After The Nests Are Empty

Well, now what?

The eaglets in our area of the country have fledged their nests and are now hunting on their own. So you may be wondering what happens next? The youngsters are free to roam where they desire but will likely stay close to Mom and Dad and the familiarity of home, at least for a while. It has been our experience that juveniles from the previous years may pass through the area and even visit the old crib. As they do so they will often interact with Jim and Cindy and their new sibling. A few weeks ago that encounter would have been much different as Mom and Dad were in no mood to have a potential predator in the vicinity of this year’s vulnerable eaglet and would have chased the returning juvenile away.

Last Friday Jim and Cindy’s 2015 eaglet was slowly circling in the sky over the well field.

This year's eaglet.

This year’s eaglet.

I had watched it from a distance for some time before I noticed one of the adults (I believe it was Jim) soaring high above the youngster. (Not all eagle watching is “up close and personal”, in fact 90% of it is anything but.)

Jim up high.

Jim up high, near the right tip of the cloud.

Slowly both birds drifted higher and farther away and eventually I lost track of them in the blue of the sky. About 30 minutes had passed when I noticed a large bird flying a hundred feet or so to my right. It had emerged from behind the trees between my car and Eastwood Lake and was flying rapidly toward the well field. At first glance it looked to be a large, immature Red-Tailed Hawk, but a second glance made me realize that this bird’s wings were too long for a Red-Tail. I could only see it as flew directly away from me until it turned enough to glimpse a side view of the bird. It was not a hawk but a juvenile Bald Eagle! Now, it had come from the west but the juvie I had just watched soaring with Jim had vanished into the eastern sky. If you have ever been eagle watching you know that they can be tricky characters. They can gain altitude, tuck their wings and glide rapidly to anywhere they want as if they were gliding along an invisible zip line. Plus, 30 minutes had passed so I assumed that this juvenile streaking past me was that same youngster. But with its turn came the realization that this bird was a one-year-old and quite possibly one of Jim and Cindy’s 2014 eaglets. After it turned it continued to fly towards me as I continued to snap pictures.

2014 eaglet.

2014 eaglet.

In a matter of seconds it became apparent that it was going to pass directly over my car, and since I was still in the driver’s seat of that car, the car’s roof would soon become an obstacle for my long camera lens. So there I was, opening the door, exiting the car and focusing straight up at the moving target above me in the bright sunshine! The eagle was maybe 50 or 60 feet in the air as it passed over my car and I was zoomed out to the full 600mm position, and I was moving as well. That is not the best combination of conditions for a clear image but boy was it fun!

2014 overhead.

2014 overhead.

I continued to shoot as it passed back over the lake and then dipped behind some trees.

2014 departing.

2014 departing.

The amount of white on the underside of the wings and across its chest along with the obvious molting of its feathers were a good indication of its age. This could be one of Jim and Cindy’s two surviving 2014 eaglets or just a wandering juvenile but after a quick loop over Eastwood Lake it crossed back over Harshman Road to the well field where it disappeared into the treetops near the nest. It’s intentional approach to the nesting area made it appear that it was in very familiar territory.

Then today I was watching again as this year’s eaglet was flying over Eastwood Lake. It made several circles as if it was fishing as it drifted farther west, but it did not seem to be watching the water.

2015 eaglet.

2015 eaglet.

Before long I was surprised to see a second juvenile flying over the lake from a different direction, slightly higher in the sky. This bird’s missing tail feathers identified it as the same juvenile I had seen on Friday. It took a playful dive at the first bird and for a few seconds they swooped and turned and presented their talons to each other.

2014 diving at 2015.

2014 diving at 2015.

The younger bird briefly pursued the older one before they separated and flew off in different directions.

2015 chasing 2014.

2015 chasing 2014.

I managed to catch images before and after their encounter but missed most of the interaction. Imagine my happiness when I looked down the road to see Roger with his big lens aimed out at the water! I hadn’t known that he was even in the area.

This is a bit of what he captured of the event.

2014 and 2015 mix it up a bit.

2014 and 2015 mix it up a bit.

Talk to the talon Sis!

Talk to the talon Sis!

Here is one more image from Roger’s big lens. This year’s juvenile is on the upper left and last year’s juvenile is on the lower right. Notice the differences in their coloring. The older bird has more white on its chest and wings and shows more yellow on its beak. Now look at the shape of the wings and tails. The younger bird has a nice, straight trailing edge on both while the older bird has some longer and some shorter feathers creating an uneven look plus it is obviously missing some feathers. Eagles shed feathers as new ones sprout in a process known as molting. The initial feathers of an eaglet are longer than subsequent feathers which is why the older bird looks more ragged. The remaining longer feathers will eventually fall out and by its second year it will appear less ragged. The coloration will continue to change with future molts and the beak will become more yellow. During it’s third year some white feathers will appear on its head and tail and by the fourth year the white head will seem dirty looking due to the presence of the remaining dark feathers and the white tail may show a darker band near the trailing edge. The mature 5th year bird will have the iconic, brilliant yellow beak and eyes along with the bright white head and tail.

Wonderful comparison shot!

Wonderful comparison shot!

Late summer and autumn can be a great time to eagle watch as nomadic juveniles roam about and young adult pairs look for territory. The air will soon begin to grow cool and crisp and the leaves will turn and fall. Some of the best eagle watching opportunities of the year arrive after the nests are empty.

Published in: on August 4, 2015 at 5:13 am  Comments (8)  

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As I read, I could feel your excitement! Great informative post. Wish I had been there.

  2. Always devour the latest issue of the blog. It’s always entertaining and educational! Any get together this summer? Really miss the cameras.

  3. Another great read Jim! I’m so happy to know our baby from this year is doing well! Still wonder about the why of they’re only being one…..but I guess we’re going to be grateful for our one!!! Maybe 3 next year!!! It also makes me happy that our juvies are still around to visit. Then I think I’m also glad that we have you and Roger to keep track of Jim and Cindy and all their offspring…….so thank you kind sirs, for being the blessing you are, to all of us!

  4. Eaglejim, what a great blog. The pictures are fabulous. I’m so glad Roger shared his with us too. What a couple of exciting days of eagle watching you had. It must have been exhilarating! Loved your play by play of 2014 and 2015 mixing it up. Thanks so much Jim, for all your time and devotion to the eagles.

    Sandy Stricklin
    Omaha, NE

  5. Thank you Sidney. It was exciting to see.

  6. The cameras were missed by a lot of us this year Steve. I’m still hoping that we can get things rolling again for next year! I do not think we will be having a picnic this year.

  7. Thank you Opal. We are blessed to be able to watch and share the adventure. 11 eaglets in 5 years is pretty exciting!

  8. Thanks for commenting again Sandy. Seeing an encounter like that makes the hours of seeing little action more tolerable.

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