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Eagles Behind Warren's Island

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 01/21/2011 - 14:17

This story is about a guy named Warren Foster (seen in silhouette) and the bald eagles we have been watching.  I first saw Warren's name about four years ago on a sign on the portage trail at Williams Island, a 95-acre island in the middle of the James River near Pony Pasture.  Since then, Warren and I have become good friends and lately we have been trying to make a connection with a pair of eagles on the northbank of the river, opposite his island.

Williams Island lies in the center of the City of Richmond and it has unofficially been renamed Warren's Island.  Why?  Because Warren has tirelessly been grooming the portage trail on the island for years and has been working on a path that starts at the Z-Dam on the southside and ends at Williams Dam on the northeastern side of the island.  For his volunteer cleanup efforts over the years, in 2010, the James River Advisory Council named Warren the "Guardian of The River" at their annual awards ceremony.

Behind Warren's Island, on the north bank of the river lives a pair of bald eagles, Thunderhawk & Lightning.  If you look at the image with three distinct pine trees, you can see their nest in the pine tree on the left (See the close up shot of the tree below-left).  One of the eagles is perched in the tree to the right ... but with this small image, it's hard to tell.  Look for the black speck to the right of the trunk.  The nice thing about these eagles, is that they are right around the corner from my house, or should I say, right around the river bend.  Anytime now they will hopefully begin to nest and start incubating an egg or two. 

With any luck, this established pair of eagles will have young eaglets and add to the growing population of Richmond, Virginia's bald eagles.  Or add to the population temporarily, as the young eaglets will fly off on their own this fall.  There is also a pair that seems to be nesting about a mile or two downriver, near the Nickel Bridge.  Look for more reports to come ...  --Capt. Mike

Richmond Photography Meetup Group

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Tue, 01/18/2011 - 17:40

January 16, 2011.  Today was the first day on the James River in a few days and I was happy to see the resident bald eagles back in their regular spots.  There were a few migratory eagles in the area and over the course of the day we saw approximately 30 bald eagles.  About half were residents, and half migratory.

Of the five pair of resident eagle that are regularly followed, only two nests are now visible ... Baba & Pops and Bandit & Smokey (Virginia & James' nest fell back in the fall and they rebuilt further inland).  Any day now, they will begin to nest.  Soon the resident eagles will lay eggs and the historic number of successful eaglets will continue to rise.  In the last 34 years, over 10,092 chicks were documented by the Center for Conservation Biology.  In 2010, 8.7% of those chicks were produced and over 70% of that number has been produced in the last 10 years.  Amazing and awesome work by our bald eagles.

This past Sunday I took out a couple of groups of photographers from the Richmond Photography Meetup Group.  This is a pretty amazing group of photographers and I'm amazed at the number of members.  Over 300 I believe in total.  The three images in this article were taken by some of their members during the day on Sunday.  What wonderful work.  If you are interested in learning more about this group, check out the following webiste:  If you are at all interested in nature photography, this is great group of people.  --Capt. Mike

The photo's stories?  Top right:  Here is one of the migratory eagles we saw this past Sunday.  Notice the beautiful markings of this sub-adult bald eagle.  The head is starting to turn white, and the tail will soon follow while the wings and body will begin to fill in solid brown.  Photo by Dave Parrish from the Richmond Meetup Group.

Top left:  Interesting angle of a mature bald eagle.  Here's looking at you!  Photo by Marlene Frazier from the Richmond Photo Meetup Group. 

To the right:  By looking at the markings on the left wing (bottom in photo) I believe this is the same sub-adult bald eagle as in the top left photo.  Notice the white starting to show in the tail feathers, and you really get a great sense of how the head is starting to turn white.  The bill is also yellow which indicates a bird in or around its 4th year.  Wonderful example of an eagle that is approaching maturity.  Photo by Dave Parrish from the Richmond Meetup Group.



Interesting Eagle Activity

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Thu, 01/13/2011 - 18:58

January 8, 2011. During the last days of 2010 and the first week of 2011, I counted 20 to 50 eagles each time I was on a short two mile stretch of river.  Then things changed.  While out on the James River on January 8, I noticed some interesting eagle activity.  In a way, it was expected, but still interesting.  The huge group of migratory bald eagles that have been hanging out along the main channel between Henricus Park and Jones Neck (near Deep Bottom) have left the area. 

This happened sometime between January 5 and January 8.  The eagles moved out of the area sometime between January 5 and Januarto another part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, perhaps further down the James.  I didn't travel beyond Jones Neck, so they could be just downriver near Presquile Island ... as close as a couple of miles away, but for certain, they are not where they have been.  

The migratory eagle count dropped to about three and I finally noticed some of the resident bald eagles back to their old habits.  What is interesting about this, is that when the migratory bald eagles took over the territories of Varina & Enon and Virginia & James, these two pair of resident eagles backed off and gave the migratory birds full run of their territories.  Now they have their territories back and I recognized both Varina & Enon and either Virginia or James

The first thing I noticed as I was coming downriver, past the 295 bridge was two mature bald eagles perched in the top of tree on the southside of the river.  Varina & Enon's favorite hang out.  I slowed down to say hello as we passed them, Varina flew off her branch, came out towards us, and gave all of us on board a wonderful fly over.  It is so cool when these birds fly near the boat and turn their heads and look right down at us.  When this bird did this, it had to be a resident bird, it was Varina.  The entire time the migratory birds were in the area, we had no close encounters.  No fly overs.  So, it seems, that things are back to normal very quickly.  I was so glad to see Varina & Enon back and look forward to seeing them next week.  I'll be on the river quite a few days next week with a couple of eagle tours and a couple of fishing trips.  Look for a full wildlife & fishing report by the end of next week.  --Capt. Mike

The photo's story?  This is a wonderful image of Varina taken recently by wildlife photographer, Ricky Simpson,  -- Photo by Ricky Simpson

2011 Starts Off Right

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 17:57

January 1, 2011. How can you start the year off better than fishing and eagle watching on the James River?  And to fish with a guy named Joe Bass, I mean, how cool of a name is that for an angler?  Joe fished with his longtime friend, Bob, (shown in image).  Both guys are hold pretty big fish.   Joe's holding a 20 pounder and Bob's hoisting a blue cat of 37 pounds.  Both fish were on at the same time too!  Big fish of the day, though, was caught by Joe ... a 48 pounder! 

The highlight of the day, though was catching a five pound fish out of 39 degree water which we filited and ate for lunch.  After the 'shore lunch' on the pontoon boat the guys were ready to take a couple of filets home for eating. Deeeelicious!

What you can't see in this image are all the bald eagles that seemed to be around us all day long.  I've never seen so many bald eagles 'perched' in trees.  They didn't seem to fly much today, except to go from tree to tree.  Occasionally, they'd fly around the river in search of a meal, but for the most part they sat content in the branches of trees along the riverbanks.  What made this day so unique was the constant calls we'd hear from these great birds.  All day long ... that high pitched chirp.  We heard over 100 bald eagle calls this day, it was phenomenal.

NOTE:  Here is something pretty cool if you want to hear what an eagle sounds like.  Click here and it'll take you to a site that has about 10 bald eagle calls on it.  Not like hearing and seeing on in nature, but it's close. 

January 6, 2011.  Warren Foster and I took a ride out on the non tidal James yesterday in the Discovery Gheenoe.  I love my little boat with it's amazing 20-year old 5hp motor which starts on the first pull 85% of the time.  The other 15% it's the second pull.  We traveled downriver to Warren's Island (Williams Island really, but Warren does so much volunteer work on the island that many of his friends call it Warren's Island).  Around the backside of the island lives a pair of resident bald eagles.  You have to know exactly where their nest is to see them, but once you see it, it's unmistakable.  They should nest soon, and will hopefully have a successful breeding season, and we'll have a young eaglet flying around in about four and a half months.  We didn't see either Thunderhawk or Lightning, probably because of the noise being created by a backhoe loading giant rocks & boulders into the side of the canal.  Lots of noise.  If I were an eagle, I sure wouldn't want to be around all that noise.  Hopefully that project will finish asap.  I'll keep you updated on their nesting.

December 23, 2010.  9am - 11:30am.  Water temp: 35 degrees.  Air Temp: Mid 30's.  Wind: 5-15 from the NW

Today was another amazing day on the James River.  Based on the bald eagle activity over the last couple of weeks, I knew two things were happening.  First, there have been a high number of migratory bald eagles in the region.  And second, the resident bald eagles have been acting differently in their relations with other eagles.

Normally, the resident eagles are very territorial, but lately they have been tolerant of their migratory neighbors from the North.  On the main channel, between the 295 Bridge (Varina-Enon) and the Jones Neck cut through, two pair of resident bald eagles live in their modest territories ... Varina & Enon and Virginia & James.  Lately there have been about 30 eagles hanging out in their territories.  It's hard to tell the difference between the residents and the migratory eagles.  I believe we saw Varina & Enon today, but not certain.  Two mature eagles gave us a pretty close fly by, but then drifted back into the mix of birds.  We did see residents Bandit & Smokey.  It was early and they were alone.  On the way back to the Richmond Yacht Basin there were about ten bald eagles in their territory.

What amazed me today was the sheer number of bald eagles.  Conservatively, we agreed there were 50 bald eagles on three miles of river.  At any one time, we could see ten or more bald eagles.  They were perched in trees and gliding in the air.  A couple of times, we looked downriver and saw six or more eagles sitting in a tree.  There were also a plethora of eagles in the sky, riding the cold NW wind.  I've always felt bald eagles enjoy a NW wind best.  A north wind is usually cooler and an eagle would have to 'head' into the wind, keeping the sun, for the most part, at their backs and out of their eyes.

Mostly we saw immature bald eagles today.  They have modeled brown and white feathers throughout their body.  I am always in awe at the beauty of their markings.  It's no wonder so many Inuits were inspired by them.  There were also plenty of mature bald eagles around today too.  Mature eagles have a white head and tail, and dark brown body.  The most captivating sight of the day was watching three pair of eagles flying around twisting and darting while staying in a close formation.  They'd turn towards each other, close in talon to talon and reach out towards one another.  They never did lock talons, but would act as if they were.  It was if they were truly dancing, like the NW wind was some type of symphony playing only for them.  My next trip out is this Tuesday and again later in the week. Until next time ... stay warm and whenever possible ... enjoy the James River.      -- Capt. Mike

The photo's story?  This is an immature migratory bald eagle.   The image was taken by local pro Bob Schammerhorn who took a number of shots of this particular bird and can be viewed on his website by Bob Schammerhorn