Bald Eagles of Jefferson's Reach: January 1, 2012 vs. January 1, 2011

January 1, 2012.   Today is the beginning of the New Year, 2012. I have to say a long morning on the James River, watching bald eagles is a pretty good start. One thing comes to mind after today’s journey on the river. The sheer difference in numbers of eagles this year versus last year in Jefferson’s Reach.

First is the difference in the number of eagles on this year New Year’s Day and last years. On January 1, 2011 the main river channel in Jefferson’s Reach was flooded with migratory bald eagles. There were over 50 in a mile and half stretch, from the Varina-Enon Bridge (I-295) to the Jones Neck cut. The reason is pretty clear, I believe, and it’s temperature. Last year, the end of December was much colder. Today and yesterday were days where the high temps were in the 60’s! That’s amazingly warm for this time of year. The colder the weather, the more eagles we have in the area, as the cold air drives the migratory eagles further south into our area. 

Here is an example of the difference …

This year, 1/1/12: There is some migratory eagle activity in the area, but not much as of yet, and here is a good example of the difference. Over the last month, on most trips we may see three to ten migratory birds. On some trips we may not see any in Jefferson’s Reach. Today, I believe we saw ten or so migratory birds and that was over the course of two trips through the five mile stretch of Jefferson’s Reach, and proceeding downriver towards Turkey Island.   
Last year, 1/1/11: On January 1, 2011, I experienced a day on the river I termed, “The Day of 100 Eagle Calls.”  Here is an excerpt from my blog from last year …
 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.” 
A couple more notes on the day, to hear what a bald eagle sounds like, click here, to go to a website that offers a series of bald eagle calls. Some of them are pretty good, some are not very clear, but regardless, they are all bald eagles. 
To close, I hope you enjoy the photos is today's blog entry.  My wife, Lynda Richardson, was on the boat today to take a few wonderful images to start of the year right. The images seen in the post were all taken today, January 1, 2012, with three being mature residents of Jefferson’s Reach and the other an immature eagle that was flying near Virginia & James, and may have been one of their eaglets from a few years ago.  –Capt. Mike
The Photos Stories?  Top, Right:  This is an explosive shot of Varina, one of the pair of birds that lives just east of the Varina-Enon Bridge.  This bird loves to dance around, flying back and forth over the river.  An interesting note about this bird is the James River's main channel, where they perch nearly all the time, is the only body of water in their territory.  All the other birds in Jefferson's Reach have some other body of water to hunt, most of which are inland ponds off the James River.  They had previously been mined of sand and or gravel.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson
Top, Left:  This is a great shot of Virginia, just after the catch.  Virginia & James live just east of Varina & Enon.  Their territorial lines are drawn like lines in the sand.  If one of the birds crosses it, and the other pair sees it, watch out!  There will be an aggressive flight pattern, direct and fast towards the offending eagle.  It's pretty neat to watch as they always seem to be testing each other's wills.  As of yet, I have only seen aggressive flight patterns and no actual contact, thankfully.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson

Above, Left: Just after Virginia captured that fish, above, an immature bird flew into the area.  It would be easy to say it was just a migratory bird, and it may have been.  But the way the two mature eagles were acting (Virginia & James), this immature bird could have been one of their chicks from three years ago.  Looking at this immature bird, you can see how the head seems to be starting to lighten up as the body is darkening, which is indicative of a bird in the three year, perhaps four year range.  Bald Eagles take four to five years to become fully mature with the white head & tail, with dark brown body and wings.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson

Bottom, Right:  Baba & Pops are such great birds.  They have a huge nest visible from the river near Deep Bottom.  They seem to be expert nest builders.  When their last nest was damaged by Hurricane Irene, they were instantly on the task of rebuilding. Here, Pops is flying towards the shoreline just after snatching a dead gizzards shad from the surface of the river.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson