Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Eagles return to the ridge

Two juveniles soar thermals along the ridge over Puget Sound
The skies have been quiet for the past couple of weeks. My theory is that nesting eagles and their fledglings are off on a summer excursion to get those hunting skills down before winter. It seems that the eagle code of conduct includes keeping a respectable distance from nesting/roosting areas. We've spotted an occasional juvenile in the area but nothing like the activity when the youngsters were in the nest.
Two eagles practice air dancing, something common in courtship and fighting.
The past couple of evenings, we've seen congregations of four or five eagles over the eastern section of Hoffman Hill above the Nisqually delta. They've been mostly backlit, so it's tough to figure out if they are adults, juveniles or a mix. Last night, it was clear that there were two adults and three juveniles. Could they be our eagle mates and their youngsters from this year and last?

Two juveniles and two adults. A third juvenile was just out of view.
Two adult eagles air dancing.
Check out photos from the past two years of eagle-watching in my Talons Gallery.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Late summer eagles

I've spotted my favorite eagle pair at low tide on the Nisqually delta beach. Several people have asked how I know it's the pair I've been documenting for the past year. And, if this is the pair from the nest up on the hill, where are the kids?

Mama eagle on the south side of the delta.
My theory is that the parents show the kids several favorite hunting grounds but keep the flats on the north side of the delta for themselves. I'd love to know where the kids are. From observations in the past few years, I suspect that a few of the youngsters gather in close proximity while others go off farther away.

Papa eagle on the north side of the delta in direct line from the aerie.
Eagles are spectacular in flight but spend a lot of time roosting. I observed one of the juveniles from this year's nest sitting at the top of the trainer tree for several hours. When I was down on the delta during low tide last weekend, these two eagles didn't move except to clean their feathers for a couple of hours. I'm going down again this week during one of the minus tides...and when it's not raining. In the meantime, check out my Low Tide Gallery with favorite shots from the past month.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gift of a feather

August 2-juvenile bald eagle
Not only are my favorite eagle family not hanging around the nest, I haven't seen any eagles in the area for the past week. At the end of July, I saw one youngster flying low over the nest area, followed by mama. They both flew toward the delta. The other juvenile spent long hours at the top of the trainer tree over a couple of days.

Mama heading back to the nest from the delta - August 2.
I'm going to try to get down to the beach at low tide next weekend to see if that's where they headed. Last year's baby was in the nest area until about mid-August. Bald eagles have about three months to get the whole hunting thing down before cold weather sets in and food sources dwindle.

I suspect that mama and papa are doing some intensive hunting lessons down in the Nisqually delta. Last year, I saw a lot of juveniles along the Nisqually River about this time of year. I spent several hours during a minus tide in the delta and saw both mama and papa eagle. I've posted some images from that trip in a Low Tide gallery. A friend asked how I could be sure they were my favorite eagles. Because mama caught something a flew up the ridge, which she does a couple of times a day. If you missed that post, you can read it here: Eagle Hunting Grounds.

One evening during the last week of July there wasn't much activity at the nest. When we got to the intersection near the golf course, I spotted mama eagle flying directly toward us, about 20 feet above. It was getting dark, about 8 p.m., and I was shooting directly west. So the resulting images are lower resolution. She looked right at me and dropped something. I felt badly because I thought she had dropped food she might have been carrying. When I blew up the image on my camera screen, I realized that she dropped a feather!

Of course, collecting eagle feathers is illegal unless you are a member of an Indian tribe. When I told a good friend who works with Washington Tribes and is married to an Indian, she looked surprised and said, "That's a very special gift!" Then she asked if I found the feather. I looked around the area but didn't see anything that even looked remotely like a feather. Maybe mama eagle knows that, so I have her gift recorded in a photograph. My friend offered to get a group together to go search for the feather, but I already have my gift. I'm blessed to be able to experience this remarkable family of urban eagles.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eagle hunting grounds

Directly below the Wilkes Observatory trail in DuPont (formerly the perimeter road for the old DuPont explosives factory) is the wreck of a cement boat or barge. It sits at the edge of the Nisqually flats, the shallow area of the Nisqually River delta that becomes a salt marsh during low tides with a bounty of shellfish, crabs, and fish easily caught.

There isn't much information about it, other than it's been in this spot for at least 40 years. Even the DuPont Museum has sketchy information about it. I've photographed the boat from the Wilkes trail. In the winter, dozens of harbor seals and sea lions haul out during high tide on the boat like it's their private island.

I've wanted to hike down to the wreck during one of the very low, or minus, tides we experience in the summers here. One of my neighbors told me there are starfish and lots of other sea creatures under the boat. More on the hike there later this week.

Low tide brings in lots of hunters, especially great blue herons, seagulls, kingfishers, and bald eagles. I recognized my favorite eagle pair. I often see them fly over my house or the golf course toward this area, so it was a treat to see them away from the nest.

I suspect this is where they'll bring the kids for their hunting training. Last year, they were gone from the nesting area from about mid-August until early October.

I saw papa fly in and find a hunting spot. Because it was low tide, there was no need to fly and hunt. Lots of choices in the shallow channels of the delta.

Then I spotted mama eagle scoping out breakfast possibilities.

She tried a couple of spots, found breakfast, and headed back to the aerie to feed the kids.

Fish for breakfast

Mama eagle crests the Wilkes trail.
Meanwhile papa was hanging with the herons who seemed to find a bounty of breakfast possibilities.