Friday, May 13, 2016

Family visitors

Two-year-old bald eagles visit the nest.
There have been a variety of visitors to our nesting pair's nest, that I believe are extended family members - perhaps kids from past years. Eagles make a very distinctive sound when they are with their mates and other family members. I describe it like a chortle. They also make a very distinctive sound to warn other birds away. And, sometimes, that's their kids from a prior nesting. A lot depends on what stage the babies are in. If they've hatched and the babies are close to full size, there's less risk that another predator (even an older sibling) will pick off a newly hatched baby.

Adult bald eagle accompanied the two-year-olds.

The visitors last week were two juvenile eagles, about two years old, and two adult eagles. Are they children and grandchildren or all children from earlier nesting. This pair has been nesting in this area for at least 10 years, according to homeowners adjacent to the nesting area. Adult bald eagles get their white heads and tails when they're about four years old. That's also when they seek a mate.

Mama talked to the youngsters from the nest and papa greeted all from a nearby tree.
I'm regularly adding new images to my Nesting Bald Eagles album on Flickr.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Taking turns

One parent tends to the kids while the other makes sure
they are safe.
Either mama or papa are present in the nest at all times. I still can't see any eaglets but this nest is really obscured. Both parents guard from the side where I'm photographing, then enter the nest from the far side of the tree.

Keeping watch can be from the branch above the nest or from one of the trees on either side. There have also been visitors that they have welcomed with their characteristic chortling sound they reserve for kinfolk. Everything I've learned about bald eagles from books and articles tells me that a nesting pair won't let other raptors within a mile of their nest. I'm beginning to think that there are a lot of things we don't know about eagles because we nearly lost them in the 1960s and 1970s to DDT and other human-caused sources.

Two youngsters, about two years old, fly
along the ridge about 2 blocks from the nest.
This pair regularly welcomes adults and juvenile eagles - I assume they are earlier children or maybe siblings. They've been nesting here for more than 12 years, so at least seven of those former children are adults now. Bald eagles don't get their characteristic white heads and tails until they are mature at 4-5 years old. That's also when they look for a mate and begin nesting.

Nesting is an integral part of eagle life. One of the keepers at Northwest Trek told me that the golden eagles and bald eagles who live at Trek regularly engage in nesting activity, even though they are the same gender. So they are supplied with plenty of nesting material.

More on visitors to the nest in my next post. Meanwhile, I have begun posting many more photographs in my Nesting Eagles album on Flickr.

Entry to the nest is on the far side of the tree.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Keeping watch

Most evenings, mama and papa eagle take turns watching over the youngsters. At this point, I don't know if there's more than one. It's really tough to see anything in the nest except mama glaring at me between the branches.

Yesterday evening, papa kept watch from he nearby snag, which he often shares with a group of starlings that appear to be nesting close by.

I didn't see mama come back from hunting for dinner, until papa departed from his favorite watching spot. I'm hoping to see a fuzzy eaglet head moving around but the nest is very well obscured. I might not see much until the baby or babies start branching, which they do for a few weeks before first flight.

More images of my favorite eagle pair from this year and 2015 can be viewed in my Flickr gallery. Enjoy! Nesting bald eagles

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Mama comes in for a landing
What I've observed in past years is that eagles sitting on eggs takes a few weeks. Mother eagles don't leave the nest if the temperatures are lower than about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, unless eaglets have hatched. This evening, papa eagle arrived in one of the trees near the nest tree. He and mama talked back and forth, then mama flew out of the nest to the tall snag a bit farther from the nest tree.

Mama groomed herself and was freaking out a pair of starlings that were nesting nearby. There have been several of the birds in the vicinity of the snag.

Papa grooming with nervous starling nearby
Papa then flew to the nest tree. That's when I realized it was mama returning to the nest tree. How can I tell? Mama is about 20 percent larger than papa and has a deeper bill. I can tell them apart when they're close to each other but often mistakenly identify one for the other.

The way the nest is built this year should protect it from winds that have brought a couple of their nests down in past years. But it's really challenging to try to figure out whether the eggs have hatched. I'll have to just wait for babies to show themselves. In past years, it's usually mid-to-late April when fuzzy little eaglet heads are visible.
Mama flies to the nest tree

Mama talks to her mate before flying back to the nest

Mama back in the nest

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nesting begins

Mama eagle is barely visible from my favorite viewing spot. This year's nest is in yet another spot. In a tree they nested in two years ago but on the lee side. Hopefully, it will be enough protection from the winds we often experience on our bluff 200 feet or so above Puget Sound.

I'm now checking on the nest a few times a week. Part of my observation is how mama interacts with other birds and her mate. There so much we don't know about the lives of animals. Bald eagles are territorial and usually would not let any raptor near their nests. I've observed this pair frequently spending time with other adult and juvenile eagles, less than a half mile from the nest. One year I photographed a 3-year-old bald eagle that stayed in a tree next to the nest tree for at least 20 minutes. Observing parenting behavior? Acting as a guardian? Checking out possible vulnerabilities?

While I was there yesterday, papa eagle flew by with one of their children from either last year or the year before. I've seen similar behavior in past years - sometimes they chase off the kids, other times they greet them. Could this be the next phase of training the kids in the ways of the eagle?

Papa and youngster greeted mama with their characteristic chortling call they use with kin. Papa and youngster made wide circles over the nest, twisting their heads in all directions to make sure she was doing okay. Mama called back but wasn't moving much, which means she's probably working her hatching magic.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Eagle's nest enters second decade

Mama eagle in May 2015
Watching bald eagles or any creature best observed from a distance can be expensive. If you're an avid birdwatcher, you have spent quite a bit on high-powered binoculars and spotting scopes. If you're a photographer, you find that you just need 100 millimeters more (at a cost of another $900-$5,000) to capture and share what you're seeing. When I started photographing a pair of eagles nesting not far from my neighborhood in April of 2011, my longest lens was 300mm. Two years later, I acquired a 400mm lens, which gave me much more insight into the lives of these beautiful birds.
Mama (at top) and papa - February 2016

Last nesting season, I photographed my favorite eagles several times but the nest was out of view. Their nest came down in 2014 and two babies were lost, so I'm sure that's why the 2015 nest was in a very protected space. You could hear them but the only views were of mama and papa outside the nest. I did quite a bit of traveling last summer, so I didn't witness how many eaglets fledged. Some of the images I captured last year are posted in my Flickr gallery.

This year, I have a 600mm lens and am very happy to know that our dedicated eagle parents are again nesting. There's also good chance I will have a better view. This year's nest appears to be in a taller tree that is in better view. Yesterday, I talked to one of the neighbors with a backyard view of the nesting area. Together we estimated that the pair must be 16-17 years old. The houses with backyards near the nesting area were built 12 years ago and they've been nesting there every year.

So begins a new cycle of life and my sixth year of learning the way of the eagle.