Eagle Update, May 3, 2020

May 3, 2020

I motored my pontoon boat out of the slip at the Richmond Yacht Basin and into the flood waters. The morning was bright with full sun that had already risen above the trees. The browns, blues and greens popped, like big elements of a painting ... almost a color overload. Hundreds of hues so prominent in every field of view dominated by the muddy brown James, just two days removed from another moderate flood … nearly 14 feet at the Westham Gage. The green of the vines, shrubs and trees back lit by the bright blue sky, so vibrant and alive. And by mid-morning, as the clouds overtook the blue sky and dulled some of the colors, others began to pop as we came closer to the shorelines with deeper water. The ferns came to life. It was awesome.

Overall, the eagles were quiet and no news on the breeding front, which is also good news. The four pair of resident eagles are still raising young as all made flights back to the nest. Soon, the eaglets will be taking their first flight (fledging) with the expected date of the first eaglet to fledge around May 20. The two nests that can be seen from the river both had eaglets visible on them. Barb & Treble’s nest, is easily seen and were both on the nest, with their two, large offspring. One adult perched on a limb outside of the nest while the other three were in the nest, each one feeding, probably on some type of carrion brought back to the nest from a field, or a catfish or shad brought in from the river.

The eagle/osprey encounters were few. I did watch Varina & Enon as they perched high in their territory, keeping a keen eye on the osprey hunting for fish. As soon as one would catch a fish, one of the eagles was off for the chase. The first two attempts, the eagles failed in stealing the fish. They caused the osprey to drop their catch in the river at the first close encounter/attack. On the third attempt, the eagles gave the osprey a head start. I’ve seen eagles give the osprey head starts before, but today I wondered if the eagles know which osprey is which. For example, if Bob Jr. or Lilly, the pair of osprey upriver of Varina & Enon are fishing downriver and catch one, perhaps Varina & Enon (eagles) are waiting for Bob Jr. or Lilly (osprey) to fly upriver, back toward their nest, passing closer to the perched eagles, making the flight to steal the fish a much shorter distance. 

I believe the eagles know each osprey that nest close by. Somehow they can distinguish the differences between the osprey, and pehaps it's as simple as looking them in the eye. I can only think of one eagle territory in Jefferson’s Reach that has more than three osprey nests within it … Virginia & James. With that thought, an eagle would really only have to recognize four to six osprey when are working the river, hunting the shallows for fish. At times, there are other osprey moving up and down the river, but overall, I believe they recognize each of the nearby nesting osprey. Eagles are smart, have incredible eye sight and they remember. 

Speaking of the osprey, that nest I spoke about last week … the one precariously balanced/built on the outskirts of a sycamore tree has fallen. They were incubating eggs, and it’s the second year in a row, their nest has fallen, only this time it was much earlier in the incubation period and while they have already started to rebuid (nearly in the same spot again!), perhaps they will have time for another clutch.

Curiously, these osprey need names. Whomever reads this should submit names for these osprey below and we can get them named for next week. The naming of birds always happens on the boat, but this seems like a fine time to change that up. No other changes in the other osprey in Jefferson's Reach nests, except the one still being built last week now seems to be finished. There did not appear to be an osprey incubating eggs yet, so perhaps next week …

Other notes on the river include seeing the minor bees along the south facing bluffs starting to emerge. This colony I’ve watched for years has thousands of bees ready to emerge in late April and early May, but this particular morning only a few were active. The temperature was warm, so I expect if they had emerged, they would have been active, so perhaps the colony as a whole is just a little late as compared to last year. Next week should be a different story, especially if the morning is a warm one. I like to motor the Discovery Barge II slowly, pull up to the bluff, turn off the motor and listen. The hum of 1000’s of minor bees buzzing along the bluff and the sound bouncing off the hard pack sand/silt is amazingly loud, especially when you cup your ears and face them. The male minor bee lives for about four weeks as an adult while the females will live up to six weeks.  By July 4, they are long gone until next year, late April and May of 2021.

The Prothonotary Warblers were quite active this week. These tiny birds sure pack a punch with the loud calls they exude. We spotted some high in the trees as well, and a couple along the bank, some in pockets of light such as the one in the photo to the right. Click here to be transferred to the Audubon Field Guide website and listen to the sound of a Prothonotary Warbler. Scroll down the page, on the right side you will find 'Songs and Calls'. Click those calss. 

The great blue heron eggs are starting to hatch and many heron are starting to spend a little more time in their feeding territories. I saw Charlize the Heron fly into her feeding territory to feed on small shad. Charlize is an interesting bird as she will let you get close. The photo (upper right) is her after going into the water to get a fish to eat. Once they eat, often times, they’ll drink some river water, then ‘rouse’.  Rousing is when a bird fluffs its feathers out, shakes the water off and then settles back to normal feather placement. The stop action of these birds during a rousing moment can be quite fun to view.

All in all, it was a quiet morning on the river. Even without the usual activity level, there is always so much more going on within the ecosystem. Add in some of the amazing "Jefferson's Reach" history, well, that is one fine morning full of things to think and talk about. Until next week ….

Capt. Mike