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  

The Place To Be

Remember the old sitcom Green Acres? Remember the theme song for the show with Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) and his wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) singing their opposing viewpoints as to where to live? He sang “Green acres is the place to be! Farm livin’ is the life for me, land spreading out so far and wide! Keep Manhattan! Give me that countryside!” And she countered with, “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay! I just adore a penthouse view. Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue.” (Now that song will be playing in your head all day.)

As the eagle population recovers the rural areas are the first to be claimed by nest-ready adults, and rural areas are not as common as they were a hundred years ago when the eagle population was plummeting. That means that unlike Lisa and her ‘Ah-lee-var’, the city is the place to be.

City life poses some unique threats that rural eagles seldom, if ever, encounter. Some are pretty obvious like automobile traffic and electrical lines.

Others are not so easily recognized. Think about some of the things one sees every day in the city that are hard to find along a quiet stream near a forest or along a roaring mountain river. Most of those objects that came to mind were manmade weren’t they? Most of those manmade objects can pose a threat to survival for our eagles, and unfortunately, they are all too common in an urban setting.

Orv, Willa and the kids face them all. Things like litter for instance.

Litter can become a choking hazard for a curious juvenile and broken glass can cut feet. Discarded fishing line can become a snare to a foot that wraps tighter and tighter damaging tissue and interfering with circulation. Lead sinkers are poisonous.

Electrical towers and power poles can look like perfect perches and excellent vantage points but they draw the eagles toward the unseen threat of electrocution.

Street lights look like nice perches too but these also draw the eagle too close to automobile traffic, including tall trucks that pass just feet below the light.

Even something as harmless looking as a roadside sign conceals a threat. Look at this sign that Pilot likes to perch atop.

Do you see the threat it poses? Think once more of that rural setting. In all the vastness of nature you would have to search hard to find a hard, narrow object like the top of that sign. Eagles’ feet are designed to perch on round limbs or on flat ground. A smaller bird like a sparrow or robin could perch on that sign with no problem but not so the eagle. It is virtually impossible for their large feet, long toes and long talons to grip that thin surface so they must constantly shift their weight to maintain balance, and that weight is about 6 to 12 pounds depending on size and gender. That means all of that shifting pressure is placed on a narrow strip of soft tissue on the sole of the bird’s feet. Especially over time (Remember eagles can perch for hours.) that pressure can lead to cuts, scrapes and swelling that progresses into a condition known as ‘bumblefoot’ where the damaged feet make it impossible for the bird to hunt, defend itself or even perch!

Now natural threats still exist in urban areas.

Other eagles passing through the area might attack our resident eagles.

Coyotes prowl for geese and other prey along most urban rivers but because they are usually nocturnal hunters city dwellers may be unaware of their presence.

But survival depends on adaptability, and our eagles are resilient when it comes to finding a way to thrive. Urban life is likely all they will ever know. They are as intelligent as they are resilient. You can see it in their eyes.

Navigator has set out on his own and Pilot will soon drift away also. Their lives are lives of boundless independence until they pair-bond with a mate in about 5 years. Orv and Willa are already spending more time with each other strengthening their bond.

They never venture too far from home. For Orv and Willa, whether in the country or in the city, together is the place to be.

Published in: on August 11, 2021 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Struggles, Won and Lost

It is no secret that life can be trying. One never knows when tragedy might strike. We surround ourselves with safeguards to protect us like seatbelts, bike helmets, and tornado sirens. We post warning labels on everything from simple plastic bags to jet engine housings. And when tragedy does strike we grab the nearest phone and dial 9-1-1. We live in the constant awareness that danger lurks everywhere.

Nowhere is that more true than in the wild. The word “wild” means “untamed” and wild creatures have no way of anticipating the possibility of disaster’s potential. Life in the wild is a constant struggle.

I acknowledge that truth each day as I enter the park as I search the trees for our eagles. I am a bit relieved to spot each member of our eagle family but sometimes the struggle for survival is lost.

On Saturday, June 26th, Aviator lost that struggle and this face is now missing from our eagle family.

It has taken me some time to get up the nerve to type this edition of our blog because seeing it in print seems to add credence to its reality and I know that many of our readers will be deeply saddened by the news.

Aviator was the first to fledge and had been exploring the park for 13 days. She was likely the eldest of the trio and possibly the only female. She was very active that morning flying from limb to limb within the park and chatting with her siblings. Park visitors were quite impressed by her size and agility. She was a curious girl, perhaps at times a bit too curious as she came to ground to watch the contractor’s equipment rumble by or to investigate a large leaf blowing across a path.

But around 3:00 that afternoon, as she flew from the nest tree she made contact with two bare-conductor powerlines and the current passed through her body. She died instantly.

Her loss is not a surprise though because statistically half of all bald eagle juveniles do not reach their first birthday. We were aware of the potential but we are never prepared for the reality. I had several conversations with Carillon staff in the hours following Aviator’s loss. The following Monday morning, Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History/Carillon Historical Park had the local utility company in the park to address the possibility of rerouting the lines in a way that would remove the threat they pose. The Utility is formulating a plan at this time.

Orv and Willa soon learned that one voice was suddenly missing from the ongoing call for food.

The days after the accident they searched for their missing Aviator. Orv stayed closer to the park as Willa flew upstream and down, searching. For a day or two Pilot and Navigator stayed secluded on the leafy trees near the nest. Slowly life took on a more normal routine. Survival in the wild demands that one holds such losses loosely, forcing one to deal with the new challenges that emerge every morning.

Navigator and Pilot still needed to be fed and were not about to let Mom and Dad forget about them. Their vocalizations split the air in the park as they call for food service.

These two are something to be reckoned with when they are hungry. They are much better at flying now and at over 100 days of age, the are often trying to land near Mom and Dad (or ON Mom and Dad!).

Parents all remember those days when you climb into bed exhausted from the demands of parenting, snuggle up close to your spouse and then the toddler appears in the doorway asking for a drink of water. Your needs are put aside and you rush of to bring your child a drink, or perhaps a fish.

Life goes on. With the dawn of a new day there will be joys and sadness, triumphs and failures. We grow stronger and hopefully wiser as we confront struggles, won and lost.

Published in: on July 9, 2021 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

One Step Into Freedom

So much of life finds us passing through periods of waiting. And waiting is often an uncomfortable test of endurance and faith. Waiting is weighty.

But any weighty burden can be lightened when it is shared with others. As we look back over our lives we can recall periods of trial and testing where loved ones have shared the load that would have been overwhelmingly crushing if it had been ours to bear alone. Illness, loss and heartaches in life are all too common and suffering in isolation echoes through the dark shadows of bewilderment in a frightening way. A compassionate embrace or even a silent companion can cause those shadows to flee and bring hope to a weary heart. We were designed to need one another.

Some waiting is much, much less painful as when we are waiting on something positive. Anticipation can grow within us making us as impatient as a schoolchild on the last day of the schoolyear. We can remember those days when learning was nonexistent because our focus was not on the teacher but on the clock on the wall. Somehow the clock refused to move at its normal speed, holding its hands across its face as if it was embarrassed by its childish prank of making the school day stretch out longer and longer. Then, after an agonizingly long wait, the clanging bell was welcomed by the unabashed cheers of children! The school doors flung open and dancing feet took that one step into freedom!

Again this year I have found myself standing below Orv and Willa’s Hillside Condo, waiting. I have seen the annual nesting cycle pass step by step many times before but the weightiest wait is always the wait for the eaglets to fledge. I have grown confident of Orv and Willa’s abilities and capabilities but each eaglet represents an unknown. That one step into freedom that is taken from the nest’s rim is a very risky step. The eaglets reach adult size at around seventy days and then spend about two weeks exercising their wing muscles and building coordination and determination before fledging. As fun as that is to watch, leaving the safety of the nest presents some obvious obstacles as well as many unforeseen possible threats. There is a moment in each first flight, as the determined eaglet launches skyward and the nest slips away beneath them, that you see a glimpse of surprise (or perhaps terror) in their eyes. They suddenly realize that with all the focus on flying, little thought was given to landing! Most novice flyers display a bit of stutter in their wingbeats but every single novice flyer has confusion in their landing. Six to thirteen pounds of bird cannot be supported by the outward twigs of a tree branch. Leafy twigs can become entangled in wings and toes. Approaching a perch without slowing one’s momentum is not a good idea either. These are just three of the discoveries that fledgling eagles must make.

Last Sunday, June 13th, Aviator decided to go for it! The window for flight is somewhere between eighty and ninety-two days. In the past three nesting seasons Orv and Willa’s youngsters have fledged at eighty-four to eighty-six days. Aviator hit that eighty day mark and decided that it had had enough with that crowded nest, so off it went. Now, another common occurrence with those first flights is that they are short in duration. They are usually a quick flight to a nearby tree in a failed attempt to return to the nest. Not Aviator’s. It left the nest, left the trees, left the park and crossed over the river to the far bank before safely landing! That bird could fly!

Eventually it reversed that course and flew back into the park and returned to the nest tree after a brief stop in a neighboring sycamore.

Just one day later, on Monday, June 14th, Navigator attempted the same feat. But this time things were a bit different. When I arrived at the park at 9:30AM Aviator was about eight feet behind the nest, perched on a limb. Navigator had branched onto a limb just a foot or so outside of the nest. Young Pilot was sitting on the rim of the nest. All was calm and peaceful until Willa arrived with an early lunch. The sound of a ringing dinner bell has always caused a flurry of activity and the trio responded like hungry ranch hands. Pilot pivoted into the nest while Navigator hopped from that limb and Aviator flew in for a bite as well. But as Aviator made that 8 foot flight he became slightly entangled in some leafy twigs causing a bit of confusion among the trio. Adding to this flurry of activity, Orv, flew past just at that moment and suddenly Navigator found itself airborne and in flight. So Dad, Aviator and Navigator were all flying just outside the nest as Pilot and Willa were within it! Navigator made a quick circle…

finding a twiggy perch above the nest as a distracted Aviator followed Dad toward the river. I still wonder if Navigator had intended to fly or was just caught up in the confusion of the moment, but a first flight is a first flight.

This meant that Pilot now had the nest largely to itself. It looked as though it was enjoying the openness. One of the siblings was in the nest with Pilot on Tuesday morning and the day passed with very little action. Willa did deliver food to the condo and appeared to be having a motherly chat with Pilot perhaps encouraging it to trust in its wings and its God-given abilities.

Wednesday morning the nest was empty! Pilot must have flown from the nest late Tuesday evening or early that morning. Mom and Dad spent most of the day sleeping in a shadowy recess west of the nest.

As we watched one juvenile flew past the nest, twice coming to rest on a small, leafy branches before moving to a more adequate limb. I assumed that the other two juveniles were somewhere in the safety of the wooded hillside based on Orv and Willa’s calmness. Eagles can perch for hours and hours and with the dark feathers of childhood they blend into the shadows as if they were wearing Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.

Thursday morning the nest and trees appeared silent and empty. I walked throughout the grounds scanning the treetops for any sign of an eagle and I searched the ground for any sign of an eagle. (Sometimes young eagles will end up on the ground, unable to get themselves airborne again due to underdeveloped muscles caused by insufficient exercise. Also, it is sometimes easier to locate the eagles’ whereabouts by looking for fresh whitewash on the grass rather than the bird in the leafy canopy.) My reason for wanting to know the location of each juvenile is multifaceted. Of most importance is their wellbeing. Curious and inexperienced, they can get themselves into precarious situations. Secondly, part of my duties within the park includes trying to keep the accessible juveniles free from human imposition and unintentional harassment. Lastly, now is the best time to observe each bird for deformities or injuries like cross-beak. Adding to the potential threats is the ongoing construction projects within the park. Excavators, heavy rollers, backhoes and the like are making the usually quiet and serene wooded areas anything but quiet and serene right now. My circuit of the grounds revealed no clues as to the location of any of our five birds. But upon returning to the nest area I was pleased to find Willa perched and sleeping about twenty feet up in a tree.

Upon further investigation one fledgling was spotted about ten feet below her to her right…

and another about ten feet below her to her left.

After several minutes the third juvenile was spotted on a large limb of a tree below the nest tree.

All three were very concealed by darkness or leafy foliage and appeared just fine. Like with most birds, Mom’s presence is calming and keeps the fledgling quiet and still. Also like most birds, Mom does not like to draw attention to her offspring during this vulnerable time. All three had survived that crucial first step into freedom!

But they still have many lessons ahead. They are yet to experience the pestering attacks of red-tailed hawks…

or Coopers hawks,

to which the adults have become accustomed. They will stay mostly within the confines of the park over the next week or two as they hone their flying skills and just as importantly, their landing skills. Then Mom and Dad will lead them to the Great Miami River for hunting lessons. Every experience is a lesson all its own and these curious juveniles will have many of them as they explore this wonder-filled world outside of the nest that has kept them high and protected.

Some things are well worth the wait and they can reward us with thrills and joys that are more than we had ever imagined. Experiences, education, trials and triumphs are now available to our young trio as they have each taken that one step into freedom!

Published in: on June 18, 2021 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

What’s in a Number ?

Numbers are important things. That is a lesson I learned many times as I was growing up. If Dad said to be home at 5PM, he meant 5PM, not 5:30 or even 5:05! (It took me several uncomfortable experiences to learn that one.) Our house had a number on the front wall so it could be located. Our phone had a number so we could be contacted. (I still recall various phone numbers from childhood but cannot for the life of me remember current phone numbers. Luckily, my cell phone has a memory like an elephant.) Schedules have numbers. Budgets have numbers. Grades have numbers. Sport uniforms and race cars have numbers. Birthdates have numbers. (My birthdate tells me that next month I will turn 65 and so, over the last few weeks, I have developed a great friendship with people from the local Social Security office! Now there is a place that overflows with numbers! If they have any left over they pass them on to the IRS.) Numbers are everywhere. In fact, numberless places are few in number.

Numbers can be fun. Many puzzles use numbers and numbers can be puzzling things as well. When I was in the first grade the taught me that 2+2=4, but the very next day they claimed that 3+1=4! (Come on now! How much stress can a 6-year-old kid handle!) Apparently today, 2+2 can equal 27, a turtle, or anything else that makes you feel good about yourself. (I wish those rules had applied when Dad wanted me home by 5.) I like number puzzles like “52 Cs in a D.” (52 cards in a deck.) Or “12 Ms in a Y”. (12 months in a year.) Those sequential puzzles where you have to find the missing number are fun too, like “15, 21, 24, 30, 33, 39, __” (Do you know the next number? I will reveal the answer below Orv’s image at the end of this post.)

Here is another puzzle: 18 or 19 or 20 or 21. As I write this post our Carillon eaglets are 68, 70 and 72 days old. (More numbers!) By now they are as big as Mom or Dad depending on gender. Females are larger than males and therefore if the females have about a 7-foot wingspan and the males have about a 6-foot wingspan, those numbers above represent the total wingspans of the trio! 18 feet of wing if they are all males, 19 feet if two are males, 20 if only one is male and 21 if they are all female! That is a lot of wing in that nest as they exercise in preparation for their first flights!

Orv and Willa have done an excellent job getting the trio to this point. For the next two weeks or more Pilot, Aviator and Navigator will hop/fly from one side of the nest to the other as they strengthen muscle and coordination in preparation for fledging from the nest in mid-June. That first step over the rim is a huge step for them and one of the biggest challenges of their lives. Statistically, 50% of juvenile eagles do not survive to see their first birthday and it is that first flight that claims most of those birds. This is one of the few areas where urban eagles might have an advantage over their more rural cousins. Many urban nests have human followers that can intervene if a wing is broken or the fledgling sustains some other injury. Urban birds are more likely to be rescued and taken to a rehab center. Some eaglets fledge from the nest to the ground and simply do not have the strength to get themselves airborne again and a grounded eagle is an eagle in peril. Humans should only get involved as a last resort as the youngsters must learn to figure out how to correct their mistakes to survive. Just hopping onto a rock or a bench might give the novice the air it needs to fly to a safer perch.

Like any parent, Orv and Willa are always coming or going in an effort to meet the needs of their youngsters.

In sunshine…

or in a driving downpour good parents do what must be done.

Mom and Dad are just occasionally dropping off food now as the trio’s massive growth periods are behind them. And like in most families, the kids don’t always like what they are served.

Orv and Willa are leaving the nest unattended more and more so the eaglets are getting less reliant on the parents’ constant presence. At their current size they are less likely to be attacked and quite frankly, they need the space. The kids are getting pretty bored up there and pass the days watching people move about the park, preening their feathers or exercising, but mostly watching for Mom or Dad to show up with food! Their practice sessions are getting more dramatic and each eaglet seems to be an Olympic judge when a sibling tries their wings. “I give that one a seven! Not bad!” (There are those numbers again.)

And also as with most families, kids left alone without parental supervision can get into squabbles.

We are content to watch them learn some basic skills. We do not want them to leave the nest before they are fully ready to do so with great success. Dad is content to watch it all too. Just today he perched in a neighboring tree after delivering a snack and flew off only after he knew all was well.

(Are you ready for that answer for the sequence puzzle above? It is 51. (Just add the digits of each number to that number to form the next number in the sequence [15+1+5=21, 21+2+1=24, 24+2+4=30…])

This early, summer-like weather is a great time to visit the park and watch the eaglets exercise, especially on windy days! The thermometer was at nearly 90 degrees today but summer doesn’t officially begin until the 20th, but what’s in a number?

Published in: on June 5, 2021 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Watch as a Miracle Unfolds

Miracles are miraculous things!

That may be a redundant statement but sometimes we fail to see the miraculous, even when it is right before our eyes. We too often define miracles as sudden, unexplained events. In fact, that is the definition of the word according to many dictionaries. Definitions such as, “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency” are common. And indeed many miracles reflect that definition. Most people would consider a medical scan that no longer shows a previously known cancerous tumor as a miracle of divine healing. Likewise a lone home, in which a family had sheltered, still standing untouched after a tornadic storm levels a region may be seen as a miracle of divine protection. But I believe we have too narrowly defined the word.

Why is a welcomed event less of a miracle when we can comprehend how it happened? We all understand the process of human reproduction and fetal development but is the newborn baby any less of a miracle because we understand how he or she reached that point? Are we so clinically (or perhaps cynically) minded that we miss the joy of observing God’s handiwork in that newborn’s tiny hand as he/she grips Mother’s finger? I would argue that the miracle lies not in the ‘how’ of events but the ‘Who’. Same three little letters but a huge difference in focus!

I agree with the definition as it states that miracles happen ‘surprisingly’ but again I would argue not always. The automobile accident where the car is totaled but the occupants are unharmed happens unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye, but a beautiful sunset can happen quite expectedly and develops slowly over many minutes. Both are miraculous. Again focus is the key to appreciation and recognition of the miraculous. Not how, but Who. Some miracles unfold before our eyes everyday.

One unfolding miracle is happening in a treetop at Carillon Historical Park. Orv and Willa are feeding three eaglets this year! The most common count per annual brood is two eaglets with three happening only about 20% of the time. Now, any parent of twins will tell you that two infants are not just twice the work of a single baby. Likewise, parents of triplets will tell you that three is not just 50% more than two! Parents of quadruplets won’t tell you anything because they simply have no time to talk! Raising three eaglets to fledglings is a monumental task. Not only does that require an amazing number of food trips to the river but very little time for rest and personal care for the adults. One of the greatest challenges of parenting is exhaustion. (Trust me, I am speaking from experience here.) Willa spends most of her time in the Hillside Condo with the young trio while Orv does most of the providing. So his day looks like this.

Over and over and over again, day after day. Each day he makes a dozen or so runs to the grocery and back. I honestly wonder if he is looking for larger fish to lessen the number of trips. The eaglets are now into their most rapid period of growth as they are increasing in size, mobility and sprouting feathers. All of those activities burn calories adding to their need for more and more food.

Carillon Park has chosen names in accordance to the rules established for their previous eaglets. Because the original 1905 Wright Flyer III is housed just below Orv and Willa’s nest, the names are required to be Wright-related and non-gender specific, as only a blood test can determine the eaglets’ genders. Previous years’ eaglets were Soar, Flyer. Aero, Prairie, Prop and Rudder. This year we had over 100 suggested names and the park decided on Aviator, Navigator and Pilot! That announcement and others in local media has brought more and more people to the levee of the Great Miami River just outside the park. On some weekend afternoons you might find dozens of photographers and onlookers waiting to see Orv or Willa fly to the river.

Meanwhile, back at the nest, Mom and Dad do the necessary work of feeding and protecting their hungry and vulnerable babies. The park’s red tailed hawks are about to hatch their family as well so everyone will be hypersensitive and confrontational for a while.

The red tails have never forgiven the eagles for usurping their decade old claim to the territory when the eagles arrived back in 2018. The eaglets bide their time eating and sleeping and occasionally peeking over the rim of the nest to see what all the excitement is about.

The human activity within the park predates the arrival of our urban eagles therefore it is just a normal part of their environment. By viewing the eagles at Carillon, hopefully the more isolated nests where human presence would be unusual and thereby stressful for those eagles will see fewer curious humans.

As I type these words our 2021 eaglets are 27, 25 and 23 days old. By the end of May, just 6 weeks away, they will be adult size and will fledge from the nest in mid-June. Some miracles happen over time but are no less miraculous. Each precious eaglet carries all it needs to survive in the wild, reflecting perfection in design and function. The fingerprints of The Master Designer are everywhere. We are blessed and overjoyed to have the opportunity to watch as a miracle unfolds!

Published in: on April 21, 2021 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eggs-actly as Eggs-pected

One of the beautiful things about watching eagles is that you know what to expect so you anticipate the annual behaviors. Another beautiful thing about watching eagles is that you never know what to expect and you should anticipate the unexpected.

Although those truths seem diametrically opposed, they actually exist in perfect harmony in the wild. In fact, the term “wild” means untamed, uncontrolled, unmanipulated and natural. That is a large part of where the adventure lies, and we witness that balance as the daily unfolding of revelation transpires.

Sometimes things go just as planned. The 35 days of incubation for Orv and Willa’s first egg of 2021 was slated to end on March 23rd. True to the plan, last Tuesday there was a bit more movement from whichever adult was incubating the eggs. At or around day 35 the tiny eaglet pips a tiny whole in its all-too-tiny eggshell. It has been chatting with the parents for a few days and is ready to meet them in person! The little hole allows more oxygen in and a window out into the unknown. It might take the fragile bird a day or two of struggle to free itself from its cramped quarters. A few minutes of work is exhausting so there are periods of rest interspersed throughout the process. Mom and Dad sense the movement and inspect the activity while vocalizing encouragement to the escapee. But they must allow the eaglet to endure its struggle as this toil is just the first of many challenges it will face as it battles for survival.

By late Thursday Orv was seen taking a rabbit to the nest, an action that indicated the youngster had emerged, slept, awakened and needed a Nest-dash food delivery. (Door-dash won’t work if you have no door.)

Then on Friday I saw Willa’s tail feathers revealing secrets!

With the nest walls as high as they are and the nest floor as deep as it is, we cannot see much of the adults in the nest unless they are standing up. Willa’s tail feathers were quite visible though as they pointed upward, slowly lowered and then snapped downward before sliding forward. After years of observation, that familiar movement was a further confirmation that an eaglet was up there. The upward tilt meant her head was down as she bit a piece of meat off the rabbit. The slow lowering meant that she was pulling upward on a morsel of meat. The snapping downward indicated that the bite had broken free of the rest of the animal. The slide forward was a sign that she was leaning forward to place the morsel into the little eaglet’s mouth.

During all of this activity the second egg (Two eggs are most common.) would have been copying the process. That eaglet would have likely been free of its shell on Friday or Saturday.

Sunday catfish was on the menu.

Today I saw a bit more feeding activity and a bit more adult movement. Eaglets, even just a few days old, can wiggle and move so the brooding adult must gently return the little one to a safe position under its own body. Right now the eaglets cannot regulate their own body temperature so Mom and Dad must keep them warm for several days until they sprout a grey flannel suit of body feathers that provide adequate insulation.

Mom and Dad are a bit more alert now too. Inanimate eggs draw little attention but a passing hawk, owl or even another eagle might be attracted to the movement of a vulnerable eaglet! As a red tailed hawk passed high over one eagle brooding in the nest, the other eagle appeared and circled low over the area as a barrier between the hawk and the eaglets.

So what now? The feeding activity will continue to grow with the eaglets. In a few weeks they will be large and mobile enough to be seen from the ground as they peer down at us all. Then they will enter a period of rapid growth that demands multiple calories and a lot of groceries! The little 6-inch eaglets will be as big as Mom and Dad by June 3rd and fledge around June 17th! Then they will spend several days honing their skills within the park before Mom and Dad will lead them to the river for schooling! That is if everything continues eggs-actly as eggs-pected.

Published in: on March 29, 2021 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just Wait!

Boy! How many times have we heard those words in our lives?

While we are waiting, there never seems to be anything ‘just’ about it! Justice, it seems would be instant gratification. But that short sentence usually infers the other meaning of just as in ‘simply’ wait. But, again, waiting can be anything but simple as anticipation makes it hard to keep our minds off of the expected desire.

We are born into this world to parents who have waited months for our arrival. As infants we wait to be fed, held, changed and so many other things, without knowing that we are waiting yet demanding action through our cries. As children it seems that we are constantly waiting for something! Cookies, birthdays, summer vacations, Christmas, and of course the end of a long car trip. (“Are we there yet?” “Just wait!”) As adults we wait for our wedding days, our own baby’s arrival, promotions, medical test results…the lifting of Covid restrictions. Waiting is a big part of life.

Before long we learn to distract ourselves while we wait by doing other things to occupy our thoughts and divert our attention. This usually works but there is a funny thing about waiting, as the event draws closer the waiting grows more difficult!

So it is with nesting season. We wait for its arrival with great expectations and then wait for hatching, counting eaglets, watching them grow, fledging… There is always something new to wait for because life never stops. Life, like time, flows on day by day and we are caught in its current. So we learn to wait with expectation and wonder.

Orv and Willa are waiting too, but the wait (for hatching at least) is almost over! Just 3 more days! (I can’t wait!)

As Roger’s recent images show, while they wait for their eaglets and before they must wait on their eaglets, our eagles are occupying their time completing necessary tasks like putting up with inclement weather,

personal hygiene,

home repairs,

and defending their domain from threats before escorting other eagles away from their territory!

Even juveniles (This bird may possibly be Prop or Rudder from last year’s nest.) are unwelcomed now as the parents await their new eaglets’ arrivals.

During it all, either Orv or Willa has stayed in the nest incubating the egg(s)!

In a few days we should see a change in adult behavior as the eggs pip and hatch. After completing their exhausting escape from the egg the tiny eaglet will only weigh a few ounces and measure just a few inches in length! The eaglets will grow quickly and the eldest will have a sizeable advantage when it comes to feeding and dominance. At about a week of age the eaglets will look like this.

(The gentleman holding the eaglet is my friend Al Cecere, founder and former CEO of the American Eagle Foundation based in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Al and the AEF staff have overseen the rescue of many eagles and eagle eggs over the last several decades and have supervised the rehabilitation and successful release of quite a number of those eagles. They have raised awareness of the eagle’s plight through educational and inspirational presentations across the country, through their large aviary in the Dollywood theme park and via several live, eagle-cams on active nests. Perhaps you have seen Al and the bald eagle Challenger in a sport’s venue. Challenger is non-releasable due to human imprinting as a juvenile so he was trained to free-fly across stadiums during The National Anthem. Al and Challenger are true eagle ambassadors and have brought awareness of wildlife conservation to presidents, policy makers and others through personal encounters. Perhaps their most welcomed appearance was on June 28, 2008, at the delisting ceremony on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D. C. as the bald eagle was finally removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species List after eagle populations reached healthy numbers! Al and Challenger (both now retired) are representative of thousands of nature centers, rehabilitation facilities and other organizations staffed by both paid and volunteer workers dedicated to being good stewards of the wonders of Creation. We thank you all.)

Those little eaglets will reach adult size in about 10 weeks! They will fledge in about 12 weeks! So much to anticipate as the eaglets arrive and grow. This adventure continues and we will stay sharply focused on it all.

And five years down the road they will reach maturity and look like this image of Willa! (Speaking of waiting, this image was captured by Rick Roshto who recently drove to Dayton from Chicagoland to photograph Orv and Willa. His first day of waiting was pretty eagleless but on day two Willa gave him a show. Eagle watching is often eagle waiting. )

So much lies ahead and the excitement is building. Just wait!

Published in: on March 20, 2021 at 10:07 am  Leave a Comment  

The Promise of Hope

Do we hope in a promise or do we find promise in hope?

That question flooded my mind this morning as I pondered the many reports I have recently heard of those precious folks in nursing homes who have endured a year of isolation from friends and family. My heart hurts for them. With bodies that are not what they used to be and the ever present knowledge that the years that lie ahead are far outnumbered by those shrouded in the shadows of the past, they must truly long for the physical touch of a loved one’s hand, a familiar smile, a gentle kiss. As trials linger, endurance become even more challenging. If you find yourself in that situation, or, if you languish for a parent, grandparent or other loved one within the grips of loneliness, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Even in our darkest hours there glows the promise of hope. God knows that we cannot survive without it.

To that end He has surrounded us with wonders to refocus our hearts from despair to hope. The simple song of a sparrow is a joyous serenade of hope. The caressing warmth of a sunbeam carries a hint of promise. A golden sunrise, the gently falling snow, the pitter-patter of raindrops, the setting sun kissing the western horizon, the mystery of a star-studded night, all remind us that we live in a world of wonders. Each a promise full of hope! Each a hope full of promise!

I find that wonder so beautifully expressed in the lives of our eagles as well. Having followed them so closely over the years, sharing their adventure, teaching others about their attributes, I still find promise and hope in each reoccurring phase of their annual cycle. It always amazes me. They always amaze me.

We all well know that the first egg of the new year will arrive within a week of Valentines Day. The approach of that event has been so very apparent over the last few weeks. Orv and Willa have been very busy preparing the nursery in eager anticipation. That is a daunting task that they take very seriously. There is quite a bit of planning involved and sometimes feathers get ruffled!

Then the work begins. First each branch must be carefully selected.

Then it must be laboriously harvested.

The new timber is then taken back to the jobsite,

and precisely placed within the growing nest wall with mutual approval.

And of course, there are always those unexpected interruptions from unwanted visitors and hostile intruders!

Soon it is back to the task at hand.

With the addition of new sticks, it becomes necessary to replace the nursery’s soft carpet.

And, as with any construction project, local children gather to watch the progress.

Every year the story is the same. Every year it is captivating. As nesting season grows closer, Willa spends longer hours in the nest. In the days just prior to laying, Orv may even be seen carrying dinner to her as she prepares to lay.

These are days of great expectations. We await the moment when Willa begins to exhibit behavior that announces the arrival of the first egg, the day when the attitude of her body reveals that a secret lies incapsulated in a fragile shell beneath her in the nest. We await a day like yesterday!

We have the first egg of 2021! That means that the first eaglet should hatch out around March 23rd! Hopefully, Willa will lay at least one more egg today or tomorrow increasing the promise of an eventful year.

Life is full of challenges, many of which are completely unexpected. But if we can just look up beyond the trial we will see the wonders that surround us and our hearts will be free to soar with the promise of hope!

(I just wanted to take a moment again to thank and acknowledge my friend Roger for so graciously allowing me to use his images in these postings. His skill and dedication are legendary and over the last decade his images have continually spoken so clearly of our eagles’ ability to carry the promise of hope.)

Published in: on February 17, 2021 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

High Tension

Time for another ride along. Can you get away with me? Great! Bundle up ’cause it’s cold out there!

It is early in the morning as we begin to make our way to Carillon. There is a real bite in the frigid air but our hearts are warmed by the expectations that the lengthening daylight brings to us! The risen sun is sure to warm things up a bit and we are excitedly anticipating the wonders that lie ahead.

The conversation meanders easily as we pass the 20 minute commute. We lament the sudden dashing of our opportunities to witness the 2020 happenings due to last year’s unprecedented restrictions and closures. Orv and Willa had managed quite well without the usual crowd of onlookers and we are grateful for that, but we sure missed the comradery and fun of sharing the experience with other eagle watchers. This year promises to be a bit more normal but there are still many unknowns in regard to mandated policies and practices as the Corona vaccination efforts continue. That thought creates a lingering tension as we look ahead.

“Tension” seems to be a very fitting term as Nesting Season opens. With the approach of spring our local birds of prey are observably high strung. Eagles, hawks, falcons, owls… are all preparing nests and will soon be ready to lay. The increasing hours of sunlight triggers the release of certain hormones that compel the birds to not only complete their nests and mate, but to more aggressively defend their territory as well.

Our conversation is interrupted as you glance out the window and notice a peregrine falcon darting overhead.

Just yesterday a local peregrine had taken objection to Orv and Willa perching on an electrical tower near one of the falcon’s favorite pigeon-covered powerlines. It had ventured along The Great Miami to hunt and about a mile north of Carillon it looked down and spotted our eagles quietly minding their own business.

“Well that just won’t do at all!” the smaller bird thought and decided to let its disapproval known. Descending with a vengeance it swooped at the eagles! Ever watchful, Orv and Willa had had their eyes on the peregrine for some time and vocalized an alarm as the attack began. After a few evasive ducking of his head Orv launched to counter the aggressive intruder’s actions. As Willa continued to voice her alarm, Orv successfully led the threatening falcon away from his mate.

After several minutes, Orv, feeling every bit the hero, returned to the tower where Willa awaited his arrival. Quite proud of himself, he mated with her once more. High tension indeed!

By now we are nearing the river and as we pass by we take note of the progress a pair of red-tailed hawks were making on their nest, about a mile from the park.

“Everyone seems to be getting into the act.” you observe. And that they are. Although their nesting season is shorter than that of the eagles, our other area raptors are vigorously preparing to get things started.

As we drive along the river levee we scan all of the eagles’ favorite perches. We also watch the edges of the river’s water where our eagles like to dine. The only eagle we notice is a stranger. We are surprised to see what appears to be a late third-year (or early fourth year) bird flying near the park. It is not that uncommon to see an unknown eagle above the river (I smile even now at that recent turn of events.) but this bird is carrying a stick! “Just what does he think he’s doing?” I ask.

As we watch we are flabbergasted to see it head directly to Orv and Willa’s nest! “What is he thinking, indeed?” you ask in shocked amazement. This bird cannot be Prop or Rudder or even Aero or Prairie because it is simply too old to be from Orv and Willa’s 2019 or 2020 nest. It is not all that uncommon to see an unknown eagle near the park, or even near the nest, but this intruder seems to be making himself right at home! This intrusion will not be tolerated!

The big bird spends a few minutes in the nest, apparently adding the stick. Now, a bird of this age is likely not mature enough to reproduce but the nesting instinct is obviously kicking in already. When the stranger departs the nest he removes some nesting material as well. This is another sign of it trying to claim the nest for its own.

But his actions have not gone unnoticed. Willa has returned to the nest and is inspecting the damage. As she tidies things up the stranger returns as Willa loudly voices her disapproval! Orv responds to her alarm call and the fight is on!

Several minutes pass as Orv makes his presence known. Agitated, screaming eagles thrash about, in and above the nest! Wings, talons and beaks all become weapons as both Willa and Orv fight off the intruder. Had there been eggs or eaglets in the nest this encounter could have proven disastrous, but when the commotion dies down our eagles chase the youngster away and you and I can begin to breathe again. These confrontations will become more common as the eagle population continues its recovery. In fact, they have always been fairly common where eagles are nesting but now we have the privilege to witness it live and in person. It reinforces our awareness that these are truly wild animals and challenges our hearts to embrace that fact with full appreciation of the wonder of it all!

Soon things have settled down and Orv and Willa return to perching, hunting and preparing the nursery.

But before long another, somewhat smaller threat arises as one of the Carillon Park red-tailed hawks (quite literally) goes toe to toe with Orv.

The dispute is over quickly. It is just the way that a smaller bird objects to the eagle being within its territory. We see these passing confrontations almost daily now. Like the peregrine encounter the day before, our area birds are keyed up and ready for battle as they defend their domains.

As we leave the park, all is well with the world. Orv and Willa are perched side by side awaiting the stillness of twilight and the restful quietness of a tranquil park. As they perch on their favorite tower, they watch the ongoing reconstruction of the I-75 bridge over The Great Miami, a project that will include a 6-foot fence atop a 4-foot barrier wall to provide a bet more assurance that our eagle can pass over the interstate safely.

As they watch the road work they also watch the skies for any more threats because you never can tell what might spark a fight in seasons of high tension.

Published in: on February 4, 2021 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment