Eagle Update, April 26, 2020

It was a cool and calm morning on the river yesterday, Sunday, April 26, 2020. Not working due to the COVID pandemic has me perplexed as to what day of the week it is let alone what date. All I can tell you is Sundays are my river days to check on the eagles. Yesterday, just after leaving Bandit & Trey's territory, I received a text from a friend, Stephon Sterns. He asked me to wish Bandit a Happy Birthday the next time I saw her. My processers were running at full speed and I realized, "Hey! It's April 26 ... Bandit's birthday!" What a great day to be on the water, and four hours later, on my way back to the dock, I wished her, out loud, "Happy 15th Birthday!" from Stephon and his family as she perched high in an old dead oak tree with her mate Trey. I managed a pretty good photo of her as seen to the right ... not bad for a cell phone!!
The wisteria blooms have faded and the crossvine flowers didn’t appear to be as prominent along the shoreline. Both add beautiful colors to any scene, and occasionally a warbler will land within the wisteria’s purple flowers or the crossvine’s yellow flowers with deep red throats …. a ready-made moment for photo of the week. 
I floated silently, with the engine off for long periods, listening for different warbler calls. The activity was low based on how few birds were calling, especially in areas that attract many species. Even the prothonotary warblers were quiet. These beautiful, bright yellow birds and their loud calls are (usually) everywhere along the river banks. Perhaps it was the long night of rain we had.
It occurred to me, about an hour into my solo journey that this was the first time (ever) I did a full Eagle Tour of Jefferson’s Reach by myself. I spent four hours slowly cruising the river watching and taking in as much as I could. It was amazing to see the birds without talking about them and it didn’t take long to realize this trip was different. I had a heightened appreciation for what I was doing, almost like I was the passenger and not the captain. My boat’s first mate, photographer (and wife), Lynda, was unable to join me and while initially that seemed like a bummer … it turned out to be a deep, appreciated personal event. As Captain, Passenger and Photographer for the day, I took pictures with my cell phone. Some of them came out pretty nice and since these are my photos, and being a photography-dark-room guy from way back, I’ve converted them Black and White … a return of sorts to an old passion.  i hope it works!
I did find out another piece of the puzzle this week, and that is how many chicks Baba & Pops have in the nest. The nest is only visible if you are hiking and put yourself in the right spot (publicly available). The Discovery Barge II has many eyes on the river, including two of the best … Barbara Houston and Judy Jones. They are becoming part eagle with the amount of time they spendphotographing and learning about them. Barbara and Judy, each sent a photo that shows two large eaglets on Baba & Pops’ nest. Historically, the pair has raised two chicks during the breeding season more often than not over the eleven years of observations. 
There was no sign of Rebecca & John, so still no answer of a successful breeding season. The two pair with no activity at the nest were quiet. Virginia & James were not present and Varina & Enon were perched together, quietly watching over their domain. Dark Beak & Merry were full of life, flying from shoreline to shoreline chasing off intruders. They seemed to be the only ones bothered by intruders during today's observations … much different than last week when many pairs were harrassed by interlopers scattered throughout Jefferson’s Reach.
Two nests are visible of the eight territories and I had good views of both. The size of the eaglets is surprising. From the river, the nests are a pretty good distance away, and the eaglets look to be the size of the adults. Barb & Treble had one of their two chicks perched up on the nest rail. Last year Barb & Treble were the first to produce fledglings and perhaps they will again this year. Henry & Duchess had one of their offspring, perhaps a little more advanced in the process of fledging. One of their young was perched up and outside of the nest on a large limb. When an eaglet gets closer to fledging they will leave the safety of the nest and begin to explore the outer branches around the nest. This process is called “branching”, and is another step closer to fledging, or flying for the first time. To think about first flight .. wow … how incredible that must be! To take flight with keen eyesight and see the surroundings, the parents and nest from such a different angle ... to be in that moment of the unknown. But then again, flying is just another step into the eagle’s life. It will eventually leave its parent’s territory and have to elude the attacks of other eagles, and survive harsh winters, hurricanes, heat waves, manmade structures, accidental poison ingestion and other challenges to become the next wave of resident bald eagles. Flying, a natural element of being an eagle, seems easy compared to the challenges to be faced over the next four to five years. That’s how long it takes an eagle to become fully mature, with a full white head and tail and dark brown body ... ready to find a mate and secure a territory, ideally for life.
April 26 … Bandit’s Birthday! Or Hatchday to be more appropriate. On April 26, 2005, an egg hatched in the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama. Fifteen years, eleven breeding seasons and three mates later, Bandit is thriving on her island and the surrounding shorelines of Henrico and Chesterfield counties. At this moment, Bandit & Trey are tending to their brood at the nest. How many eaglets do they have is a great question and should be answered in the next few weeks. All the resident pair of eagles that were in the running for “Eagle Parents of the Year” last week are still in the running. No changes.
Osprey continue to amaze with their hyper territorial actions after laying their eggs. Bob Jr. & Lilly, who nest across the river from Henry & Duchess continue to fly the entire width of the river when Henry or Duchess leave the treeline and venture out over the river. The osprey are relentless and will harass the eagles all the way back to their side of the river, but not quite to their nest. Osprey use their speed and agility and dive towards the eagles over and over, whether the eagle is in flight or perched on a limb. When perched, if and eagle is in the open, the osprey will continue to dive bomb over and over, like a pesky mosquito, until the eagle leaves its perch, or moves deeper into the tree with some sort of limb and leaf cover.  When both are in flight, the osprey makes a move, generally from above, and dives downward, toward the eagle. As it closes in, the eagle will flip upside down, extend its talons up and out in the direction of the attack, which causes the osprey to abort. After the immediate threat is over, the eagle continues its turn and either completes a full 360 degree, circular turn, or will flip back the way it began and do a 180 flip, then a 180 back. It is incredible to see the speed and accuracy of how fast an eagle can go from right side up to upside down ... in a split second. Some photographers capture it, but for me with my cell phone, I didn’t even try, I just watched.
All the osprey pairs in Jefferson’s Reach are sitting on eggs now, except one pair. They seem to be done constructing their nest, so it’s just a matter of days now for an egg to be laid.  Another pair has been sitting on eggs for over a week now, and their nest seems to be hovering over the river, built on the tiniest of branches. A strong southeast wind could cause real problems for them. You can see the nest in the photo to the left. 
Walter & Annie are doing wonderful. They became my favorite pair of osprey years ago when it was apparent they ‘both’ were the first osprey back from migration. Not one, but both! Usually by March 1 both would be back at the nest site instantly gathering branches. Because they arrive early year after year, this could be an indication their migration south is not as far south as others.  Many osprey migrate deep into South America. They are a constant on the river and very interesting pair. If you get a chance to check out a documentary called, Expedition Chesapeake, Walter & Annie are the osprey featured in that program. Expedition Chesapeake highlights seven different species within the Bay system, osprey being one of them.
Last but not least, I spotted Charlize the Heron in her feeding territory. She has been there the last two Sundays and I captured an interesting shot of her hoping from one piling to another. The river is alive with millions of herring and shad spawning throughout the James and its tributaries. The miner bees will be emerging soon and the many bird species are searching for nest sites, building nests, laying eggs, incubating eggs or feeding young, all trying to survive, facing daily challenges and move forward towards success of their specie.  Sounds kinda familiar .. until next week.
Capt. Mike