High Winds ... Eagle's Nests OK

February 20 & 21, 2011.  Over the last year all three eagle's nests that are visible from Jefferson's Reach on the James have fallen due to high winds. Two of the nests were rebuilt in the same tree, while the third was built further off the riverbank, too far to be seen from the river.  Needless to say, after all the high winds we had over the last week, I was curious to see if Bandit & Smokey and Baba & Pops still had their nests intact.

This past Sunday was the first trip on the James to Eagle Watch in almost a week.  I was praying the five pairs of resident bald eagles in Jefferson's Reach didn't experience any problems due to the extreme weather. We backed the Discovery Barge II out of the slip and cruised slowly downriver, soaking in the early morning air and loving all the wonderful colors in the sky.  We lost sight of the Richmond Yacht Basin and proceeded around the bend toward Henricus ... onward to Bandit & Smokey's nest location.  Their nest is in the most precarious of locations, far out on the limb of an old oak tree.  Thiers was the nest I was worried about most, but all was fine.  Bandit was keeping a watchful eye perched on a nearby tree, while Smokey hunkered down, incubating their clutch.

We worked our way out into the main channel and proceeded down past the Varina-Enon Bridge to excellent results.  Sure enough one eagle was perched high on a leafless oak tree, which was a sign that all is still good with Varina & Enon's nest.  Continuing downriver towards Virginia & James' nest we saw two immature bald eagles, perhaps some of the last remaining migratory eagles in Jefferson's Reach for the 2011 winter season. 

This Winter an interesting observation was made with the immature bald eagles. We would often notice the curious behavior of two immature eagles paired and playing in flight.  It makes me wonder, seeing so many immature pairs, if bald eagles might try to start finding a mate earlier in the maturing process.  Just a thought, but one that I will carry in my mind for a while.

We arrived in Virginia & James' territory, and there was one eagle out hunting on the river, another great sign that all three pairs so far are still nesting.  We neared the Jones Neck cut and turned left into the old river channel, heading towards Deep Bottom and into Rebecca & Capt. John's territory.  The past two trips, we had not seen either bird, but did see one about ten days ago.  Rebecca & Capt. John are a curious pair, as they may actually have two nests that they occupy.  These two birds have also not been in their favorite areas at all this year.  Their nest is not visible from the river, so it's impossible to tell whether or not it's being occupied still.  Once the Center for Conservation Biology does their semi-annual fly over, counting eagle nests, we may be able to find out for certain, but it could be that Rebecca & Capt. John are hunting the inland ponds on Jones Neck.  It's interesting that they have been so sporadic in their sightings.  Time will tell. 

Lastly, we arrived at the nest site of Baba & Pops.  We looked high up on a hill into the top of a pine tree, and lo and behold, the nest was in perfect condition! One of the beautiful eagles was nestled on top of their clutch.  There is no telling how many eggs any of these pairs of eagles have, but I can confidently say that four out of five pair are incubating eggs.  The fifth pair may very well be, but their sightings have just not been consistent.  I'm hoping they have a second nest. Until next time,   --Capt. Mike

Both images taken by Lindy Thackston.