Eagle Update, First Fledged Eagle on May 10!

Observations from May 10, 2020. Mother’s Day. “And a fine Mother’s Day it is”, I thought when seeing the first fledged eaglet of the season. Lynda, my wife and staff photographer, spotted it first, perched on a branch of an old, long dead tree. This particular newly fledged eagle must have been the one branching last week in the nest, just across the creek, about a hundred feet away. This eagle was looking somewhat confident and very regal at the age of three months.
I tried every angle of drifting and motoring the Discovery Barge II, trying to get a view of the nest and second young eagle from Henry & Duchess’ clutch. The spring foliage near full and the nest is fully hidden once again. I can only assume the second eagle from this clutch will fledge this week, if not already.
The eagle still in the nest must be watching its sibling from the nest rail. Undoubtedly flapping hard and fast enough to create lift … hopping and momentarily leaving the nest a foot high at a time, hovering and gaining confidence. Perhaps it will hop and flap a little too high on a windy day and a gust of wind catches the wings of the young bird in mid hover and launches it into flight … another fledgling gets christened into the next level of development.
Henry & Duchess arrived on the James in early 2019 and fought two pair of resident eagles (one pair on each side) to ‘carve out’ a territory. They managed to take a few hundred yards of Varina & Enon’s territory, and took over a quarter mile of Bandit & Trey’s territory. Since they secured each end of two territories, they also get the rather large buffer zone, which is the “no fly zone” between eagle territories, thus completing their modest territory. By April 2019, it was apparent these eagles meant business and they began construction of their nest. By the time they finished it was too late to lay eggs, so this year, 2020 is their inaugural breeding season on the river. 
I’ve seen many mated pairs of eagles come into Jefferson’s Reach and try to create a territory. Most of the time, they move on after a couple of days of fighting, and rarely is a pair is successful, let alone raise young on their first try. When I started watching the eagles of Jefferson's Reach, over ten years ago, there were five pair. Now there are eight. Of the three new pair, only Henry & Duchess had a successful breading season on their first chance. Their first fledgling, seen on May 10, is the earliest eagle to leave the nest in the eleven breeding seasons I’ve observed by almost ten days. Amazing success for a new pair. It makes you wonder if Henry & Duchess were displaced by another pair of mated eagles and were forced to find a new territory. Instead of the young new pair of resident mature eagles, at the age of five or six years old, perhaps Henry & Duchess are much older, wiser and experienced.
Another interesting thought is that the two newest pair of resident bald eagles, Henry & Duchess and Barb & Treble have had the two earliest dates noted for their offspring to fledge. Last year Barb & Treble fledged an eagle between May 18 and May 20. I wonder if that is the new normal for the eagles making territories for the first time. Perhaps the new crop of resident eagles will breed sooner and the older pairs of eagles will continue with the seasonal timing of late May and early June fledging.
When an eagle fledges, it’s a joyous moment worthy of celebration, and we celebrate on the Discovery Barge II by naming each of the fledglings. The people on the boat, at the time of fledging get to name the eagle, and the only rule is everyone has to agree, including the Captain. Well, these are not normal times and the naming of the first two eagles, this year, was inspired by a passionate Facebook post by a nurse/photographer/mother, one of many amazing people doing amazing things to help battle Coronavirus.
I was moved by a Facebook Post by Nora Milligan. Nora is an incredible nature photographer and one hell of a nurse. She left the comforts of Richmond, VA and went to New York City to help on the front line of the COVID 19 Pandemic in NYC. While fighting this invisible beast and seeing the horrors of COVID, and the mental toll it takes on her coworkers, nurses, aids and doctors, she sent out a heart felt post on social media. She also included a link to a story about two of her coworkers who killed themselves over the mental stresses they endured. Lorna Breen, an emergency room doctor and John Mondello a rookie Emergency Medical Technician took their lives for the cause.
I was moved by their stories, and send Nora a note of support and thought we should name the first two fledglings this year after these two medical heroes. Lorna & Mondo. Since there is already an eagle named John (resident adult), Mondo seemed like a fitting name for John Mondello. Looking at the fledgling perched early Mother’s Day morning, I thought, “There's Lorna.” Mondo will be named when he leaves the nest. Yeah! for Lorna & Mondo! To read more about Lorna Breen and John Mondello, click here.
Other notes from the morning include a surprising lack of great blue heron nests in a couple of historically productive rookeries, or heronries. The shallow wading great blue heron generally nests in clusters. Often times, many nests a single tree, or spread out over a number of trees in a tight area. Two popular nesting sites for these birds were almost bare. One rookery had three visible nests in the row of sycamore trees that normally housed 20 to 30 nests or more. The other great blue heron rookery had three nests, when normally there are ten or more.
The river is full of surprises, and to see them, you have to keep a sharp eye on things, and often times, recognizing a shape, or a movement and knowing what it is such as a wild turkey flying across the river. Wild turkey often fly, but you have to know what they are and recognize them quickly to enjoy because it’s over before you know it. I pointed one out to Lynda and she turned and fired a few shots of her digital camera off and captured a really nice image.
All birds are beautiful, even vultures. Some of my favorites are birds not often seen, those with brilliant colors like the red of a scarlet tanager or the blue of an indigo bunting. I can’t wait to see my second scarlet tanager, as the first and only sighting was way to quick. Indigo bunting … I love that name. I can’t help but think of a baseball coach going up to one of his ball players and stating, “If Carl gets on, we need to advance him. I’m sending you in to go bunting.”
While you may not like my humor, I hope you enjoy the photo of this indigo bunting we saw on Mother’s Day. Until next week …
Capt. Mike
Photos by Lynda Richardson