Rebecca & John: The Story of the Fifth of Resident Eagles in Jefferson's Reach (Part 1 of 2)
Eagle watching is awesome. I get a lot of personal satisfaction when an opportunity to take the Bald Eagle Tour to another level arises, and this was of one of those opportunities. The more time I spend on the James with the bald eagles, the better I get to know them, as their stories continue to develop. This true tale is about the last named pair and most elusive eagles in Jefferson’s Reach … Rebecca & John and how Capt John simply became John.
After spending a few months watching bald eagles around Jones Neck, in February 2010, I noticed an eagle that would perch in some of the same branches week after week. Then I noticed it had the same flight patterns. Over the next few months the eagle, or eagles (only saw one at a time) remained long after the migratory birds of winter had long left on their trek back to the far north. They acted like a resident pair but until a nest was located they would have to wait to become the fifth pair of resident eagles in Jefferson’s Reach. I could only watch as the flight patterns took them to a certain row of pine trees off in the distance of Jones Neck.
Jones Neck is an island surrounded by the old James River channel across from Deep Bottom. Jones Neck was a long finger of land, jutting out from the southside of the James tucked in between the landmasses of Curles Neck and Varina Farms. In the 1930’s the Core of Engineers and the Civilian Conservation Core dug a 30-foot deep channel at the base of the peninsula to shorten the trip on the river between the Chesapeake Bay and Richmond by approximately five miles. This cut through, or thoroughfare, took this peninsula of land and created the island of Jones Neck.
At the end of an early summer morning Eagle Tour, a young boy of eight walked up to me as he was departing the boat and said, “Capt. Mike, the next eagle you name, you have to call him John!”
I responded, “Why John?”
He said “For Capt. John Smith of course.”
I followed, “Why don’t we call him Capt. John?”
The boy’s next move was classic. He stuck out his hand to shake on it, and sealed it with an over zealous head nod. It was a done deal. Capt. John
was to be the next resident eagle named! For the moment at least …
Giving an eagle a name is something special and isn’t taken lightly. It doesn’t happen very often, and to date only one eagle has had a name change, as in the case of Rebecca & Capt. John. To name an eagle is to name a pair. I have to define a pair of bald eagles as a resident pair, which would mean they would have a territory, a nest, and would defend it while remaining in their territory 365 days a year. By understanding their habits and hangouts, the resident pair would be easily recognizable at any time during the year.
On the very next day, while in the area I had been watching an eagle fly with the same flight patterns, I was looking onto Jones Neck and saw a remarkable sight. There were two mature bald eagles perched in a tree. Next to them, on the branch below was a newly fledged immature bald eagle. I couldn’t believe it, here was the eagle I had been following perched proudly with the whole family. The immature eagle was proof that the pair was indeed a resident pair, and the nest was surely nearby, just out of sight. “Wow” I thought, and said, “There’s Capt. John!” I promptly told the story of the eight year old boy’s naming the next eagle from the day before.
When I told the group the story, I informed them they had a special opportunity at hand, and could name the female because whomever is on board at the time gets to name the resident pair … as long as it was agreed upon by everyone in the boat. The excited group could only come up with one name for the female bald eagle … Pocahontas. Unfortunately, that name would not work, as I could not agree to call her Pocahontas. Hollywood might want you think Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas were together, but history tells us differently. They were never a ‘couple’, but they did share in the famous story of Capt. John Smith’s telling of his capture by the Chickahominy Indians, and how Pocahontas, the little ten-year-old girl threw herself upon him to save him from the certain death blow of a warrior commanded by her father Chief Powhatan. (End of Part I)
The Photos Stories? Top Right: This shot is potentially Rebecca or John as it was shot in the crossover area between Rebecca & John and Virginia & James. Sometimes when we are in this area, it's hard to tell who is who because the distance between the heart of their territories is so large. This area, near the Jones Neck Cut, is also an area that is often frequented by both summer and winter migratory bald eagles. --Photo by Lynda Richardson
Lower Left: This is a wonderful shot by photographer Carol Hollenbeck, taken during a recent Bald Eagle Tour. This is another image of a bald eagle taken in that same "crossover" area between Virginia & James and Rebecca & John's territories. --Photo by Carol Hollenbeck
Lower Right: A very nice image of a bald eagle taken by photographer Don Keisling. To see more of his work go to www.visionsindigital.net. --Photo by Don Keisling.