A Few Interesting Observations on the James

November 9, 2013.  Yesterday evening we observed something interesting. At the downriver end of Jefferson's Reach, near Jones Neck, we saw five bald eagles ... none of them were resident eagles.  There were three immature and one mature eagle, or very close to adult age.  The fifth was inconclusive as it was pretty far off but looked to be another young eagle.  

I believe the winter migration of bald eagles has started with the arrival of these birds yesterday.  Usually, in the middle of November, when the first blast of cold air arrives, so do the migratory eagles from the north.  This observation occurred on Friday evening, around 4:30pm, November 8, 2013.

Another interesting observation over the last month is the daily presence of osprey.  In the middle of August, the summer resident female osprey began to leave the area, heading south on their annual fall migration.  By early September, just about all the female osprey were gone and many of the male osprey had left. By the middle of September, the rest of the males and all their offspring were our of the area and on their migration.

There were no osprey sightings on the river for a couple of weeks ... then all of the sudden osprey were present again.  

These late run osprey were probably migrating through the area.  I assume they were from the New England area as well as Canadian osprey moving through, also heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico and South America.  Interestingly, there have been osprey observed from the Discovery Barge II (my pontoon boat) nearly everyday I've been on the water over the last two weeks.  Some days we saw up to three.  Three of the last four years, one pair of osprey wintered over at the hot water discharge area behind Farrar's Island, also known as Henricus.  Not sure they were there two years ago, but last year, three years ago, and four years ago they were present.  I think it's pretty interesting osprey are still being observed on the tidal James ... and we saw one today, November 9, 2013, about 10am, on the east side of Varina Farms.

Personally, I can't wait for their return in the first week of March 2014.  

To the left is a wonderful image of a resident eagle taken today by photographer Kay Rankin.  A flurry of cowbirds swarmed around this eagle (named Varina) who just left her perch high on a bluff, from the top of a loblolly pine tree.  Great shot Kay!!!  

In this photo, Varina is in the process of expanding her territory.  

Over the last year and a half, between November and early January, before the resident bald eagles lay their eggs, resident eagles have been testing their boundaries, looking to potentially expand where they can.  It only happens where a large buffer zone is present between two occupied territories, or there is an unoccupied area next to an eagle's territory (there is only one of these unoccupied areas that I know of).  I would have to say the difference between a 'large buffer zone' and an 'unoccupied territory' would simply be the size. A large buffer zone would not be large enough to become another eagle's territory where an unoccupied territory would be large enough to become home to another pair of mated eagles.

Varina is the female eagle that resides just east of the Varina-Enon Bridge and she was seen flying upriver, beyond the bridge and into the pine tree about 1/8 mile to the west of the bridge, beyond her normal boundary.  This was observed today, November 9, 2013 around 10am and it's the first time I have seen Varina or her mate, Enon, "perch" on a tree west of the bridge. Late last year, early in January of this year, and over the last couple of weeks, Varina & Enon have been observed flying west of the bridge, outside of their normal territorial boundary.  I believe they are in the process of extending their territory, west, towards the River's Bend Golf Course. There is a creek mouth on the James, and a creek that runs up into the golf course and leads to a lake.  I do believe they are claiming this area as their territory. Technically, it's the east side of Bandit & the Duke's territory, but they never use it.  They just do not fly that far east.  So that area really is a 'Large Buffer Zone' between the two occupied territories.  

As for whether or not Varina & Enon's territory will expand ... time will tell and I will keep my eyes out.  Good stuff!!  

Note: Baba & Pops, the resident pair of bald eagles near Deep Bottom, seem to be extending their territory downriver of Four Mile Creek.  They are potentially expanding into an unoccupied territory.  (More to come as both stories develop).  

Capt. Mike