The Honoring of a Friend on the River
The James River is full of life, history, and opportunities including the opportunity to forge special friendships. In mid 2009 through the end of 2010 I enjoyed a brief but powerful friendship with Danny Jefferson. Danny was a Chickahominy Indian, and a respected man of their Tribal Council and very active in the community.
He was direct and very observant and was the kind of guy that would teach you things when you didn't even know you were learning. Something I'll never forget ... the evening of December 12, he called to say, "I saw you grow on the water this past year, I just want you to know that ... I saw you with my own eyes." The next day, Danny walked on December 13, 2010.
He taught me a lot about bald eagles, but that evening after we talked I realized he taught me a few things about life along the way. Now he will always be a part of who I am becoming. I wanted to find a way to honor Danny on the River. Something deep and spiritual because that was the kind of guy he was.
People always ask me where I run my eagle tours. I always say on the James River between Deep Bottom Boat Landing and the Richmond Yacht Basin. It's about a five-mile stretch, half of which is in the parts of two oxbows (Jones Neck and Hatcher Island) and the other half is the main river that connects them. In that reach of river live five pair of resident bald eagles which happen to be the ones I follow most of the time. That is the area Danny and I worked together.
I found a way to honor Danny Jefferson in my work. I believe naming natural things gets you closer to them; it helps them become more familiar. The stretch of the James River between Deep Bottom and the Richmond Yacht Basin now has a name ... I have started to call it, 'Jefferson's Reach'. That is the exact area Danny 'reached' out to me and the lucky folks we carried out on the river on the Discovery Barge II.
Now when people ask where I work, I can proclaim Jefferson's Reach on the James. Or when out on the river, I can let people know we are in Jefferson's Reach. What a perfect segue into talking about history, eagles, and Virginia Indians. -- Capt. Mike
The Photos Stories? Top Right: This is an image that always reminded me of Danny and the great history of the James River. You can go back as far in time as you wish in this image. The sunrise has not changed in eons.
Bottom Left: This is a necklace Danny made and presented it to me on the Discovery Barge II, after a Capt. John Smith Watertrail tour. The necklace is made of bones, beads, copper, sinew, wampum and the centerpiece is a 'scute' from an Atlantic Sturgeon. The rattail at the top is Danny's signature. To learn about Atlantic Sturgeon, click here.
This story is about a guy named Warren Foster (seen in silhouette) and the bald eagles we have been watching. I first saw Warren's name about four years ago on a sign on the portage trail at Williams Island, a 95-acre island in the middle of the James River near Pony Pasture. Since then, Warren and I have become good friends and lately we have been trying to make a connection with a pair of eagles on the northbank of the river, opposite his island.
Williams Island lies in the center of the City of Richmond and it has unofficially been renamed Warren's Island. Why? Because Warren has tirelessly been grooming the portage trail on the island for years and has been working on a path that starts at the Z-Dam on the southside and ends at Williams Dam on the northeastern side of the island. For his volunteer cleanup efforts over the years, in 2010, the James River Advisory Council named Warren the "Guardian of The River" at their annual awards ceremony.
Behind Warren's Island, on the north bank of the river lives a pair of bald eagles, Thunderhawk & Lightning. If you look at the image with three distinct pine trees, you can see their nest in the pine tree on the left (See the close up shot of the tree below-left). One of the eagles is perched in the tree to the right ... but with this small image, it's hard to tell. Look for the black speck to the right of the trunk. The nice thing about these eagles, is that they are right around the corner from my house, or should I say, right around the river bend. Anytime now they will hopefully begin to nest and start incubating an egg or two.
With any luck, this established pair of eagles will have young eaglets and add to the growing population of Richmond, Virginia's bald eagles. Or add to the population temporarily, as the young eaglets will fly off on their own this fall. There is also a pair that seems to be nesting about a mile or two downriver, near the Nickel Bridge. Look for more reports to come ... --Capt. Mike
January 16, 2011. Today was the first day on the James River in a few days and I was happy to see the resident bald eagles back in their regular spots. There were a few migratory eagles in the area and over the course of the day we saw approximately 30 bald eagles. About half were residents, and half migratory.
Of the five pair of resident eagle that are regularly followed, only two nests are now visible ... Baba & Pops and Bandit & Smokey (Virginia & James' nest fell back in the fall and they rebuilt further inland). Any day now, they will begin to nest. Soon the resident eagles will lay eggs and the historic number of successful eaglets will continue to rise. In the last 34 years, over 10,092 chicks were documented by the Center for Conservation Biology. In 2010, 8.7% of those chicks were produced and over 70% of that number has been produced in the last 10 years. Amazing and awesome work by our bald eagles.
This past Sunday I took out a couple of groups of photographers from the Richmond Photography Meetup Group. This is a pretty amazing group of photographers and I'm amazed at the number of members. Over 300 I believe in total. The three images in this article were taken by some of their members during the day on Sunday. What wonderful work. If you are interested in learning more about this group, check out the following webiste: http://www.meetup.com/richmondphotography/photos/1222620/. If you are at all interested in nature photography, this is great group of people. --Capt. Mike
The photo's stories? Top right: Here is one of the migratory eagles we saw this past Sunday. Notice the beautiful markings of this sub-adult bald eagle. The head is starting to turn white, and the tail will soon follow while the wings and body will begin to fill in solid brown. Photo by Dave Parrish from the Richmond Meetup Group.
Top left: Interesting angle of a mature bald eagle. Here's looking at you! Photo by Marlene Frazier from the Richmond Photo Meetup Group.
To the right: By looking at the markings on the left wing (bottom in photo) I believe this is the same sub-adult bald eagle as in the top left photo. Notice the white starting to show in the tail feathers, and you really get a great sense of how the head is starting to turn white. The bill is also yellow which indicates a bird in or around its 4th year. Wonderful example of an eagle that is approaching maturity. Photo by Dave Parrish from the Richmond Meetup Group.
January 8, 2011. During the last days of 2010 and the first week of 2011, I counted 20 to 50 eagles each time I was on a short two mile stretch of river. Then things changed. While out on the James River on January 8, I noticed some interesting eagle activity. In a way, it was expected, but still interesting. The huge group of migratory bald eagles that have been hanging out along the main channel between Henricus Park and Jones Neck (near Deep Bottom) have left the area.
This happened sometime between January 5 and January 8. The eagles moved out of the area sometime between January 5 and Januarto another part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, perhaps further down the James. I didn't travel beyond Jones Neck, so they could be just downriver near Presquile Island ... as close as a couple of miles away, but for certain, they are not where they have been.
The migratory eagle count dropped to about three and I finally noticed some of the resident bald eagles back to their old habits. What is interesting about this, is that when the migratory bald eagles took over the territories of Varina & Enon and Virginia & James, these two pair of resident eagles backed off and gave the migratory birds full run of their territories. Now they have their territories back and I recognized both Varina & Enon and either Virginia or James.
The first thing I noticed as I was coming downriver, past the 295 bridge was two mature bald eagles perched in the top of tree on the southside of the river. Varina & Enon's favorite hang out. I slowed down to say hello as we passed them, Varina flew off her branch, came out towards us, and gave all of us on board a wonderful fly over. It is so cool when these birds fly near the boat and turn their heads and look right down at us. When this bird did this, it had to be a resident bird, it was Varina. The entire time the migratory birds were in the area, we had no close encounters. No fly overs. So, it seems, that things are back to normal very quickly. I was so glad to see Varina & Enon back and look forward to seeing them next week. I'll be on the river quite a few days next week with a couple of eagle tours and a couple of fishing trips. Look for a full wildlife & fishing report by the end of next week. --Capt. Mike
The photo's story? This is a wonderful image of Varina taken recently by wildlife photographer, Ricky Simpson, www.ssdsigns.com. -- Photo by Ricky Simpson
January 1, 2011. How can you start the year off better than fishing and eagle watching on the James River? And to fish with a guy named Joe Bass, I mean, how cool of a name is that for an angler? Joe fished with his longtime friend, Bob, (shown in image). Both guys are hold pretty big fish. Joe's holding a 20 pounder and Bob's hoisting a blue cat of 37 pounds. Both fish were on at the same time too! Big fish of the day, though, was caught by Joe ... a 48 pounder!
The highlight of the day, though was catching a five pound fish out of 39 degree water which we filited and ate for lunch. After the 'shore lunch' on the pontoon boat the guys were ready to take a couple of filets home for eating. Deeeelicious!
What you can't see in this image are all the bald eagles that seemed to be around us all day long. I've never seen so many bald eagles 'perched' in trees. They didn't seem to fly much today, except to go from tree to tree. Occasionally, they'd fly around the river in search of a meal, but for the most part they sat content in the branches of trees along the riverbanks. What made this day so unique was the constant calls we'd hear from these great birds. All day long ... that high pitched chirp. We heard over 100 bald eagle calls this day, it was phenomenal.
NOTE: Here is something pretty cool if you want to hear what an eagle sounds like. Click here and it'll take you to a site that has about 10 bald eagle calls on it. Not like hearing and seeing on in nature, but it's close.
January 6, 2011. Warren Foster and I took a ride out on the non tidal James yesterday in the Discovery Gheenoe. I love my little boat with it's amazing 20-year old 5hp motor which starts on the first pull 85% of the time. The other 15% it's the second pull. We traveled downriver to Warren's Island (Williams Island really, but Warren does so much volunteer work on the island that many of his friends call it Warren's Island). Around the backside of the island lives a pair of resident bald eagles. You have to know exactly where their nest is to see them, but once you see it, it's unmistakable. They should nest soon, and will hopefully have a successful breeding season, and we'll have a young eaglet flying around in about four and a half months. We didn't see either Thunderhawk or Lightning, probably because of the noise being created by a backhoe loading giant rocks & boulders into the side of the canal. Lots of noise. If I were an eagle, I sure wouldn't want to be around all that noise. Hopefully that project will finish asap. I'll keep you updated on their nesting.