in my mind. The comment came from a dear lady named Mae. I found her words to be not only confirmation of my historical research over the years but both a challenge and an encouragement as well. Mae wrote, “I’m almost 87 years old, raised in the village of Harshmanville, adjacent to the well field. I remember my grandfather, David Clingman, taking me several times, numerous years up to watch the eagles. Later in my childhood they stopped coming. It is most pleasing that they are back…” Her comment brought tears to my eyes as I pictured a doting grandfather holding a little girl’s hand as they watched an eagle fly. He had no idea how precious that memory would be decades later nor did he know how his simple act of lovingly spending time and nature with his granddaughter would bless my heart and now yours as well.

But then there is that haunting statement, “Later in my childhood they stopped coming.”

As I have stated in numerous posts, in 1938 that last nesting eagles left Dayton. And for seventy long years “they stopped coming”. As a child I longed for their return. After more than 5 decades I rejoiced when they did. And I rejoice again every time that a classroom of children oohs, aahs and giggles during my eagle presentation or a nursing home resident tells me that he and his friends follow our blog. And my heart rejoices whenever I see a grandparent lovingly holding a grandchild as an eagle flies overhead. May no child ever again have to say, “They just stopped coming.”

That is why we do what we do.

Thank you Mae.

RGP825

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 10:30 pm  Comments (10)  

Step By Step

We humans have a funny way of always looking ahead to the next event on our schedule, even when that anticipation robs us of the thrill of enjoying the amazing happenings of where we are. Well, at least I am that way. And this over-busy tedency has been going on for a long time because we even have archaic sayings to refer to our status. “Too many irons in the fire.” is still heard today even though I cannot remember the last time I heated an iron (branding iron or clothes iron) in a fire.

One of the beautiful things about nature is that it forces you to slow down. Nature has a way of wrapping you up in its arms and holding you securely until you quit fighting back and give in to it. Some of us run to a favorite natural setting to escape those fiery irons while others are dragged kicking and screaming away from their electronic mindbenders and noisy distractors. But we were meant to be a part of creation and to enjoy its serenity, beauty and even its harsher sides. Being still along the side of a brook, on the beach near an ocean, on a mountainside or within a shaded woodland reminds us that we a part of something, or Someone, greater than ourselves. That realization rejuvenates us in a way that no drug can. There we are restored and refreshed.

But yet we tend to rush carelessly onward. So let’s stop. Right now. Right here. Take a deep breath and join me here on the snowy bank of The Great Miami River as together we look carefully and gratefully at the here and now.

We are barely settled in when our eyes are caught by a flash of movement. The flash is the majestic yet almost silent wings of an American Bald Eagle as it lands on the ice-covered waters below us. Cindy, the queen of the river has arrived in all her royal beauty and regal splendor! Her alabaster tiara glistens in the sunlight as the shining white train of her plush, dark robe trails behind her and her golden slippers sparkle on the frozen floor. As we watch in silence there is another graceful arrival as His Royal Highness, Jim, the king of this domain, alights by her side. He bears a gift for his bride. He has brought her a fresh morsel of fish for her dining pleasure.

A royal banquet.

A royal banquet.

As we watch the two share the meal we are warmed by the thought that this behavior is part of the courtship dance between pair-bonded eagles. Every day they are drawing closer to each other. Whether vigorously laboring together as they prepare their treetop palace, playfully chasing each other across the sky, locking talons and plummeting earthward or just taping beaks together, they are deepening the bonds that unite them for life. We smile as we realize that this year’s first egg is just a few days away. We know that in three of the last four years the first egg has arrived on February 15th, a late Valentine gift perhaps. Last year’s bitter weather delayed the event by only two days. Love conquers all. We watch the two for quite a while before they fly away together in the direction of the nest.

Soon we are joined by another lone eagle as a young juvenile passes just a few feet in front of us.

A young arrival.

A young arrival.

He seems to be searching the trees for something , or someone. We watch him as he flies down the river, occasionally circling as he searches. We smile as we see the downtown skyline behind him.

Urban renewal.

Urban renewal.

The smile is one of deep gratitude that the long wait for eagles to return to Dayton is behind us. Apparently unsuccessful in his search the young eagle returns to our vantage point and lands on the ice. This bird is a wanderer, too immature to be nesting but not too young to be in love. He appears to be quite young, maybe just a fourth-year loner. But he is not alone for long. He is soon joined by a young female and we can tell by their interaction in the sky as well as in the icy water that this young couple is hearing the call of stirring instincts from deep within. She was quite possibly the subject of his search. He seems to follow her like a  puppy follows a toddler. She moves forward in the shallow water and soon he trails after her. Twice he attempts to land upon her back but each time she thwarts his advances and just flies a bit further away.

Young love...almost.

Young love…almost.

Finally she flies to a distant treetop and perches there. Her young suitor is not deterred. After a minute or two of frustrated hesitation he too flies to the tree and perches near her. There they sit watching their surroundings for several quiet minutes before she is airborne again. This time she snatches a branch from the tree and carries it away.

A sticky situation.

A sticky situation.

She too is sensing the stirring of her instincts but she is so young still. She knows that she has to carry that branch but may have no idea why. But before long she’ll know. The suitor pauses and sighs as he watches her departure then gathering up the pieces of his shattered ego, the puppy follows the toddler again.

As we watch the young male fade into the distant haze we become aware of the chill. We are surprised that more than an hour has past. Although we are cold we are also strangely warmed by these brief encounters. We have been revived. We know that our beloved adult eagles will soon welcome new princes or princesses to the palace and that the young eagles are learning new and puzzling things. Step by step the ancient drama is playing out around us but to each player the scene is a new one. We are privileged to be in the audience at last. Yet as we bask in the warmth of these few precious moments, as we replay them over and over again in our minds in the chill of the riverbank, we can hear the persistent call of our own hot irons. Reluctantly we go our separate ways leaving footprints in the snow as we continue our own story, step by step.

Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 12:29 am  Comments (14)  

What Really Counts

“Count” is an interesting word. It can be a verb as in “Count your pennies.” It can be a noun as in “I participated in a winter bird count.” It can be a title of nobility as in “Count Dracula”. It’s almost hard to count all of the many and varied uses of the word.

Some of the things that people do count are years, and you can surely count on the continual, steady passage of time. I have seen a lot of changes in and around Dayton, Ohio in my lifetime and because of my love for history, I have learned of quite a few more that occurred before my birth.

In recent postings I have written about a particular stretch of the Great Miami River here in Dayton that seems to have become an eagle magnet during the past few weeks. Please bear with me as I recount a little of the rich history behind that area before catching everyone up on the happenings of the last few days.

Most people know that there were two young, local men who managed to do the impossible on December 17, 1903. These brothers had developed the Wright theories to successfully manage powered flight. Wilbur and Orville became world-famous within just a few years of that date as they exhibited their flying machine around the United States and across Europe. Dayton rapidly became the hub of the development of aviation technology. Much of the brother’s experimentation and discoveries took place at various locations around the city. From their bicycle shop just west of our downtown to Huffman Prairie several miles east of Dayton, the 1903 flying machine was surpassed by newer machines resulting in longer, safer and more controllable sustained flight.

Many of Dayton’s other engineers, inventors and business men assisted in the blossoming development of this new aviation industry. Men like Charles F. Kettering, Col. Edward A. Deeds and John H. Patterson invested their finances and intellect into improvements in aviation. The new technology needed a testing and engineering facility and so Col. Deeds purchased a large parcel of property along the eastern banks of The Great Miami River from the family of Civil War General, Alexander McCook and the McCook Air Field was born. From 1917 to 1927 it would serve as the epicenter of aviation advances until the entire facility was moved to a newly purchased, much larger parcel of ground near Fairfield, Ohio that is now known as Wright Patterson Air Force Base. This archival image shows the area of McCook Field in the 1920s. This same area is crucial for the survival of our local Bald Eagles. (You knew you could count on me getting there…eventually.)

Area of McCook Field in 1922

Area of McCook Field in 1922

I have labeled some of the streets to help those of you familiar with The Gem City. (If you click on the image it will enlarge itself to provide more legibility.) The area looks far different today. You can count on things changing in nearly a century. I particularly like the old Miami Erie Canal that is still visible near the top of the image. McCook field featured a large sign that read, “This field is small. Use it all.” The paved runway was one of the very first paved runways anywhere as most landing strips were grass fields. The Great Miami River served as an emergency ditching spot off the end of the airstrip should an aviator have need of it. At the far right of the image you can see the old Herman Avenue bridge. It was near the end of that bridge that Dayton’s last eagles nest adorned a treetop until it was abandoned in 1938.

You may close your history books now.

This stretch of The Great Miami River is indeed crucial for Jim and Cindy and for the Bald Eagle repopulation explosion that we are witnessing daily. The inflow of the waters of the Stillwater and Mad Rivers along with the hydrodynamics of the low dam keep the waters in this small section of The Great Miami rather turbulent. This movement deters the development of ice and keeps the refrigerator light on for hungry eagles during the winter months. They can count on it.

And the eagles do just that. For 70 years we had zero eagles feeding there. Then in 2008 Jim and Cindy arrived. Today we could count as many as 6 Bald Eagles feeding from this 1/2 mile stretch of river! Jim, Cindy, a couple of young juveniles and those two sub-adult birds were snatching fish, scaring up the gulls and irritating the Canada Geese. You could sit in your car and watch them fly, call to each other, do a little talon grabbing and just look majestic! Here are several images that show a bit of the action as it was captured by our Lisa Brown Hite, Roger Garber and Roger’s wife, Marcia.

1492768_10205743517417716_8256300145579454054_o 1551702_10203345530270239_7249292171284345389_nl 1655494_10205736856771204_8702175797730063238_o 1800343_10203344888894205_8184082225471487092_nl 10012636_10205736826210440_4188710607176392803_o1957877_609362855830276_2653785098481934089_o  10430408_10203345448468194_7971134818277719460_nl10394068_10205749083956876_7996920842376194298_n  10450323_10203344795051859_1726397234991393554_ol 10556889_10203344984696600_6528505595052180594_ol 10628725_10203344888854204_7821566879599029987_ol 10841868_10205736803409870_8190836637696913254_o 10847518_10205749695052153_6908486880631184709_ol 10856683_10203344825372617_6412465517296420233_ol 10857181_10203344889134211_4853057349218530383_ol 10900005_10203345055098360_5153259728678675286_ol 10959438_10203344888974207_3946523471405277181_nl 10959977_10205736796129688_3621335683954863523_o 10974260_609363025830259_5963899087256792807_o 10974274_10203345432987807_4975333274658165962_ol 10978540_10205743470896553_531284777631262239_n

(Incidently, a couple of the images from my last posting were Marcia’s work as well.)

So if you get the chance, be a part of history! Come on down to the river and count eagles with us! You can also count on a lot of smiles as your heart is carried aloft on eagles’ wings. And that is what really counts!

Published in: on February 6, 2015 at 3:02 am  Comments (16)  

It’s All Part Of The Fun

Eagles have a way of doing their own thing on their own schedule. Jim and Cindy have a way of doing their own thing on their own schedule and making me look funny.

In my last post I encouraged all of you to join me down on the banks of The Great Miami River (along a 1/2 mile stretch between where The Mad River and The Stillwater River flow into The Great Miami) for an eagle watching opportunity that only comes once a year. I mentioned that during January and the first part of February that stretch of flowing water is a virtual eagle magnet as Jim and Cindy, a few of their offspring and some roaming eagles all focus their attention on that same section of river. I explained that once Jim and Cindy start incubating the first egg of the year, somewhere around February 15th, they will stay nearer to the well field and their nest, so this opportunity is short-lived. I even posted images of the eagles perching and hunting in that area of The Great Miami.

The next morning I met about a dozen of you as you sat in your cars trying to stay warm in the frigid weather. There were red cars, white cars, blue cars, black cars and gold cars. There were cameras and binoculars and spotting scopes. There were couples and individuals. And there was egg on my face because there were no eagles!

Once again Jim and Cindy were setting there own agenda.

Once again they were proving that they are wild, unpredictable creatures.

But one of the most important attributes of successful eagle watching is patience. Since then they have been busy working on the nest, flirting on the ice, chasing off nomadic eagles and interacting much more congenially with some juveniles, quite possibly some of their own offspring. And once again there is a lot of eagle activity along that infamous 1/2 mile stretch of river.

The winter weather has at times been rainy, snowy and even briefly sunny and since my wife has been recuperating from a recent surgery, I have had to stay closer to home and monitor the reports and photographs of others. Here are just a few of the wonderful images capture by our group during the last two weeks.

Jim

Jim

Cindy

Cindy

Love on the ice.

Love on the ice.

Ice Skating

Ice Skating

Eagle selfie.

Eagle selfie.

Adult and juvenile.

Adult and juvenile.

These last images are of a four year old sub-adult that might be Pride, Jim and Cindy’s only surviving offspring from their first successful nesting season.

Four year old.

Four year old.

Four year old fishing 1.

Four year old fishing 1.

Four year old fishing 2.

Four year old fishing 2.

Four year old fishing 3.

Four year old fishing 3.

Whether the eagles follow my schedule or not, whether they perch and pose or soar in the clouds, whether they back me up or make me look like a total fool, when it comes to eagle watching, it’s all part of the fun.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 5:23 am  Comments (10)  

The Rivers of Life

Rivers are very important things. We seldom pause to think about the many and varied functions of the rivers that flow through our communities. We hurriedly pass them by on our way to someplace else, but throughout history, rivers have played a very significant role.

Their primary function is to move water downstream. Rainwater flows into brooks, creeks and streams that eventually flow into a river. That river moves millions of gallons of water through a network of other rivers to carry that water to the oceans of the world.  Without this natural drainage system our fields would be swamplands and our towns would be forever fighting flooding. Along the way the mighty current of a river may provide hydroelectric power to multiple cities and huge populations. As the water travels downstream it deposits life-giving nutrients as it is filtered by the soil and rocks of the riverbed. Those nutrients are consumed by microscopic organisms, tiny insects, aquatic plants, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Rivers have always served as transportation routes for peoples and commerce. The mighty Nile provided ancient Egypt with a passageway for her famed barges and warships. The colonists arriving in North America used the James River as a route inland from the Atlantic. Jamestown and Yorktown sprang up on the riverbanks of the new land. The Hudson River, The Ohio River, The Mississippi River, The Missouri River, The Colorado River… all facilitated man’s westward movement through the American wilderness two hundred years ago, and they serve us still today. Many rivers serve as visible borders between cities, states and even nations.

When they are calm and peaceful they become a focal point for recreation, soothing our troubled minds with their relaxing tranquility. When they are angry and violent they can devastate us with their fury. When they are dammed they create placid lakes and reservoirs that beckon us to swim in their waters, bask on their beaches and dine along their shores. Over time rivers can carve breathtaking gorges and grand canyons while creating thundering waterfalls along the way. Rivers have inspired poets, authors, artists and lyricists with the vastness of their ceaseless journeying to strange and exotic places or as a simple and familiar path to home.

Rivers are indeed very important things and in the frigid weather of the winter season their importance is hard to ignore. Weeks of subfreezing temperatures have created a solid and impenetrable layer of ice upon the surfaces of most of our ponds and lakes. The few remaining areas of unfrozen lake water are ringed with waterfowl as they sit together on the icy edge passing the cold days together.

IMG_3568eSs

Occasionally one of our eagles will pay a quick visit to one of these deep blue pools to snatch a duck for dinner but most of the action can be found along the flowing waters of our local rivers.

This is the time of year when eagle watching in Dayton is at its best! (But the window is a brief one as Jim and Cindy will be staying in the wellfield in a few weeks, preparing their aerie and conserving energy for the nesting season that is now just one month away.) There is only one pair of nesting Bald Eagles in the city and it is a joy to know exactly where they will be each morning at sunrise. And not just Jim and Cindy either! The 1/2 mile of open water of The Great Miami River between the Mad River and The Stillwater River on the northeast corner of downtown Dayton is an eagle magnet right now! Every morning Jim and Cindy arrive and always follow the same agenda. Step one is the necessary chore of chasing any intruding eagles away. Step two is spending some time with each other and any of their offspring that may be around. Step three is feeding, whether by fishing from the icy water, snatching up a duck or stealing fish from a Great Blue Heron, gull or other successful hunter. Step four is to pose for our cameras. (OK, that is kind of step one for we humans but Jim and Cindy may not see it that way.)

Here are a few images to give you an idea of the chills and thrills of life along The Great Miami River on these frosty mornings.
RMP114s
RGP793
RGP794
RGP795
RGP798
RMP117s
RMP118s
RMP122es
RMP124es

I am always amazed and extremely grateful when I remember that from 1938 to 2008 there were no nesting Bald Eagles in Dayton. What a blessing to be an eyewitness to their return after that 70 year absense! If you are nearby, grab your camera and come join us before the window closes. You can stay in your warm car and watch the eagles fly just a hundred feet away at times.

It is moments like these that make The Great Miami River truly “great” as it reclaims its place among the rivers of life.

Published in: on January 16, 2015 at 9:28 pm  Comments (4)  

That’s a Good Thing, Right?

(Yesterday’s posting was my 200th post on this blog and it was kind of a depressing post, so let’s brighten the mood with some exaggerated humor.)

My wife thinks that eagle-people are kinda crazy. (Feeling better yet?) She seems to think that there is something strange about jumping from eagle-cam to eagle-cam on a computer. She does not understand why pipping is a reason to party. She scratches her head and frowns (a lot) when EVERY time we go anywhere we end up driving by Jim and Cindy’s well field home. And she gets more than a little annoyed when a flash of black and white feathers unexplainably causes the car to make a U-turn for a second look. But mostly she seems to have a problem with me spending hours everyday taking pictures of the same bird that I took pictures of yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that and the day… I just don’t understand why she finds any of that abnormal. It is like she would rather have me stay home and do more chores around the house or something.

And then yesterday, since we had a fresh blanket of snow and subfreezing temperatures, my car stayed in the driveway and I stayed in the house…drawing a picture of an eagle. Now I am retired and she is not there yet but I get the laundry, mopping, vacuuming and other domestic stuff done. It is amazing what I can get done in the 20 minutes it takes her to drive home from work.

(By the way: Someone saw that drawing in yesterday’s post and commented, “You are an artist too? Is there no limits to your talent?” Well, I thought, I won a singing contest once, so that’s out. Then I remembered that I dance like a fallen tree and I swim like a rock so yes, there are limits.)

But I know a lot of eagle people and they seem perfectly normal to me. Like my friend Lisa for instance. She is the one that I mentioned in yesterday’s post that had watched Jim and Cindy hanging out at Eastwood. She seems normal to me but she also likes to take pictures of the same birds over and over. She has even given me permission to share a few of yesterday’s images on the blog and here they are.

Warm hearts and cold feet.

Warm hearts and cold feet.

Gracefulness.

Gracefulness.

Togetherness.

Togetherness.

Off for more.

Off for more.

"You again?"

“You again?”

Jim and Cindy spent a lot of time working on the nest today. It normally grows quite a bit in January so it is good to see them back on track. Our high today was 9 degrees and it was rather blustery to boot, blowing tiny ice crystals into your skin like a million tiny needles. Still Roger managed to get this image from a half mile away and through the early morning haze. It is far from his normal standard of perfection but it is still a beautiful image because of the subject matter.

Home again.

Home again.

Then later in the day I captured this image through my constantly fogging camera lens as I stepped out of the warm car and into the frigid January air.

IMG_2918et2Ss

It is good to have Jim and Cindy home again and doing just what they should be doing. I spent 9 hours today parked by the lake, waiting and watching…in 9 degree weather…to take pictures of the same birds over and over again. Ok, my wife may have a point. Maybe eagle people are a little crazy, but that’s a good thing, right?

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 3:51 am  Comments (23)  
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