Monday, April 22, 2013

Big birds beyond the front porch

About a block from my house, two stormwater management ponds attract nesting barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds, soaring eagles, geese, ducks and, occasionally, a great blue heron.

Unfortunately the ponds - right now one is full and the other is dry - also collect trash and a stray soccer ball or two. I'm always amazed to see trash and dog poop on the grass right next to a trash bin and doggy bags. I just don't get it. Are we raising a generation of people who think that somebody's going to pick up after them?

We live directly above the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and Puget Sound. The stormwater ponds help slow runoff and protect water quality and wildlife. 

And now the ponds themselves are supporting wildlife, cattails, and native plants. All just a short walk from the front porch.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Congregation of dozen eagles

Right after walking out my front door, I spotted four bald eagles soaring and gliding on thermals along the ridge above Puget Sound and the Nisqually delta. Mostly juveniles that appeared to be a year or two old, there was at least one adult with characteristic white head - second from the left in the photograph above.

Nine bald eagles - three others were just out of view.
Altogether there were 12 in the sky but spread far apart with two pairs and combinations of three, four, five, and seven. Their flight patterns shifted every few moments like a kaleidoscope.

For much of an hour, I was enthralled with not only their flight maneuvers but activity in the small pond below that's formed by stormwater. A nesting pair of red-winged blackbirds and a hunting great blue heron occupied opposite sides of the pond directly below the eagles.

I'll post those images later this weekend. The light was pretty dim and would've benefitted from a fill flash. Maybe next time. This is the second time I've spotted a number of bald eagles in this same spot. We have two nests within a square mile of where these birds can be seen.

They are all related in some way, perhaps brothers and sisters from different broods, or cousins. A few years ago, I photographed four fledglings in a snag near here. Four adult eagles were nearby.

One pair mirrored each other's flight patterns and occasionally circled each other mid-air, sometimes with talons locked, one nearly upside down. 

Their actions seemed choreographed; their ballet lasting well past sundown. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Eagles return to ridge and nest

There have been far fewer bald eagles wintering in the Nisqually delta than I've seen in a long time. The chum salmon run was much less bountiful than last year. So much so that the chum fishing season was closed early.

In winter of 2011, I spotted at least a dozen bald eagles at a time along the Nisqually River. I shared the company of eagles - lots of them - to bring in the new year in 2012.

I've wondered if my favorite eagle pair would return to the nest this season. Occasionally I would see a juvenile in the area and, once, saw both male and female mates flying in the area in January. For the past couple of weeks, though, I've seen papa in his favorite snag where he watches over his mate and the nest. He spends a lot of time stretching and cleaning every feather - twice. No sign - or sound - from mama though. In the past few years, they would talk to each other - he from the snag and she from the nest.

Padme the wonderdog, and occasionally my son, would walk with me down the street where we can see the nest, watch papa for awhile, then head on our way. Papa was always patient, ever-vigilant. Young eagles, in fact many young raptors, wouldn't survive without two devoted parents.

These two are truly a team and are quite fond of each other. They talk together, fly together, roost together, hunt together. And take turns caring for their young.

Last weekend, we had glorious sunny weather here with temps in the 60s. I took the opportunity to visit the nest area at least once a day. Early evening about
an hour before sunset always offers at least a couple of chances to photograph last activity before sleep.

Papa lifted off from the snag and headed for another favorite tree directly over the nest tree. Meanwhile I spotted mama flying out of the trees near the nest, and they both started talking to each other in that chortling call they use with kin. They both circled around the nesting area, then settled atop the tree close to each other. And talked and talked. The whole experience lasted maybe 10 minutes.

Then mama flew back to the next and disappeared into its depths. She's probably still sitting on eggs, so can take short stretch breaks but cannot leave for more than a few minutes. Looking at these images again, though, I think that's actually papa who left the shared tree for the nest. Mama is bigger and has a bill that comes almost straight out from her head. Papa has more of an indent at the juncture between his forehead and bill. These two are fabulous parents, to be sure.

I started photographing this pair in April 2011. Since then, I've observed and learned their routines, how they interact with humans and other animals. And, of course, photographed hundreds of eagle activities.

And, so it begins again.