Where Eagles Dwell

As summer begins to wind down a bittersweet, melancholy mood envelops my days. I am ready for the sweltering summer heat to give way to the crisp autumn breezes, but not quite ready to release the opportunities that the summer weather provides.

With the dawn of a new day, I make my way down the familiar roadways that lead to Carillon Park. Maybe they have grown too familiar. Having logged well over 200 volunteer hours within the park so far this year, perhaps I have lost a bit of the appreciation of all that this place represents. The official name of the park is Carillon Historical Park, and it lives up to its name by preserving and presenting much of Dayton’s rich history. As I enter the driveway and pass by the bell tower from which Carillon Park draws that name, I smile to see a lone juvenile bald eagle perched atop the edifice’s northernmost corner.

Colonel Edward Deeds realized that history can become a foggy memory over time. Once treasured buildings and artifacts can become a pile of rubble or be discarded by those who undervalue their significance due to ignorance or the demands of progress. He further recognized the astounding number of inventions that came from the bright minds and hard work of Daytonians over the decades. In an effort to make that history available to future generations, he purchased the land on the south edge of the city to develop the park. Today Carillon Park’s 65 acres features 30 buildings and hundreds of artifacts showcasing the ingenuity of the Gem City’s citizens.

As I park my car and approach the main doors of the Kettering Family Education Center, I spot Orv and Willa perched together in one of Carillon’s many sycamores. Perhaps they also sense the approach of cooler days. They are part of Dayton’s current history, adding a special grandeur to the city, a grandeur that was missing for far too long.

The Kettering Family Education Center is named after Charles F. Kettering, the Dayton inventor whose list of inventions include the automobile self-starter (that made the old hand crank obsolete), freon refrigeration and ethel gasoline, along with many more. He and Colonel Deeds founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO). Kettering became a vice president of General Motors and director of research for the auto giant. He and Alfred P. Sloan (GM’s CEO) founded the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The park’s main building houses an amazing number of cash registers manufactured by the National Cash Register Company (NCR) which was founded by Dayton industrialist, John Patterson. As I exit the rear doors of the Kettering building, I purposefully pause a moment to take in the beautiful surroundings. Before me lies the green and beyond that stand the relics of Dayton’s history. This is Orv and Willa’s domain. The flowering shrubs, the stately trees and the manicured lawn mock the ugly realities that are so often a part of the urban scene. Here one can take a calm, refreshing breath, so I do just that.

Just beyond the green I pass by Newcom Tavern. This, the oldest building in Dayton, once stood just above the bank of the Great Miami River which served as a highway through the Ohio wilderness. Taverns and inns in the 18th century served multiple purposes as large buildings were rare within a budding settlement. While stopping by one you might share a glass or two with a military general, a governor, a national congressman, or even the president. Spend the night and you might even share your bed with a total stranger separated by only a board (hence the term “room and board”).

A sign in front of each building within the park gives the visitor a brief idea of the realities of life in a bygone era.

Strolling through the park is like a step back in time. Cottages, homes and other structures greet you as you pass by. (Can you imagine being the guy who had to reset a sundial for Daylight Savings Time?) In many buildings you will find interpreters dressed in period clothing. Some might be cooking over a wood fire, working in the garden or even firing a musket!

You never know what you might run across within the park. In the newly remodeled and improved Industrial Block you can tour a working 1930 circa printshop or see a soap making demonstration. Dayton was once the home of so many industries. As new inventions became part of everyday life, some industries became obsolete. Other industries evolved with the times and actually grew larger because of it.

Automobile production was one such industry. Many children are surprised to learn that the bicycle was once a mode of adult transportation. Horses had filled that role for centuries, but city folk might prefer a more genteel way to get around town. Big carriages were expensive and needed rooms in which they could be stored. Mass transportation was spotty. The bicycle provided quick and easy access to and from offices, parks and stores. But unpaved roads were often rutted and muddy, not to mention the residue that horses left in the roadway. A motorized carriage quickly became the way to go. Many entrepreneurs began building automobiles. Small car companies became rather commonplace. Most eventually went bust and others were bought up by bigger manufacturers. Each had their own specialties. The Dayton Sales building highlights cars that were manufactured in Dayton as well as cars that relied on components made here.

Stoddard, Speedwell, Courier and Maxwell cars are all part of history now, but Dayton had a hand in them all. (Are you old enough to remember Jack Benny asking Rochester to fire up the Maxwell?) Without gas stations on every corner, many drivers carried large cans of gasoline on the side of their automobiles.

But the crowning jewel of Carillon Historical Park is housed in what is now a national museum, overseen by the National Park District. It is rather unique to find a national museum inside a private park, but Dayton has a history of being rather unique. The Wright Brothers National Museum is a small complex of buildings featuring a large presentation of Wright brother memorabilia. The entrance is through a replica of the brothers’ bicycle shop. The original shop was snatched away by Henry Ford and taken to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan many decades ago. The Wrights relocated their shop several times, but all within the inner west Dayton neighborhood. Passing through the bike shop you will see Wright bicycles and many of the tools they used. Gradually the bike construction gives way to the construction of flying machines and even a wind tunnel they used to test various designs!

But the real gem of the park is housed in the center section of Wright Hall. That is where you will find the original 1905 Wright Flyer III. This is the world’s first practical airplane. The original 1903 Wright Flyer that the boys designed and built ‘wright’ here in Dayton and historically flew on the Kill Devil Hill’s dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, but the brothers did not stop with the 1903 design. They perfected it. This 1905 Wright Flyer III is the actual machine that the brothers flew around Mr. Huffman’s prairie just east of Dayton. They took great care not to disturb his cows. People would flock to see this modern marvel as the Wrights made flight after flight above the field and repair after repair within a small wooden hanger they had constructed nearby. Orville Wright assisted in the design of this current building and made sure that the Wright III would have a fitting hometown exhibition site before he passed away in 1948.

Orville and Wilbur are obviously the most famous of all Daytonians and are respected worldwide for being able to solve the mystery of flight that had puzzled DeVinci and others throughout history. Dayton ingenuity at its finest!

As I step outside of Wright Hall I pause once more to consider the fact that of all places our resident eagles could have chosen to set up nest-keeping, they chose this large sycamore directly behind Wright Hall. That is why we dubbed them Orv and Willa in the first place. Just one more thing that I had come to take for granted with the passage of time.

With a deeper sense of appreciation, I bypass the other buildings of the park and make my way northward to the wooded side of Carillon. There, beneath the leafy canopy of stately oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples and others, I enjoy the cooler air that the dense shade provides. These are the trees that provide the quiet moments our eagles seek. High in the shady recesses they are safe from threat, hidden from sight and able to enjoy a solitary place to catch a nap.

One tree in particular has proven consistently attractive to Orv and Willa. It is a massive cottonwood immediately west of the pale green Shaker House. This simple house was a part of the Shaker village of Watervliet which was once located southeast of Dayton. That long-gone village is how Shakertown Road an Watervliet Avenue got their names.

The Shakers were a religious community that embraced a simple style of life and that is reflected in the structure of their houses. As I gaze at the Shaker House, I remember how so many of these historic homes were transported via flatbed trucks from their original locations. Upon arrival, they were placed on prepared foundations in Carillon Park. Care was taken in planning the route as traffic signals had to be temporarily removed and traffic diverted to other roadways. Even low tree limbs needed to be removed if necessary. As I look at the simple angles and color of the house before me, my eyes are drawn to the many vertical, white streaks that now decorate the west side of the building. The Shakers would likely not have approved of these recent adornments. These streaks were provided over the past months by the eagles perched in that massive cottonwood!

Whenever I find eagle whitewash in the park, I look up into the trees above to see if the eagles are still there. So, I do just that. There above me sit Kittyhawk and Skye. They are now accomplished flyers. Although they haven’t yet been seen fishing with any success, they are trying. It is just a matter of time. It is also just a matter of time before they wander off on their own. Skye is much more vocal than Kittyhawk, but these two siblings really seem to enjoy one another’s company. They have already learned so much.

They have learned to ignore the pesky red-winged blackbirds that insist on riding on their backs and pulling on their feathers as they fly across the sky. They have learned how to bathe, how to scavenge along the water’s edge and how to chase each other while swooping and diving. These abilities will come in handy in defending themselves from other eagles in the years ahead.

And they have learned to land without crashing! Well, once in a while, when attempting to land near Mom, they still knock her off the limb, but they are bumping into her a bit more gently. They will get the hang of it sooner or later. In five years they will be fully mature, and each will find a mate.

They have learned what it takes to be a good companion by watching Mom and Dad. Orv and Willa have modeled how to put their mate’s needs before their own and how to live together, never quarreling.

Well, almost never. Every couple has those moments.

I am glad that I have been reminded to truly appreciate all the blessings that surround me every day. As a child I would sometimes lie on a hillside determined to see a passing eagle soaring high in the sky, but there were none to be seen. I had no idea what blessing God had in store for me. Now, nearly every day I am surrounded by these majestic creatures. I am able to watch as young children (and the not so young) catch their first glimpse of a wild bald eagle and it thrills my heart to be a part of that moment. I have seen so many primary students’ squinting eyes burst wide with excitement as they finally spot the eagle in a tree. As their faces light up with joy I exclaim, “There’s the face I was looking for!”

As I turn to make my way home, I pass once more under the park’s leafy canopy. There I find Willa, almost hidden in the shadows. She seems to be lost in thought. I cannot help but to wonder if she too knows that these demanding days are about to pass.

Then, in another shadowy recess of the tree, I spot Orv looking up at his mate. What will the future hold for this pair? Their adventure continues, an adventure into the unknown. The best adventures are full of unknowns.

It is a wild story that soars to dizzying heights yet touches the deepest part of those who witness the challenges. It is a cyclical story, revealing new twists and turns each year. It is historical. It is adding majesty to Dayton’s ongoing history with each passing day. I am grateful to be a small part of it all here in Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, the place where eagles dwell.

Published in: on August 3, 2022 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

So Much to Learn

Do you ever pause to remember your childhood? There were so many things to learn, so many experiences to embrace. Childhood is a time for learning new things, a time for firsts. First learning to crawl, first learning to walk, first time to ride a bicycle, first boyfriend or girlfriend, first kiss… so many firsts. We cherish those memories over the years and maybe even wish that we could go back and experience those moments once more. Every first is a learning experience upon which we build our lives.

And those firsts do not stop when childhood passes us by. First home, first child, first grandchild… Life is full of new experiences and new challenges. How boring life would be if we ever ran out of firsts.

This month my wife and I made our first visit to several National Parks in Utah and then on to Yellowstone. We were accompanied by our daughter, son-in-law and 4 grandchildren. That trip had many, many firsts. There were familiar firsts, like the first “Are we there yet?” and the first “I have to go to the bathroom!” as we traveled. There was the first bison sighting and we were even the first car in a line of many as 40 or 50 bison approached us on a park roadway! We left Yellowstone just 4 days before the rains came and massive flooding began, another first in devastation and magnitude. Not all first are pleasant.

I had made sure that our vacation would bring us home before our eaglets, Kittyhawk and Skye, were ready to fledge because I wanted to witness their first flights. Bald eagle eaglets usually fledge between 80 and 92 days after hatching. On Sunday, June 19th, young Kittyhawk reached that 80-day age! I was below the nest in Carillon Park from opening to closing that day and watched as both eaglets exercised their wings as they flapped within and above the nest. Kittyhawk was obviously the more aggressive of the two. The air was hot and stagnant. There was very little breeze to encourage flight. Monday was much the same, opening to closing with little action. One adult sat high in a nearby tree for hour after hour. Their presence kept the eaglets in a more docile frame of mind. Tuesday was a bit hotter and just as stagnant. Kittyhawk had assumed a position on a small branch just outside of the nest and refused to budge. Skye was extremely passive. Meanwhile Willa again perched in a nearby tree, close enough to watch over her young but far enough away to allow them room to experiment without her being seen. With those 6 to 7-foot wingspans the nest looked tiny and the eaglets looked cramped.

They were certainly anatomically ready but were they mentally ready? I imagine it takes a bit of courage to step over that rim when you are 100 feet above the ground. Every time a small breeze would whisper through the treetops, we would see Kittyhawk lift off for a short hopping flight. Skye stayed in the back of the nest, yielding the floor to its sibling.

At closing time on Tuesday, it appeared that the eaglets were considering their options, or perhaps praying for the necessary courage to take that first step over the rim of the Hillside Condo.

Wednesday’s forecast was for even warmer temperatures and afternoon thunderstorms. The high was to reach the mid-nineties with a triple digit heat index. As in the previous 3 days, I arrived at the park as the doors were being opened. Something was different.

Skye was perched on Kittyhawk’s branch and otherwise the nest appeared empty. Several eagle watchers were in the park again and one reported that Orv had brought food to the nest an hour earlier. Had Kittyhawk fledged as the day had dawned? I have often seen an adult bring food to the nest just after one eaglet had fledged in an apparent attempt to keep the remaining eaglet content while they deal with the novice flyer. Skye seemed to be enjoying the extra space and took full advantage of the room to stretch.

A freshly fledged eaglet can be very vocal as it calls out for food and companionship, but we heard nothing. We began to search the park gazing up into the overhead canopy for any sign of the young eaglet. After an hour or so of unsuccessful searching we were becoming a bit concerned. Large wings can be injured on those initial flights. Eaglets get tangled in leafy branches during crash landings. Even a hard impact against a tree or the ground can cause injury. Why were we not hearing Kittyhawk’s calls? Our search was not totally fruitless though. I did find a beautiful, white tail feather on the ground and eventually we found Orv perched low in a tree near the back of the park. It was rather unusual for him to perch in this particular tree and so close to the ground. We carefully searched the neighboring trees for the missing youngster but to no avail. And where was Willa?

We had more questions than answers. One of the very few advantages that an urban eagle has over a more rural eagle is human intervention in the case of an injury. A broken wing or leg can prove fatal for a rural eagle without a human there to get it to a nature center’s rehabilitation facility. But if Kittyhawk was injured we needed to discover its whereabouts before we could offer aid.

As we continued to search a wind stirred up by the approaching cold front blew through the park. Skye danced above the nest and chattered. But there was a second chatter as well! High in a tree, about 80 feet west of the nest we saw a bit of movement! There we were able to see a dark form almost completely hidden from view. It was Kittyhawk! The youngster had apparently made a successful, short first flight and had lit in the twigs of the treetop. Eaglets have no idea that little twigs will not support their weight.

Word traveled fast and soon every telephoto lens in the park was aimed at the juvenile. Park visitors with cell phones joined in the fun of documenting this young eagle’s awkward position. Kittyhawk was figuring out how to reposition itself on a more suitable branch. Gangly wings got temporarily caught in branches as it hopped from branch to branch.

Occasionally it would find a bit of an open space where we were able to see that the youngster was none the worse for wear. Before long Kittyhawk settled down in a much more comfortable position.

We had been watching Kittyhawk for some time when Rebecca, the director of our local Glen Helen Raptor Center, came by with a group of Raptor Campers. These are children who enjoy avian wildlife and spend a bit of their summertime feeding, cleaning up after, and learning about the resident, non-releasable raptors at the facility. When they are in the park I share about wild eagles as they watch Orv, Willa and the kids. I gave Rebecca the dozen feathers I had found over the last week so she can add them to the material she will be sending to Colorado in compliance to federal laws governing eagle feathers and remains. The campers eagerly joined us in watching Kittyhawk high in the tree. Suddenly, a boy of about 11 years of age says, “Hey, I see an adult eagle up there!” We look to where he is pointing and sure enough, there is Willa perched about twenty feet below Kittyhawk! She had most likely been there the entire time, and her presence was why Kittyhawk had been so unusually silent. In the excitement of finding the juvenile I had completely forgotten about Willa!

I should have seen her myself since Kittyhawk was staring down at her much of the time.

Today was a day of firsts. There was the first flight for Kittyhawk. It was the first time Skye has had the nest all to itself. It was the first time most of the Raptor Campers had seen a wild bald eagle. Many other park visitors of all ages were thrilled to see wild eagles for the first time as well.

Kittyhawk and Skye are young, curious and adventurous. As we watch our eagles, we are constantly discovering new things. Whether it is a national park far across the country, a historical park just miles from home or the world below your nest, new discoveries are everywhere. There is so much to learn!

Published in: on June 22, 2022 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Boing!

That is the sound of a compressed spring exploding into action! Spring has sprung and with it the demand and the pace of life have quickened. Grass needs mowing, flowers need planting, taxes (Ugh!) need filing… There are so many chores associated with springtime that sometimes it is hard to find a moment to keep up to date with less demanding things, like posting a blog. I somehow missed April’s post, so, with my apologizes, let me catch you up to date.

Carillon Historical Park has exploded with color and activity as well. I have “talked eagle” with hundreds of school students on fieldtrips into the park. Worries of the past few years had really curtailed class outings with health-related mandates and other restrictions, but elementary students have again been noisily zipping about the park over the last few weeks. The trees have blossomed and faded. Leaves are emerging, filtering the sunlight and bathing the park in a bright green glow. Spring wildflowers spot the grassy hillsides. Avian residents are tending to their respective nesting duties. I have spotted nesting goldfinches, red-bellied woodpeckers, flickers, Baltimore orioles and even a resident screech owl.

So much is going on above our heads, throughout the lush canopy that will soon supply a much-appreciated shade, that you will always catch something moving about from twig to twig.

But by far, the stars of our wild avian show are the eagles! After the slow start due to the loss of the nest on February 17th, Orv and Willa have done wonderfully. As we had hoped, Willa began nesting in the hastily built replacement nest just one week after the loss of the Hillside Condo. Thirty-five days later Orv and Willa began feeding an eaglet. Last week we began seeing the heads of two eaglets up in the nest! Just yesterday the park announced names for the 2022 youngsters. Meet Kittyhawk and Skye!

Just as in previous years, the names are nongender-specific as only a blood test could identify the gender of the eaglets. Also, the names continue to reflect Dayton’s rich aviation history since the Hillside Condo is directly above the original 1905, Wright Flyer III. Kittyhawk and Skye are Orv and Willa’s tenth and eleventh eaglets and join previous siblings Soar, Flyer (2018), Aero, Prairie (2019), Prop, Rudder (2020), Aviator, Navigator and Pilot (2021) in adding to Dayton history!

The eaglets are now 33 days old and will be as big as Mom and Dad by June 9th. They should fly from the nest about two weeks later and then spend a few weeks honing their skills, mostly within the safe confines of the park.

Life can be like that. We can find ourselves soaring along enjoying the peaceful pace of life…

when suddenly everything unexpectedly gets busy! It can leave you scratching your head when life goes, “Boing!”

Published in: on May 3, 2022 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Emotion and Devotion

Emotion and devotion, two words that can bring warm, fuzzy feelings to the hearts of those who hear them. But although they have many things in common beyond the fact that they rhyme, reason reveals that they are really deeply different in so many ways.

Emotion is much more wavering and somewhat unreliable. Emotions can resemble a bungie jumper at times, plunging in utter abandonment headfirst into a freefall of expected thrill for one second, and then recoiling in the completely other direction the next. If you have ever raised a teenager (or if you were once a teenager yourself) then you have a deeper understanding of the fickleness of emotion. Emotions are subject to changing circumstances, physical health, mental pressures, stress and a myriad of other factors. Common statements such as, “I feel…” or “I don’t feel…” reveal another truth about emotions, they are self-centered in nature.

Devotion, on the other hand, is centered on others. Devotion speaks of a committed focus on another person or task. Devotion is less like a bungie jumper and more like a roadway in that it is solid, directed and able to encounter hills, dips and turns with purpose on the way to its destination. Willful commitment makes devotion reliable and comforting. A devoted parent may not feel those warm, fuzzy feelings while dealing with a confrontational, obstinate child, but even when perplexed and exhausted, that parent’s devotion will override their emotional fatigue and cause them to act in the best interest of the child. So many relationships dissolve on the acidic foundation of unstable emotions. Lasting relationships stand firm through decades of loss, trials, heartache and fluctuating emotions because they are well established on a mutually devotional foundation.

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between emotion and devotion because their outward appearance can be quite similar. Many scientists will argue that most animals do not possess emotions. They say that emotions are exhibited only in human beings and perhaps some primates. They would further argue that some species show remarkable instinct-driven devotion to their mates and offspring while other species seem to exhibit no bonding at all. I would respond, “So what? Where is the fun in that?” Whether we witness emotion or devotion between a whale and her calf, an elephant mother and her little one, or a lioness and her cub, there is an undeniable bond of some sort that is evident to all and amazing to watch!

Pair-bonded bald eagles exemplify what devotion is all about and their devotion stirs up emotions in me.

After the February 17th disastrous loss of the Carillon Park nest, Orv and Willa worked with committed devotion to rebuild on the ruins of their Hillside Condo. Throughout their determined labor they repeatedly took time to demonstrate that the instinctive drive to reproduce was still strong.

As they worked diligently on the rebuild of the condo, other matters still needed to be addressed. Carillon’s resident red-tailed hawks were aggressively attacking the eagles as they went about their efforts. Striking the eagles from above as Orv and Willa flew to and from the nest, they had become quite a nuisance. The smaller bird would abandon the pestering game when the eagle inverted itself in midair to present its talons to the attacker!

Gradually the nest took on new dimensions. We watched as a few scattered sticks transformed into a small nest which continued to grow until it reached about 4 feet in length. Even now they can be seen adding an occasional stick or two.

Shortly after my last posting here, Willa welcomed another egg to their much smaller home. The new nest is now once again visible from outside the park, half-way down the massive hillside.

The new nest is a rather porous thing and seems to be a bit less sturdy from a construction standpoint, but it is slightly more centered over three supporting limbs. There still are no vertical ‘studs’ in the walls, no upright limbs that a fork in the tree would provide, but the new condo should suffice if all goes well. Orv provided most of the timbers while Willa oversaw the actual placement of each stick. Working together they harvested more than thirty sticks some days.

While sticks add to the superstructure of the nest, they make a poor surface on which to incubate eggs. River grass and other soft material, such as leaves, are necessary materials for carpeting the nursery floor. These materials not only provide padding and extra insulation, they also settle into the sticks to provide a more solid construction. Over time this soft material will settle into the cavities between sticks and, like mortar between bricks, they will add to the nest’s stability and longevity. Sometimes they carry material in their feet. At other times they carry material in their beaks. Every now and then they do both!

They have exhibited some rather unusual behavior this year like leaving the nest unattended for 23 minutes one day. We do not know exactly what is happening on the nursery floor, but we do know that they are incubating at least one egg up there. We should know more around the first week of April as the 35 days of incubation draws to a close and the eaglet hatches from its confinement. It will be a few more weeks until we will be able to count the bobbling heads of the eaglets as they look over the rim of the aerie. It is only then that we will know just how productive the eagles have been.

There is that old philosophical question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Similarly, it is hard to determine if emotions lead to devotion or devotion leads to emotions. Maybe the two aren’t always self-existent. Often they are cyclical in nature. Emotions may lead to the onset of devotion, but devotion leads to periods of deep emotion as well. Loving relationships depend on both. Like inhaling and exhaling, when emotions are strained, devotion carries us through until we eventually find that next deep breath of emotion. Maybe devotion is the evidence of matured emotion. There is an undeniable reason and rhyme to all of nature, just as there is to both emotion and devotion.

Published in: on March 7, 2022 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Twists and Turns, Hills and Thrills

Some people love roller coasters. Not me. I get that same thrill riding along while my overconfident, 16-year-old grandson drives! But some people will wait in line hours to experience 4 minutes of twists and turn, hills and thrills of the latest amusement park attractions.

Those same unexpected, exhilarating moments seem more and more common as we age. No, I’m not referring to the rush we might feel upon standing up too quickly after tying a loose shoestring. I’m talking about the unseen changes and unanticipated challenges that confront us almost daily. Life is full of them. A marriage proposal, a canceled wedding, a big raise, an unanticipated layoff, a child’s acceptance to a university, leaving that child hundreds of miles from home at that university… We all experience them. They can make us jump for joy or fall to our knees. Life is often unpredictable.

The same scenarios hold true for wildlife, and the last week has been a real roller coaster ride for Orv and Willa.

Right on schedule, our eagles welcomed the first egg of 2022 on Wednesday, February 16th! We were elated and ready to begin counting down the 35 days of incubation.

Then, the very next morning the nest came tumbling down. We were heartbroken as we viewed the eagles surveying what was left of their impressive home of 4 years. They looked somewhat bewildered as they took it all in. Torrential, record-setting rain and harsh, gusty winds were more than the structure could bear. The nest and the precious egg were gone. Debris was scattered down the face of the steep hillside, 100 feet below their limb. Some had even reached the snow on the new railroad bed behind Wright Hall.

Now questions exploded in our minds like a string of firecrackers, each igniting another and revealing startling unknowns. Would Orv and Willa stay? Would they rebuild their Hillside Condo in the same spot? Would they rebuild it at all? Would they relocate inside the park? Would they relocate to somewhere outside of the park? Was there time to build a new nest before the instinct to nest faded? Would she produce another egg? Pop! Pop! Pop! The questions erupted one by one in a long chain of unknowns. Those two adult eagles perched above the remnants of the nest were the only ones who knew the answers and we would have to watch and wait for them to reveal the secrets we so longed to know.

I was fairly confident that rebuilding the nest was possible. I had seen other eagles recover from an early nesting season loss of their nest. Orv and Willa were capable builders having constructed their initial 2018 nest in just a few weeks prior to egg-laying. I knew that they had been successful here for the last 4 nesting seasons and that fact would carry a lot of weight in their decision. Also, they had fought long and hard to establish this territory and were unlikely to let this setback negate those victories. Whatever, survival in the wild allows no time for sentimental idleness. There are instinctive drives that must be followed and windows of opportunity that must be exploited.

After a few hours of shock and appraisal, our eagles began working. As Orv sat stoically above the nest, Willa flew off and returned with a stick. Soon Orv joined her and together they began to answer our questions, one stick at a time.

Now, one week later, there is again promise in the treetops of Carillon Park! Every day the eagles have invested hours of labor into their restoration project, revealing the answers we have been awaiting. Yes, they are staying! Yes, they will rebuild on the ruins of the old nest! Yes, they have what it takes to get a new nest built before the urge to nest fades! And yes, (based on their frequent breaks for mating) they are planning on fledging eaglets in 2022! The nest is growing larger as I type these words.

So, how in the world has so much been accomplished is such a short period of time? Dedicated, determined and concentrated workers. Stick by stick by stick the add to the condo. Large sticks, small sticks, sticks carried in their feet, sticks carried in their beaks, over and over again in sunshine, rain, warm weather and frigid winds, they stick to their plan.

The roller coaster of life never stops. It is always either creeping up one hill or plunging down another. And like amusement park riders, we hang on with white knuckles as we pass through every twist and turn, hill and thrill!

Published in: on February 24, 2022 at 4:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

What’s Next?

Now there is a question that lingers in the hearts of young and old alike! We long to know the future, especially in times of uncertainty. It is easy to chide our children for their impatient questioning like the reoccurring “Are we there yet?” that echos from the car’s back seat every five minutes. But are we adults any different? Some people invest large sums of time and money on so-called psychics and horoscopes in hopes of better understanding the future. And it has been that way throughout the centuries. Although it is wise to plan for tomorrow, an overactive focus on knowing the future before it is revealed by time can rob us of peace now. Where (or in whom) we place our trust makes a big difference. To become consumed with a burden or quest for our tomorrows can blind us to the joys of today!

So, let’s enjoy today, this day, together. Eagle watching is full of the unknown here in Dayton. For seven decades there were no eagles to watch in town but every year, since their return in 2008, brings more and more sightings. As we set out in the morning we never know if we will be overwhelmed with the results of our search or disappointed by them. So, grab a coat and let’s go for a ride together. (I will be sure to let you know when we are ‘there’.)

*************

The mid-February air is biting as we make our way toward the river. Our conversation quickly moves from the bitter weather to the eagles’ ability to thrive in such raw conditions. (Just a few weeks ago we were looking forward to the cooler air and leafless trees, but know we are longing for warmer breezes and brighter days.) The eagles seem to thrive no matter what conditions they encounter. One day at a time, doing what needs to be done in the here and now are necessary for survival in the wild. Last week’s heavy ice and snow had caused us to be concerned for the stability of Orv and Willa’s nest. Unlike the nest of Eastwood’s Jim and Hope which is built in the solid fork of a tree, The Carillon nest is thirty feet out on a limb. Without undergirding support the weight of the ice and snow could have proven disastrous. But it had weathered the weather quite well.

In fact, the last few weeks have been generally pretty interesting. We have again noticed the annual increase in activity along the rivers. Nomadic eagles of all ages have joined our local eagles in hunting the flowing waters. We smile as we recall a few of those moments, like the beautiful, first year female we saw perched near the water’s edge at Eastwood.

She was large and diligently focused on the skies over the lake. MetroPark workers nearby paused from their labor to admire her beauty. Her dark beak and chocolate-brown eyes revealed her age and the massive size of her body and beak hinted to her gender. She could not be from the Carillon nest as Navigator and Pilot were smaller and likely males. Maybe she was a 2021 offspring of Jim and Hope. She was hard to miss in the barren limbs of the tree.

We discuss the possibility that the eagles might be getting a little too accustomed to human presence as the birds return to more urban environments. That reminds us of the juvenile we saw a few days earlier along the Great Miami at Deeds Point.

That bird was fearless! We were shocked when it flew across the river and passed over our heads on its way to an active dog park. It made two swooping dives into the park where a dozen or so dogs played under the watchful eyes of their owners. The first swoop was unsuccessful, but the second dive proved fruitful as the eagle carried away a squirrel!

“But it’s just not the juveniles that are becoming more common.” you interject. “Remember those two, nomadic, young adults that Marcia saw a few days ago?”

We both smile. We have always thought that we would see more nesting eagles somewhere along the Great Miami or Stillwater rivers as they pass through Dayton. The area of the Mad River is a bit more industrially developed except for around Eastwood and neighboring Huffman Lake, but the Great Miami and Stillwater skirt along the edges of Wegerzyn, Triangle and Island parks. These large green spaces would provide ideal nesting habitat, if our local eagles are willing to share. Time will tell.

By now we are slowly cruising along the river on Veteran’s Parkway. Having checked several commonly used perches we are heading towards Carillon Park. “Look at that! Somethings up!” I shout, pointing out over the river. There we see several dozen gulls, maybe sixty or so, rising up from the water and glittering in the sunlight.

We have come to recognize this as what we call ‘a gull alarm’. Life in the wild is all about survival. Gulls may seem constantly focused on feeding or congregating in mass groupings, but they always keep an eye to the sky for their own preservation. When an eagle passes overhead or approaches the group from any direction, the gulls instantly spring skyward. (Normally docile pigeons do the same when a peregrine or other bird of prey approaches, as do many other birds.) I pull the car to the side of the road, and we jump out to search the sky for the threat that has flushed the gulls. As the gulls flee to the north, we look to the south. Finally, high in the sky we spot the unmistakable silhouette of a juvenile bald eagle! The bird is barely visible just to the left of the fleeing gulls.

We are once again amazed at the ability of wildlife to recognize a threat from such a distance. As we marvel at the wonder of it all, you shout out, “Look at the park!” I take my eyes off the flying juvenile and look towards Carillon. There we watch another shape emerging from the tree line and zooming upward. It is Orv! It seems like the gulls were not the only one to spot the high-flying juvenile. Normally juvies are just a passing nuisance to our adults, but with just a few days until the arrival of the first eggs of the year, the resident adult eagles are on heightened alert. The juveniles pose no threat to usurping Orv’s domain, but every bird of prey is a potential threat to success in the nest when eggs or nestlings are present. Within less than thirty seconds Orv engages the enemy.

We watch as he circles the youngster and darts closer and closer. The juvenile reacts by ceasing its own, lazy circling pattern and making a beeline to the east. Orv escorts the youngster for a minute or two before gliding back towards Carillon Park. We get back into the warm car and head in the same direction. Soon we pass the iconic belltower that gives the park its name.

Carillon Historical Park is all about regional history and we are watching history unfold every day as wild eagles reclaim territory in the region! As we turn onto Carillon Boulevard we notice Willa standing next to the remnants of what was at one time a pretty good-sized fish.

She is on the far side of the Great Miami just opposite the park. She appears to have just enjoyed a bath in the river as well. Her feathers are pristine right now, but the rigors of nesting will take their toll on them in the months ahead. We also note other photographers along the levee. Each await her departure. By positioning themselves along the boulevard they are hoping to catch a good image or two as she passes nearby on her way back to the park.

After a few blustery minutes, Willa leaves her leftovers and flies a short distance to the riverbank. She lands in the wild river grass and pauses.

With egg-laying eminent, grass is a necessary material for her nest. This soft material will carpet the nursery floor and provide insulation and cushioning for the eggs. She will construct a small recess in this material in which she will deposit the fragile eggs.

After filling both feet with the soft grass, she heads to the nest passing right over Roger’s jeep!

Time is running out for preparation. The eggs are likely developing within her body by now or perhaps she is already carrying a fully developed egg. We should see her behavior change soon, once the first egg arrives.

Orv sits in a tree along the edge of the park and watches for any other threats that might reveal themselves. The nest is really never complete. Orv is reminded of that fact as Willa emerges from the park carrying a stick in her talons. She glances his way as she passes by. Orv gets the message and follows her into the park with a “Yes, Dear.” look on his face.

With both eagles within the park, we follow. Each stick adds to the size and weight of their Hillside Condo. They work together at building their home. Orv does most of the lumber shopping while Willa decides where she wants each timber to go. The nest is pretty obvious in the treetop above Wright Hall, and we find both eagles looking down at us upon our arrival.

We still chuckle at the realization that for the last 70 years this building has housed the Wright brothers’ original 1905, Wright Flyer III. Of all the possible places for eagles to nest, they picked here!

We watch them work on the nest for well over thirty minutes. Orv brings in several more sticks while Willa arranges them. He drops off a stick, pauses in a nearby tree for a while then searches for more timber. Eventually Orv flies in with lunch. (Good for Willa but bad for the squirrel.)

This is a good sign as well as bringing food to Willa in the nest indicates she is getting closer to laying.

We watch a bit longer as both eagles feed while in the nest and out of our eyesight. Then, once more Orv flies off. He launches with a bit more intent. Our boy is on a mission.

This time his flight takes him outside of the park. He passes over the wooded north side of the park and heads to the river. There, through the tree branches, we can see him swoop and circle a few times. After a few minutes he returns and perches on the top of a tall tree a few hundred feet west of the nest. There he stays, alert and standing guard over his domain.

Perhaps that juvenile eagle had returned. Perhaps a red-tailed hawk had gotten his attention. Perhaps another potential threat had passed by. Perhaps he was just wanting to look protective so he could take a break without angering Willa.

Our feet are cold, and our backs are tired, so we make our way make to the warm comfort of my car. We may not know the future, but we are confident that Orv and Willa are ready for the challenges. We can still see Orv in that treetop as we drive out of the park.

He has defended his territory, harvested timber and hunted for his mate’s nourishment. He is prepared for fatherhood. He is capable to do what needs to be done. But he is a bit tired as his gaze pierces the skies and he wonders, “What’s next?”

Published in: on February 12, 2022 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Attitude of the Eagle

Life is full of challenges and observations that make us scratch our heads in confusion and contemplation.

2020 and 2021 were jam-packed by those moments. I recently heard someone opine, “It is a first-world problem.” meaning that all the silly things that we Americans bicker about, the things that often ‘push our buttons’ or become played up in the press would be of no concern at all if we were in a third-world country. We are accustomed to comfort and plenty. If we had to struggle to find food, water and shelter these minor things would never reach the surface of our thinking. The pandemic-generated changes in our everyday actions have been frustrating and have made many angry. Some of that is justified, but much of it is deeply rooted in self-centered egos.

Case in point: Have you driven on a highway lately? Those black numbers painted on white backgrounds used to mean something… at least to some folks. The other day I was driving down an urban highway that has been clearly posted as 55 MPH for decades. Traffic was cruising along at a steady 70 and several Parnelli Jones wannabes were hitting 90! For the sake of pure survival, I was keeping pace with the majority. In my mirror I saw 5 cars weaving through the traffic like it was the Indy 500! I felt like a pigeon strutting in front of bunch of roadrunners, like a pig loping along in front of a buffalo stampede! They zipped past me in a blur of colors. A little further up the road I could see an area of heavy traffic, with one car occupying the left lane. The speedsters zipped by that car on the left shoulder but the driver of the last car of the 5 wanted to make a statement. He slammed on his brakes as he whipped in front of the slower car. That driver slowed and attempted to change lanes only to have the aggravated driver block his every move. Then as the traffic around me caught up with those two cars the angry driver stopped completely! My lane was clear and as I passed by, I could see the alarmed look on the face of the elderly driver of the blocked car. I could also see the traffic behind him swerving violently to avoid a collision. Just as I passed the speedster decided he had made his point and sped off again. They call it ‘road rage’. I call it stupidity. I mean, think about it. If that guy was in such a hurry that he was driving 90 in a 55 zone, how was stopping dead in his tracks getting him where he apparently was so desperately trying to go? Luckily there were no other innocent drivers ‘dead in his tracks’ that day. It just makes you scratch your head in confusion.

My dad was BIG on respect. When we shoveled the snow from our sidewalks, we shoveled the neighbor’s walks as well. We offered free mowing to the elderly folks on the block in the summer. And we never, never asked for payment. It was just the right thing to do. Putting others first was what was expected of his children.

Today, more than ever in my lifetime, there seems to be a hostile, me-first attitude that prevails. Civilization is less civilized.

Not so with our eagles! They are too focused on survival and reproduction to be bothered by unimportant challenges to their actions. If they encounter a challenge, they handle it and go on. There is no complaining, no residual resentment and no ‘getting even’. (It seems like that compassionate resiliency was once more common in the attitudes of people.)

There are daily challenges that are part of their environment. Finding food in the muddy river gets hard at times so they look for a squirrel or pigeon.

Now, pigeons are the main staple for our resident peregrine falcons like this one.

They resent having the eagles snack at their buffet lines. They will swoop at the eagles causing a rather loud argument and considering that the peregrine is capable of 200 MPH dives, those attacks can come out of nowhere! But after a minute or two the encounter ends, ruffled feathers are smoothed, and calmness is restored.

The same thing happens with our local red-tailed hawks.

They seem to resent the eagles’ presence entirely. No specific reason for the resentment as the hawks never go fishing. They simply want the eagles to leave the region. The hawk is almost always the aggressor. The eagle confronts the threat, deals it and then moves on about its business.

Even those quiet moments of rest and contemplation can be suddenly interrupted. Adult eagles passing by must be escorted on their way and although the juvenile bald eagles pose no threat to their domain, they have a way of causing a ruckus all the same. Kids are like that.

But there are more important things to deal with than pests, irritations and temporary annoyances. Life needs to be lived.

As the new year marches on we are approaching the beginning of yet another nesting season! So, Orv and Willa, like Jim and Hope at Eastwood, are adding final preparations to their daily list of chores. Sticks must be added to the Hillside Condo in Carillon Park. Each one specifically chosen, harvested and carefully placed in anticipation of new life.

We are about one month from the first egg of 2022 and that leaves little time for fretting about the little things. Stick by stick the nest grows in width and height and in between the timbers a carpet of river grass is added for insulation, stability, parasite control and eventual cushioning for the fragile eggs.

It is an annual process that takes time and determination. The eagles are expert contractors when it comes to placing the gathered materials. Success demands it!

Years ago, I published a blog post here that addressed the cause of much of the frustration we humans face: unmet expectations. We can expect too much. The eagle is not so burdened. It lives life in the moment, meeting every challenge with determination and skill. It trusts in its God-given abilities knowing that it has what it takes to survive. We cannot change the chaos that the world presents to us. Whether pandemic, natural disasters, loss or any other startling event that speeds down the roadway of life, we have been blessed with all we need to survive and to thrive. Our challenge is to maintain a healthy focus on our blessings and He who blesses us. If you are passing through frustrated discouragement, consider the piercing certainty in Willa’s eyes. That sharp focus sees the challenges with unobstructed clarity and a resilient faith that she will accomplish what needs to be done.

God has surrounded us with reminders of His love and presence. When confronted with the unexpected, consider the attitude of the eagle.

Published in: on January 13, 2022 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Skies Are Full of Wonders!

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and my house will be full of noisy, excited children and grandchildren, each wondering what unknown gift is awaiting their discovery! My wife and I will look on with grateful hearts as mysteries are revealed and a spirit of joy and love permeates our home.

As I prepare my heart for Christmas, I am reminded how life is blessed with precious moments when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

My thoughts journey back in times to past Christmases of my childhood where Mother and Father, sister and brothers gathered around a decorated tree embracing that same joy and love. Many of those dear ones are gone now but I recall each face with a bittersweet light and a smile on my face. My focus back then was on the gifts that are now long forgotten, but the joy, love and the faces remain etched deeply into my soul. I know now that the true gifts of past Christmases were not found under the tree but seated around it.

Then my thoughts journeyed back even farther to a Judean hillside just outside of the overcrowded, noisy village called Bethlehem. There, the chaos of the village was muffled by the stillness of the night and the quiet, soothing sounds of sleepy sheep. It was an ordinary night for those tending the flocks. A few weary shepherds stood watch while others slumbered. The cool, clear skies overhead shimmered with starlight while the warm glow of the village lamps flickered in the distance.

All was calm until the ordinary became extraordinary!

A burst of brilliant light split the night! All eyes of both man and beast focused on the sudden appearance of an angel of God! The humble shepherd trembled with fear as weakened knees buckled. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all people! For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then the skies were full of wonders as a great multitude of angels appeared proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.” Immediately the astounded shepherds abandoned their flocks and ran into Bethlehem and discovered the most precious gift of all time, not wrapped in bright paper but in swaddling clothes.

How Mary and Joseph must have looked on with grateful hearts as mysteries were revealed and a spirit of joy and love permeated that place.

The skies were full of wonders.

Our skies are full of wonders too as we watch Orv and Willa prepare their nest for the new year. They are wandering less often now, staying a bit closer to home. Vigilance is still necessary in scouting for wandering adult eagles looking for turf, but they are slowly transitioning to home. Since Thanksgiving the park has been open until 9 or 10 PM for the annual Christmas at Carillon. The bell tower has transformed into a giant Christmas tree of lights and the buildings, pathways and trees of the park glisten with festive lights. Thousands of visitors have enjoyed the beauty of the grounds, but the greatest spectacle is the arrival each evening of Orv and Willa as they return to their roost-tree. Just this evening I had the privilege of sharing their pending arrival with a few dozen people who chose to wait and watch. Just after sunset Orv arrived and went directly to the tree. A few minutes later Willa flew in, circled past the nest and then joined her mate. All eyes were focused in amazement on her as she circled in the fading twilight. Dozens more filed by and were thrilled to see our eagles perched high in the tree, just three feet apart.

Sometimes the gifts of Christmas are not under the tree but high atop it.

At this most wonderful time of the year may you share the joy and love of Christmas with those you hold dear, may your homes be filled with the love of God, and may you be amazed as you look up and see that the skies are full of wonders!

Published in: on December 24, 2021 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Preparation is the Key to Success

Does that phrase rings a bell? Well, it should. It is attributed to inventor Alexander Graham Bell and has become a favorite quote of coaches and business advisors everywhere. Preparation is a necessity for successful living.

School children prepare for exams. Sweethearts prepare for marriage. Young couples prepare for babies. Older adults prepare for retirement… The list goes on and on. But, it is not just humans who prepare. That gray squirrel burying walnuts in your backyard is busy preparing for winter survival. That chubby groundhog foraging along the roadside is preparing for hibernation. It seems like preparation is everywhere and by the time one event passes it is time to begin preparing for the next event!

Even the words above are preparing you for what follows. (Sneaky, huh?)

Orv and Willa are preparing too, not for the oncoming winter but for next February’s eggs! Bald eagles literally put all their eggs in one basket, so that basket takes a lot of preparation. And in their quiet moments the seem to sit and contemplate their options.

But like any couple, an individual’s ideas must be melded together to form a mutually agreed upon plan. That calls for compromise and compromise isn’t always easy. That melding process can lead to a few disagreements!

But eventually the plan is agreed upon and the work begins.

It is a real joy to watch Orv and Willa at work. They are truly masters at building their nest and adding to it every year as they prepare. One of the benefits of watching the same two birds over a period of years is that you learn a bit about their individual personalities. For instance, Willa is a much harder worker than Orv who tends to get bored easily and distracted often, especially when he grows hungry. That being said, they function well as a team. Willa calls the shots and Orv knows it. (Deciding who will take the lead is an important part of that preparation process.)

We know that mid October is when the nest preparation process begins and that it will grow in intensity as the autumn progresses. We also know that the eagles will meet with opposition from their avian neighbors in the park, especially the local red-tailed hawks. A typical day begins with some early morning nestorations and goes something like this:

It is twenty minutes before ten when we arrive at the park on a extremely nippy and overcast Tuesday morning. We find Willa flying from her electrical tower perch and heading into the park. She makes one quick circle above the old Callahan clock before dropping rapidly into the park.

We can tell by her flight that this is no casual jaunt. She looks every bit like a girl on a mission. So we leave the levee and make our way into the park. The clouds are thick and the lighting is poor but the opportunity is fleeting. Some sunlight can be seen in the distance forcing its way through the stubborn cloudy barrier, so we are hopeful that the cold, dim day may brighten.

As we exit the Kettering Educational Center and enter the Greene, we see a flash of movement passing low overhead, just behind a nearby tree. It is Orv on the hunt for lumber! Our pace quickens as we make our way toward the nest. “They sure are busy today.” shouts a park volunteer. We acknowledge his comment as we pass on by with a nod and a quick, “Yep. It’s that time of year.” (We don’t want to seem rude, but come on! There are eagles out there!)

As we reach Wright Hall we notice two birds in the air above the nest. They are part of the trio of red-tails that live a few hundred feet west of Orv and Willa’s Hillside Condo. These three troublemakers have never forgiven our eagles from moving into the territory they had claimed years earlier, and they love to make their presence and their animosity known! They look rather ominous, silhouetted against the gray sky.

We find both eagles in the nest. Willa has assumed command of the timber that Orv has just delivered and is weaving it into the wall of the nest. Both Orv and Willa pause for a moment to assess the threat from above, but then continue with the task at hand.

Soon Orv departs the nest to find yet another stick.

It seems like an endless task, but parenting is almost always hard work, even in the preparation stages. For the next hour we stand on the concrete walk in front of Wright Hall and spin like tops under the cloudy skies as we watch the eagles retrieve stick after stick.

Sometimes they land on a limb and gnaw a stick loose using the sharp, cutting edge of their massive beaks.

At other times they land in a barren treetop before deciding which stick to snap off in flight as they head back to the nest.

And they do it all under the unrelenting attacks from the trio of hawks.

Finally, just as the sunbeams begin to win their battle over the heavy cloud cover, the eagles decide that they are ready for a break. True to form, Orv is the first to fly from the park, disappearing behind the treetops in the direction of the river. Ten minutes later, after rearranging a few more sticks in the nest wall, Willa follows.

We walk to the west end of the park and spot one of our eagles perched back atop the distant electrical tower, west of I-75. From that perch near a bend in the river, they can watch for any nomadic eagle pairs looking for a territory in which to set up housekeeping. If any should venture by, they will be ushered on their way.

It is a pattern we have seen repeatedly over the last four years and it is encouraging to see it continue once more. As we make our way back to the parking lot we stop to admire how the dancing sunbeams illuminate the first colors of autumn.

We also notice those pesky red-tails doing a pseudo victory dance above the Hillside Condo. They believe that they had just won some type of skirmish with the eagles, forcing them out of the park. But we know the truth. Orv and Willa had finished the task they had prepared to do that day.

Before leaving the park, we pause to look back and appreciate the beauty of the Carillon Park grounds in the brightening sunlight and the iconic bell tower which gives the park its name.

Driving back toward the highway we look at the angry, muddy, Great Miami River, swollen from several days of continual rain. Perhaps our eagles will settle for pigeons and waterfowl until the Miami calms and clears. Habitually we follow the roadways that follow the river, hoping for another eagle sighting. There is always something to see along the levees. We are not disappointed for soon we find several eagle photographers watching our eagles perched on favorite tower-perches. Even after all their hard work, they cannot catch a break from being assailed by swooping red-tailed hawks and noisy crows. We know that it is just a territorial thing that causes smaller birds to attack larger birds, but when will our eagles get a chance to relax and rest?

That rest may not come until sunset, when tonight, like every night for the past four years, Orv and Willa wing their way back to the park.

It is not easy carrying out the necessary tasks of life for life’s demands are never-ending and harassing challenges abound. The execution of a plan is important but preparation is the key to success.

Published in: on October 27, 2021 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Brittle Days

Summer has finally run its course and the lush, deeply green hues of June’s foliage have faded away. As I arrive in the park the early autumn canopy towering high overhead hosts but a faint hint of their former glory. The hot, dry days of August have left the leaves a fragile gray. The ground beneath my feet is carpeted with a brittle mixture of oak, cottonwood and maple adornments that audibly crunch with every step. We might see little color this year as the grand old trees of Carillon show signs of strain. Life has seasons of brittle days when the business of life slows and we find ourselves turning a more introspective eye upon our path. Steps become more cautious, more carefully planned. We may wonder when the color will return, when the vibrancy of life will bring a welcome distraction from the dryness and shadows that mask the sunshine. It is during those brittle days that we most need a friend. They are also the times when we are blessed with the opportunity to be a friend to one who is missing the fullness of summer, or fearing the approach of winter.

Every morning that I venture out to see our eagles takes me along the same brittle path as I search both the boughs above and the ground below for information. The canopy above has become perforated with daylight, slipping through open passages where leaves once blocked the way. The large limbs of these friendly giants are more visible now making it much easier to spot any perched eagles. The ground below also reveals secrets. Many times the ground is a greater tattletale than the trees. Splatters of whitewash whisper that an eagle has perched above and fallen feathers speak of preening activity. As I discover the splatters I lightly drag the toe of my shoe across the spots. If it is still damp and smears I immediately look above as I step back out of the target zone! If it has dried I investigate further looking for clues such as fish bones, turtle shells or squirrel fur. I always find it interesting to learn more about their recent meals. The dried leaves are almost always decorated with small, downy feathers. These are undercoat feathers lost during preening. Larger coverlet feathers are also fairly common to see. They are a medium brown in color with a lighter tint along the outer edges of each feather. They show a white, fluffiness near the base of each shaft. These coverlets overlap like roofing shingles as they blanket the bird’s body. With around 7,200 feathers per bird, old, worn feathers are constantly being replaced by fresh, new feathers and that lighter coloring along the edge of each coverlet produces a glimmer of gold under the right lighting conditions. Larger, flight feathers, like the primary (finger-like) feathers of the wingtips or the secondary feathers on the trailing edge of the wings are much more rare to find as flight feathers are more likely to fall out under the stress of flying or bathing. Possession of any eagle feather can carry a $100,000 fine so if I happen across a discarded feather of any substantial size, I bag it and transport it to our local raptor center. There the feather will be sent to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado in accordance to federal law.

Knowing the eagles’ habits within the park, I always check the trees on either side of the recently erected Horse Barn #17, salvaged from the old Montgomery County fairgrounds. This large building, housing historical information about the Montgomery County Fair, was reassembled in the park using as much of the original structure as possible.

Another place to check is the large American cottonwood tree that has become a favorite perch for Orv and Willa, arguably their most favorite perch within the park. Just east of this tree is the restored Shaker House which was relocated to Carillon from the former Shaker village of Watervliet.

The Shakers were a religious sect that had built several communities across the region in the 1800s. Their simple style of living was reflected in their furniture and dwellings. The village of Watervliet once occupied land near the current intersection of Woodman Drive and Patterson Road and was accessible from the west by Watervliet Avenue and from the east by Shakertown Road. A closer look at the west wall of the Shaker House reveals more hints about the eagles’ fondness for this cottonwood tree.

The juveniles, Navigator and Pilot, have been on their own for over a month now, but they would sometimes perch on the roof of the Shaker House to be close to Mom or Dad in the nearby tree.

As typically happens, Orv and Willa are enjoying a brief period away from the park as they rekindle the fires of their lifelong bond. They still stop by the park to check on their domain and to roost overnight, but they are not nearly as frequently seen within the park. In about a month they will begin refocusing on the nest and preparations for the 2022 nesting season. They also patrol their realm looking for any nest-ready adults or subadults with questionable intentions.

These strangers are usually met with a rather forceful encouragement to continue on their way.

But, in general, tensions have ebbed for now, although they are still diligently guarding their turf. When they are spotted, they are usually found close together, enjoying the more stress free moments somewhere along Dayton’s rivers.

They are also seeing some visitors pass through their territory. Fall is the season for migration ahead of winter’s cold. You never know what wanderer might pass by and stop for a day or two of rest, like this American white pelican.

As the days grow shorter, hormonal triggers will fire and behavior will change. The nest will once again become the focus of their attention but even the nest will be secondary to their mutual attraction. It is always comforting to have a loved one nearby during the brittle days.

Published in: on September 21, 2021 at 7:45 pm  Leave a Comment