Monday, April 30, 2012

Does an owl sleep in the woods?

Owls hold a certain fascination for us. They are, after all, creatures of the night, mystical, quiet. At the same time, a little dangerous. They weigh about four pounds but can easily carry prey five times larger. My limited encounters with owls have been wings flashing overhead in the dark. Was that a bat or an owl? We encountered this guy deep in the woods beside the boardwalk on the Nisqually River side of the wildlife refuge. A fellow bird-watcher tipped us off. This guy watched the area with one eye open and the other closed. It was still a couple of hours too early for him to be hunting. He was a lot closer to the ground – about five feet – than I've seen an owl before.

I remember the first time I saw a great horned owl up close, when I visited what is now called the Mercer County Wildlife Center near Washington Crossing State Park as a child. We often had school field trips to Washington Crossing State Park, NJ (there are two parks, one on the New Jersey side of the Delaware and one on the Pennsylvania side). A volunteer was holding a great horned owl and talking about the owl with our school group. One child ran up, and before anyone could stop him, reached up to touch the owl. The owl demonstrated its swift razor-sharp bite and took a chunk out of the child's finger.

Like many owls, great horned owls lead rather secretive lives. Recently the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital began treating nine rescued owlets, something rarely seen. One set of owls was in a nest that came down when somebody cut down a tree. The other set was nesting in a chimney. Nests are usually up very high, with the parents aggressively protecting them.

I have a few owl images in my Talons Gallery. Check out some of my snowy owl images in the March 11 post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Eaglet just out of view

Mama was quite attentive to something she was eating and sharing in the nest this evening. Last year's eaglet wasn't really visible until he was about a month old because of the way the parents constructed the nest.

I wonder if they lost a young one when the original nest went down, so now they are extra careful about how they build and refurbish the nest? This aerie looks very secure and, unfortunately for this photographer, quite obscure.

 One of the neighbors across the street from the nest came out to talk to us. He couldn't figure out where the nest was, so we pointed it out. Without a telephoto lens or binoculars, it would be tough to see anything except a spot of white moving around in the branches.

Bald eagle nests are protected in Washington. More information about bald eagle management is on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife's website.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Warm eagle's nest

It was an unusually warm day for April with a high of 75. Mama eagle was certainly feeling it. She was shaking her head a lot and snapping at flying insects. These are birds that thrive in freezing temperatures and regularly plunge into frigid waters. So 75 has to be pretty hot, especially sitting on eggs in the sun. No sign of papa eagle or any random visitors this evening.

Here's why it's tough to see the nest unless you know where to look. In the photo below, I circled where the nest is located. This is the view from the street directly in front of the nest, which is obscured by another tree. To the left is what I call "the trainer tree" where youngsters practice flying and landing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Settled into the nest

Mama eagle peeks out from the top of a well-hidden aerie.
Last night we saw mama eagle in the nest for the first time, which means she's probably hatched her young. She chatted with papa eagle who was poised at the top of the tallest tree closest to the nest. I think we heard some young bird voices but there are lots of birds talking in the woods these days. In a couple of weeks, we'll probably be able to tell how many babies are up there. Last year, they raised one youngster. Bald eagles usually lay 1-3 eggs. I documented activity at this nest last year in this blog. Check back in the archive for March through July 2011.

The aerie - mama is in the upper right corner.
Papa serves as nest sentinel.
Nobody's going to mess with papa.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Serious hawk

This red-tailed hawk frequently hunts close to human visitors at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I always look for him (her?) in the vicinity of the twin barns left from the former Brown farm.

Yesterday, he was clearly hoping all the humans who were up close and watching would just move along. He moved to at least three different spots, each a little more removed. We were all scaring off dinner.

Red-tailed hawks are very common and truly beautiful birds. An old friend who taught ceramic arts at South Mountain Community College, where I worked until 2000, designed a ceramic mural with a red-tailed hawk taking center stage. I wonder what the college did with that mural? There's now a new beautiful library that was built about a year ago.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Intruder or kin?

Tonight, a new eagle showed up near the nest. Mama (or possibly papa, eagles take turns on the nest) was talking to this eagle, a female about three years old. Although she has a white head and tail, the white areas are speckled with black. Bald eagles are usually about four years old when their heads and tails are completely white. That's also when they start seeking a mate. She didn't seem to be threatening the nest and didn't circle the area. It was almost as if she was stopping by to see what was going on.

Bald eagles will fight over nesting areas, and can do some serious damage or even kill a rival, so it's possible this female was positioning herself to take over. She didn't really look at the nest, maybe an occasional glance. Instead she was very interested in something in the opposite direction on the ground.

Then just as quickly as she showed up, she flew off. She was in the tree for about 10 minutes. I'd like to think our nesting pair now have a large extended family of children of varying ages. They've been nesting here for at least eight years, maybe longer. Whoever was sitting on the nest was using the "family chortle," a kind of warbling chat that eagles use with their kin. I've often observed the nesting pair talking to one another, while one was on the nest and the other watching from another tree. They talk to each other while flying together, sometimes in groups of 10, 12, or even 20 called a convocation. The younger eagle wasn't talking back. The nesting eagle was well aware another was in the area. Was the younger female an intruder or kin checking up on mama?

Friday, April 13, 2012


Papa eagle is very attentive while his mate is nesting. He keeps sentry from his totem for awhile, then heads out to patrol the perimeter, pick up a little dinner, then check back in again.

Padme the wonderdog and I experienced a beautiful Northwest spring evening: golden light, blue sky, towering clouds floating and bumping snow-capped mountains.

Pure majesty.

When we came in the door, all I could think is "this is paradise." If we get to choose the perfect environment after we die, I hope Northwest spring and summer are on the selection list.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hummer dinner date

Love is in the air, especially in the front yard birdie spa. Hummingbirds are very territorial, especially males fighting for feminine attention. The guy in the photo above looks a little war-torn, although I don't know that hummingbirds inflict serious damage on one another.

Male rufous
I'm seeing mostly rufous hummingbirds, which returned last month. I see an occasional Anna's but not like in the winter, when they camp out in front of the feeders.

Females will share feeders with other females, and the guys certainly like to invite the little ladies to share some hummer brew.

Hummingbirds are not monogamous and once nesting begins, mama hummingbird is on her own to care for her young.

What a contrast with eagles, which I also photographed the same day as these birds.

Female rufous
Eagles mate for life and help each other with nest-building, rearing young, and feeding.

For more favorites, visit my Hummer Gallery.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Aerie patrol

I spent some time in the front of the house, doing a bit of yardwork, and taking frequent breaks to photograph several rufous hummingbirds visiting my feeders (I'll post those images tomorrow). Rufous return to western Washington in March. Although I've seen a couple at the feeders, today there was a crowd. Another harbinger of spring, swallows, made a brief appearance in the morning. Three tree swallows briefly scoped out nesting areas in the neighborhood.

There was lots of eagle activity up here on the hill into the early evening. A few times, I spotted papa eagle over our block, then circling back to the nest area. Later in the afternoon, three juvenile bald eagles soared on thermals above the park, then disappeared. When we took our dog walk past the nest, papa was nowhere to be seen. While we watched for any activity in the nest, a juvenile flew in very close to the nest, then circled the "trainer tree" and moved on through the woodland beyond the nesting area.

Mama was definitely in the nest, although we didn't see her. We heard her talking to the juvenile. It sounded like the chortling call we hear eagles make with their kin. But there was a bit of a warning tone to it. The juvenile was clearly interested in what was going on in the nest. I wondered if this was kin or a troublemaker. Less than five minutes later, papa showed up, circled the nest to make sure no one was harassing mama, then flew off.

Friday, April 6, 2012

When eagles fly so must I

A few years ago, my son, Padme the wonder dog, and I ventured off to the San Juan Islands to commune with the eagles, the whales, and the sea. That was the first time I ever experienced bald eagles in a nest, although I've seen their nests before.

I have three photographs from that trip of a bald eagle lifting off a tree after a bicycle passed by, then flew directly at us, then up.

< This photograph of my favorite eagle patriarch is similar and much closer. When eagles lift off from a branch, they often look like they are pushing off with their wings.

I grouped the images from that San Juan trip together with a screened image of bald eagles, creating a poster with a rhyming title that fits what I feel when I spot an eagle or other raptor: When eagles fly, so must I.

I like to believe that I have experienced a past lifetime or two living as a type of animal, or perhaps a spirit protector for fauna or flora in nature. I hope that, if multiple lifetimes are truly what we – all beings – experience, that I will be able to return as an eagle.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Keeping watch

Keeping Watch
In the morning
When I began to wake,
It happened again

That feeling
That you, Beloved,  
Had stood over me all night
Keeping watch,

That feeling That as soon as I began to stir
You put Your lips on my forehead 

And lit a Holy lamp 
Inside my heart. 

Hāfez was a 14th century Persian lyric poet and Sufi mystic. Honoring his poetry about keeping watch somehow fits my favorite eagle pair. They are so very devoted to one another, especially as they begin a new nesting season. They, too, are mystical while at the same time quite predictable.

As we round the corner where their aerie is tucked just out of sight, papa eagle patiently watches from a favorite snag on one side of the nest. From a distance, he looks like a giant pinecone capped with snow.

Mama must be carefully tending their eggs. Last year, we started seeing her at the end of April and "junior" a few weeks later. 

So now we keep watch, with occasional trips to the delta to sustain the Beloved.

Returning to keep watch from the other side. 

I'm gradually adding new images to my Talons Gallery. Let me know if you have favorites from past blog posts.