Eaglets of Jefferson's Reach 2011 - June Update

Eaglet Update, June 6, 2011.  Today was another important day for the eaglets of Jefferson's Reach on the James.  Of the five pair of resident eagles, I am hopeful that four of the five pair have eaglets.  Today we saw Baba & Pops' eaglet fly for the first time.  'Lee' who was named several weeks ago, flew from the nest to a tree branch about 100 yards from the nest.  We were looking at Lee through binoculars when Baba (Lee's mom) flew to the branch and perched right next to her.  Baba landed with a gizzard shad in her talons.  She started to tear off little chunks of shad and began to feed her young eaglet right there on the branch.  It was an amazing, tender sight. Baba would rip off a small piece of fish, turn her head sideways, and offer it. The fledgling bird would turn it's head and gently receive pieces of fish. Both eagles shared the gizzard shad.  For every two or three pieces of fish she fed her offspring, she would eat a piece of fish.  They shared most of the shad, and at one point, it looked like Baba was trying to get Lee to take the fish from her. These eagles work diligently training their young, as they only have months to go, before the young birds are off on their own, searching the region for new places and new eagle faces.

Three days ago, on Friday, June 3 we saw the first eaglet of the year in Jefferson's Reach take flight.  It was the first time we'd seen this bird, as their nest is out of sight of the river.  The newly named eagle, Miss Laura, an offspring of Virginia & James, flew from the nest and onto a tree branch along the side of the river. This bird is hopefully a female, since she was given a female name, named after one of the ladies on the boat that morning.  It's been about three days since Miss Laura fledged from the nest, and there is a chance that a sibling bird remains in the nest.

As for the rest of the resident eagles in Jefferson's Reach ...  Well, Varina & Enon are still feeding their young, and I expect to see one or both in the next week or so along the river bank.  Their huge nest is about 200 yards from the James, nestled in a pine tree off the south bank of the river.  The nest is currently obscured by the leaves and trees that have filled since early spring.  Varina & Enon have brought a lot of fish back to the nest over the last few months, so I am guessing they have two eaglets.  Last year, they didn't have any.  Not sure why, but they along with Bandit & Smokey in 2010 did not have any young.  This year, I expect to see Rebecca & John's offspring flying along the eastern banks of Varina Plantation soon.  They had a nest on Jones Neck in 2010, and over the fall/winter of 2010/11 they moved their nest to the western side of Deep Bottom onto Varina Plantation.  Rebecca & John are not spotted as often as last year because of the new nest site.  They must have another primary hunting ground and use the old river channel of the James as a secondary hunting area.  Rebecca & John's story is a good one and needs to be told in full. I promise to follow up on their story soon.

Good ole' Bandit & Smokey keep plugging along.  They remain in the largest territory in Jefferson's Reach.  It seems they have been continuously attacked or harassed by intruding bald eagles.  They seem to be missing many feathers often, while none of the other eagles seem to have that problem. Back in the end of February, a pair of bald eagles were harassing these two.  They would fly in and dive on the nest, causing Smokey to fly out in defense.  One of the odd behaviors the intruding eagles would do, is sit in a tree about 100-200 yards from Bandit & Smokey's nest as they sat on their clutch.  These eagles would just sit there, and cause Bandit & Smokey stress.  Bandit & Smokey would sit in the nest, or on the branch just next to the nest and cry out in a sort of eagle call that was more of a wail.  Unfortunately, one day, Bandit & Smokey were off the nest totally.  My guess is that the intruding eagles got into the nest while unguarded and killed the eggs, trying to take over the territory.  Last year, Bandit & Smokey didn't have any young, as their nest fell in February, when they would have had eggs in the nest.  

Overall, there is a possibility of four to six new eaglets in Jefferson's Reach.  In 2010, there were four total eaglets from the five resident pair.  How many will there be this year?  My guess is five, I think Varina & Enon have two sitting in the nest still, and I believe Rebecca & John have one.  Time will tell. --Capt. Mike

The Photo's Stories?  Above Left:  Here is Baba & Lee perched on a branch, high upon a bank along the western side of Deep Bottom.  Baba suddenly appeared next to Lee and began to feed her little pieces of fish.  You can see the gizzard shad in Baba's talons.  This was a pretty cool moment on the James River and luckily I had one of the best nature photographers in the world on the Discovery Barge II at the time!  --Photo by Lynda Richardson

To the Right:  Baba & Pops in all their glory, sitting on two separate branches, while their newly fledged offspring, Lee, remains perched within eyesight of the proud parents.  Something startled the two birds just after this picture was taken.  We never figured out what it was, perhaps it was the subtle call from Lee, calling out for her folks.  This is a great shot of male and female.  The female, Baba is on the lower branch, and you can see how much bigger she is than Pops, the male.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson