High Winds ... Eagle's Nests OK

February 20 & 21, 2011

I remember the first time observing an eagle's nest falling. It was high, up on a bluff in the top of a pine tree. After confirming it was indeed on the ground, I called the Center for Conservation Biology, and at the end of my ramble, almost like calling in a 911 call for eagles, they said, "Sir, it's ok, eagle's nests fall, and they'll be fine. They will rebuild." I felt a little embarrassed, but what the heck, I learned something. Over the last year the three eagle's nests visible from the river in Jefferson's Reach all fell at some point due to high winds. Two of the nests were rebuilt in the same tree, while the third was built further off the riverbank, too far to be seen from the river. Needless to say, after all the high winds we had over the last week, I was curious to see if Bandit & Smokey and Baba & Pops still had their nests intact.

This past Sunday was my first venture back on the James to observe eagles in almost a week. I was hoping the five pair of resident bald eagles didn't experience problems due to the extreme weather. I backed the Discovery Barge II out of the slip and cruised slowly downriver, soaking in the early morning air and loving every hue in the wonderful colors in the sky. We lost sight of the Richmond Yacht Basin and proceeded around the bend toward Henricus ... onward to Bandit & Smokey's nest location. Their nest is in a precarious location. They built far out on a limb of in an old oak tree. This was the nest I was worried about most, but it was fine. Bandit was keeping a watchful eye out as she perched on a nearby tree, while Smokey hunkered down, incubating their clutch.

We motored into the main channel and proceeded downriver and beneath the Varina-Enon Bridge. Again, we were treated to a promising observation. Enon was perched high on a leafless oak tree along the southside of the river, which was a sign that all is still good with Varina & Enon's nest. Varina was hopefully incubating their eggs in a nest that is located somewhere out of sight of the river. I have yet to see their nest, but I'm determined to find it some day in the future. Continuing downriver towards Virginia & James' nest we saw two immature bald eagles, perhaps some of the last remaining migratory eagles in Jefferson's Reach for the 2011 winter season. 

This Winter the immature bald eagles often delighted us with an interesting behavior. We often noticed two immature eagles paired and playing in flight. It happened often enough to makes me wonder if these young bald eagles are attempting to find a mate during the maturing process. it's just a thought, and probably not the cast, but one that I will continue thinking about for years to come.

We arrived in Virginia & James' territory, and there was one eagle hunting on the river, again a great sign that all three pairs are still enjoying a successful breeding season. We neared the Jones Neck cut and turned left into the old river channel, heading towards Deep Bottom and into Rebecca & Capt. John's territory. The past two trips, we had not seen either bird and the last observation of either was about ten days ago. Rebecca & Capt. John are a curious pair, as they may actually have two nests they occupy. Interestingly these two birds have not been in their favorite perches at all this year. Their nest is not visible from the river, so it's impossible to tell whether or not it's being occupied. Once the Center for Conservation Biology does their semi-annual fly over, counting eagle nests, we may be able to find out for certain, but it could be that Rebecca & Capt. John are hunting the inland ponds on Jones Neck.  It's interesting that they have been sporadic in their sightings. Time will tell ... time always tells. 

Lastly, we arrived at the nest site of Baba & Pops. We looked high up on the hill into the top of their pine tree, and lo and behold, the nest was in perfect condition! One of these beautiful eagles was nestled on top of their clutch. There is no telling how many eggs any of these pairs of eagles have, but I can confidently say that four out of five pair are incubating eggs.  The fifth pair may very well be, but their sightings have just not been consistent enough to say a definite yes.   

--Capt. Mike

Eagle image by Lindy Thackston