Eagles Behind Warren's Island

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

January, 2011








This story is about a guy named Warren Foster (seen in silhouette above) and a pair of resident bald eagles we have been watching. I met Warren around 2009 through mutual friends of the river, but I first saw his name in 2007.

Being a fishing guide, I run flathead fishing trips on the James, between Hugenot Flatwater and Pony Pasture, and I use the portage trail on Williams Island from June through October. The portage trail is safe passage around low head Z-Dam. Over the years, I noticed how much better the portage trail was being maintained ... widened, always clear of debris, and beautiful brown rocks lined parts of the portage trail. One day in 2007 I noticed a new sign installed on the upper end of the portage trail at Williams Island, a 95-acre island in the middle of the James River near Pony Pasture. And then, a few years later, I met the man from the sign. Warren and I have become good friends and have boated the flatwater throughout the winter and lately have been trying to make a connection with a pair of eagles on the north bank of the river, behind Williams Island.

Williams Island lies in the the City of Richmond and for those "In the Know", the island has unofficially been renamed Warren's Island. Why? Because Warren has tirelessly been doing so much for the park system, including grooming the portage trail on the island for years. He has taken the portage trail, and extended it, building a small path that starts at the end of the official portage trail, below the Z-Dam and continues down and around the island, ending at Williams Dam on the northeastern side of the island. For his vision of many things still needed for the park, and 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. One of Warren's dreams is to have his island become an official part of the James River Park System (note: in December os 2012, Warren's Island became an official part of the James River Park System ... way to go Warren!)

Behind Warren's Island, on the north bank of the river, a pair of bald eagles have settled and created a territory. They are the first pair in Richmond in a very long time. We decided to name them 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 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 Central Virginia's bald eagles. It might take a while though, as the offspring of this pair will be gone by the fall, flying around the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and in five years may settle down somewhere when they become mature adult bald eagles. One last note about local resident eagles ... there is a pair of adult bald eagles attempting to next 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 about a week and I was happy to see the resident bald eagles back in their regular spots. With all the migratory activity lately, it seemed to have thrown the locals off their game. There were a few migratory eagles in the area and over the course of the day we saw approximately 30 bald eagles, including both resident and migratory eagles.  

Of the five pair of resident eagles that I follow, only two of the nests are visible ... Baba & Pops and Bandit & Smokey. Virginia & James' nest could be seen if you knew where to look, but it fell last fall and they rebuilt further inland and it's no longer visible.  Any day now, the residents will begin to lay their eggs, but for some, it could be another two weeks.  The historic number of eagle chicks will continue to rise as the resident pair continues to increase their numbers on the James and throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 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 and the dedication of the Center for Conservations Biology.

This past Sunday I took out a couple of groups of photographers from the Richmond Photography Meetup Group, a truly amazing group of photographers. When I asked how many people were in the group, I expected the normal answer from the photo clubs I had belonged to over the years. Thirty maybe? Thirty-Five? Nope ... I was amazed at the number of members. Over 300 members!!  The three images in this article were taken by their members during the day on Sunday. 

If you are interested in learning more about this group, check out the following website:  http://www.meetup.com/richmondphotography/photos/1222620/.  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, Richmond Meetup Group.

Top left:  Interesting angle of a mature bald eagle.  Here's looking at you!  Photo by Marlene Frazier, 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 fill in with the classic white feathers. It takes a bald eagle four to five years to become a fully mature bald eagle with the full white head and tail and dark brown body and wings. This is a wonderful example of an eagle that is getting closer to maturity.  Photo by Dave Parrish, 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. 

The eagles moved out of the area sometime between January 5 and January 8 to 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 south side of the river.  Varina & Enon's favorite hangout. 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, www.ssdsigns.com.  -- Photo by Ricky Simpson

2011 Starts Off Right

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

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year! How can you start a year off better than fishing and eagle watching on the James River? Taking the day to another level of awesomeness, I fished with a guy named Joe Bass. I mean, how cool of a name is that for an angler? Joe Bass fished with his longtime friend, Bob, and as you can see in the image ... both guys are hold pretty nice fish.  Joe is 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 was caught by Joe ... a 48 pounder! 

The highlight of the day was catching a five-pound fish out of 39 degree water which we fileted 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 the trees along the James River.  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 scavenged meal, but for the most part they sat content in the branches of trees along the riverbanks. This day was unique due to the constant calls from these great birds.  All day long ... that high pitched chirp.  We heard over 100 bald eagle calls this day, it was phenomenal.

If you have never heard a bald eagle, and want to hear what an eagle sounds like .... Click here. It will take you to a site that has about 10 different bald eagle calls on it, and they may not sound like you think they should and there's nothing like hearing and seeing on in nature, first hand, but it's close. Joe Bass (and Bob) thought it was awesome, hearing all those eagles, and agreed, "The day of a hundred eagle calls" would not be soon forgotten!

--Capt. Mike


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 was 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 www.iphotobirds.com--Photo by Bob Schammerhorn