Independence Day Eagles & Osprey

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 07/08/2011 - 17:26

 July 4, 2011. Independence Day. For the second year in a row, I have spent the early hours of Independence Day on the James River looking at bald eagles. This year may have been better than 2010, but that’s probably because it’s so fresh in my mind. 

There seemed to be an abundance of immature bald eagles flying about in Jefferson’s Reach. A few are probably eaglets of Jefferson’s Reach from the past few years, coming back to celebrate their status as a national symbol with their parents. A number of them are likely migratory eagles, here for the summer from Florida. The migratory eagles arrive in the Bay region in May and will stay until September. 
Something that caught my eye over the past few weeks has been the osprey. There seems to be more osprey on the James each year. Osprey nests are now on every channel marker in the main channel from Henricus downriver to Presquile Island. There are also nests on the old light poles along the river and even in trees along the riverbank. The osprey nests on the channel markers are fun to watch, as you can pass by them on a regular basis and watch their young grow. My favorite pair, who lives on channel marker 146, near the Deep Bottom Cut Channel had one young osprey this year, and on July 4, this bird fledged, or flew for the very first time.   It awkwardly leapt off the nest, flapped and just flew around. Now this young bird likes to perch on the bluff of the cut through, just as the previous young osprey from years past.
Just downriver of Jefferson’s Reach, below the Deep Bottom cut channel another pair of osprey had two young birds. The last of the two also started to fly on July 4. This one, we watched for minutes flying around, apparently looking for a place to land. Once off the nest, mom and dad flew to its aid, flying close to their offspring.   They flew pretty far to the south shore and we lost sight of them eventually. A little further downriver, another pair of osprey have three chicks. All three were lined up next to each other, chirping and fluffing up their feathers as we rode by them at a comfortable distance.  As of July 5, none of these birds have fledged.

One thing I can’t help but love about the osprey chicks is the color of their eyes. They are a deep orange, or reddish. Their eyes eventually change into the adult color of bright yellow. When looking through binoculars you can really get a good look at this. Or with a good camera, you can get a great pic, as in the image taken by Dave Parrish.
The Photos Stories?  Top Right:  Photo taken of a mature female osprey.  You can tell she is a female by the 'necklace' of brown feathers around her neck.  Greg Mika took this image, to see more of his work, click here.  -- Photo by Greg Mika.
Bottom Left:  Another outstanding image by Dave Parrish. This one is of a young eaglet that just showed itself for the first time.  Most of the young osprey have shown themselves quite often, even as little chicks.  This one showed unexpectedly.  This big chick lives in a nest on a channel marker on the north bank of the James, just upriver of the 295, Varina-Enon Bridge.  I had previously thought the pair that lives in this nest didn't have a chick until this pic was taken on July 3.  Amazing.  To see more of Dave's work, click here.  -- Photo by Dave Parrish.

Eagle Update: Father's Day 2011

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Mon, 06/20/2011 - 11:02

Eaglet Update, June 19, 2011.  Father's Day.  Today was a magical day on the river, and rightfully so on Father's Day.  We saw two more of this year's eaglets make an appearance for the first time.  Varina & Enon's eaglet flew out of the trees and over the river, then back into the forested south bank of the river. The bird made a brief appearance, but a special one.  On the boat, I had a family of five bringing out their father/husband on a surprise Bald Eagle Tour. They came from about two hours away, and the adult eagles and eaglets put on a show for them, but it was a highlighted by the young eagles.  Varina & Enon's offspring was named 'Buckbeak' by the family on board.  A different name, but a great name, nonetheless.  

Not only did we see Varina & Enon's eaglet for the first time, but we also saw Rebecca & John's eaglet for the first time as well.  Rebecca & John's eaglet was flying around the old river channel, just north of the Jones Neck cut through.  It was an amazing site as she would fly from tree to tree, landing and taking off, flying around her new playground. It was as if she was practicing take offs and landings.  One of the adults was flying around near her, paying just enough attention to key an eye out, but keeping a fair distance away.  This young bird remains unnamed at this point.  Perhaps a new name will be given on Tuesday morning's eagle tour!  

So that makes the appearance of four new eaglets showing themselves for the first time over the last ten days.  I am still wondering if Varina & Enon have a second eaglet that is going to make an appearance, but time will tell.  Rebecca & John may have a second as well.  Good stuff from Jefferson's Reach on the James.  On another note, kook for the second installment of the story of Rebecca & John soon.  It's a great story about a wonderful pair of birds.  --Capt. Mike

Rebecca & John: The Story of the Fifth of Resident Eagles in Jefferson's Reach (Part 1 of 2)
Eagle watching is awesome. I get a lot of personal satisfaction when an opportunity to take the Bald Eagle Tour to another level arises, and this was of one of those opportunities. The more time I spend on the James with the bald eagles, the better I get to know them, as their stories continue to develop.  This true tale is about the last named pair and most elusive eagles in Jefferson’s Reach … Rebecca & John and how Capt John simply became John.
After spending a few months watching bald eagles around Jones Neck, in February 2010, I noticed an eagle that would perch in some of the same branches week after week. Then I noticed it had the same flight patterns. Over the next few months the eagle, or eagles (only saw one at a time) remained long after the migratory birds of winter had long left on their trek back to the far north. They acted like a resident pair but until a nest was located they would have to wait to become the fifth pair of resident eagles in Jefferson’s Reach. I could only watch as the flight patterns took them to a certain row of pine trees off in the distance of Jones Neck.
Jones Neck is an island surrounded by the old James River channel across from Deep Bottom. Jones Neck was a long finger of land, jutting out from the southside of the James tucked in between the landmasses of Curles Neck and Varina Farms.  In the 1930’s the Core of Engineers and the Civilian Conservation Core dug a 30-foot deep channel at the base of the peninsula to shorten the trip on the river between the Chesapeake Bay and Richmond by approximately five miles.  This cut through, or thoroughfare, took this peninsula of land and created the island of Jones Neck.
At the end of an early summer morning Eagle Tour, a young boy of eight walked up to me as he was departing the boat and said, “Capt. Mike, the next eagle you name, you have to call him John!” I responded, “Why John?” He said “For Capt. John Smith of course.”  I followed, “Why don’t we call him Capt. John?” The boy’s next move was classic. He stuck out his hand to shake on it, and sealed it with an over zealous head nod. It was a done deal. Capt. John was to be the next resident eagle named! For the moment at least …
Giving an eagle a name is something special and isn’t taken lightly. It doesn’t happen very often, and to date only one eagle has had a name change, as in the case of Rebecca & Capt. John. To name an eagle is to name a pair. I have to define a pair of bald eagles as a resident pair, which would mean they would have a territory, a nest, and would defend it while remaining in their territory 365 days a year.  By understanding their habits and hangouts, the resident pair would be easily recognizable at any time during the year.
On the very next day, while in the area I had been watching an eagle fly with the same flight patterns, I was looking onto Jones Neck and saw a remarkable sight. There were two mature bald eagles perched in a tree. Next to them, on the branch below was a newly fledged immature bald eagle. I couldn’t believe it, here was the eagle I had been following perched proudly with the whole family. The immature eagle was proof that the pair was indeed a resident pair, and the nest was surely nearby, just out of sight. “Wow” I thought, and said, There’s Capt. John!” I promptly told the story of the eight year old boy’s naming the next eagle from the day before.

When I told the group the story, I informed them they had a special opportunity at hand, and could name the female because whomever is on board at the time gets to name the resident pair … as long as it was agreed upon by everyone in the boat. The excited group could only come up with one name for the female bald eagle … Pocahontas. Unfortunately, that name would not work, as I could not agree to call her Pocahontas. Hollywood might want you think Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas were together, but history tells us differently. They were never a ‘couple’, but they did share in the famous story of Capt. John Smith’s telling of his capture by the Chickahominy Indians, and how Pocahontas, the little ten-year-old girl threw herself upon him to save him from the certain death blow of a warrior commanded by her father Chief Powhatan.  (End of Part I)

The Photos Stories?  Top Right:  This shot is potentially Rebecca or John as it was shot in the crossover area between Rebecca & John and Virginia & James.  Sometimes when we are in this area, it's hard to tell who is who because the distance between the heart of their territories is so large.  This area, near the Jones Neck Cut, is also an area that is often frequented by both summer and winter migratory bald eagles.  --Photo by Lynda Richardson

Lower Left:  This is a wonderful shot by photographer Carol Hollenbeck, taken during a recent Bald Eagle Tour.  This is another image of a bald eagle taken in that same "crossover" area between Virginia & James and Rebecca & John's territories.  --Photo by Carol Hollenbeck

Lower Right:  A very nice image of a bald eagle taken by photographer Don Keisling.  To see more of his work go to  --Photo by Don Keisling.

Eaglets of Jefferson's Reach 2011 - June Update

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Mon, 06/06/2011 - 17:58

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

The Civil War on the James River (Part I)

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Mon, 06/06/2011 - 17:09

One of the best things about Discover the James is the opportunity to partner with great folks, like Scott Williams.  Scott is a Civil War reinactor, and becoming a Civil War historian (although he'd never admit to it).  Scott is really good at what he does on the River and is the interpreter on the Discovery Barge II during the Civil War on the James tours.  The following story/blog was written by Scott ....


The Civil War on the James River (Part I)   by Scott Williams

During the Civil War, the James River played a very important strategic role in the fighting that took place around Richmond.  This is the first in a series of articles that will describe some of the events that took place on the river during the war.

The Battle of Drewry's Bluff

The fort at Drewry's Bluff was constructed in 1862 in response to the threat posed by Federal general George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign.  Located 8 miles below Richmond, the bluff is situated 90 feet above a sharp bend in the James River and was an ideal spot to protect Richmond from a river-borne attack.

On May 15, 1862, a Federal flotilla led by the ironclad Monitor attempted to force its way past the fort and obstructions in the river to attack Richmond.  When the battle began, the first broadside of four shells from the Galena, a wooden gunboat that had been retrofitted with iron plating, passed just over the crest of the bluff and exploded immediately in the rear of the gun emplacements.  The Monitor was not able to elevate her guns high enough to fire up at the fort, so the ironclad moved back downriver for the rest of the battle.

For three hours and 20 minutes the battle raged, while the fate of Richmond hung in the balance.  During this time, the Galena suffered several direct hits resulting in 12 dead and 11 wounded crew members.  Finally, the Federal commander realized that the river blockade could not be breached and signaled for his fleet to withdraw. Richmond was never again seriously threatened by a water-based attack.

During the battle, Marine Cpl. John Mackie took charge of one of the Galena's guns after the original crew had been wounded.  For his actions, Cpl. Mackie became the first United States Marine to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Soon after the battle, the Confederate Marine Corps Camp of Instruction and the Confederate Naval Academy were established at Drewry's Bluff.  The fort was expanded and the inner and outer lines were constructed to protect the fort from land based attack.  Drewry's Bluff remained a strong point on Richmond's southern defenses until the fall of Petersburg.  The last remnants of the Confederate James River Squadron met their end here when the ironclads Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Virginia II were blown up in front of Drewry's Bluff to prevent them from falling into Federal hands.  Today, Drewry's bluff is maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

Please join us on our Civil War on the James Tour, to learn about other events that took place on the river during the Civil War.  Times and dates are posted on our website, click here for more ... Civil War on the James Tour.  --Scott Williams


The Photo's Stories?  Above Left & Right:  Gun emplacements at Drewry's Bluff.  The view of the top, left image is looking downriver along the James, towards Chaffin's Bluff and Osborne.

Lower Left:  Union soldiers gather on the deck of the ironclad Monitor.  Men can also be seen inside the top of turret, which gives you an idea of just how big it was.  This was a Federal ship, and is most famous for it's battle with the Merrimac.