Friday, February 19, 2010

The Baby Eagle - wild and free from the start

An Eaglet is wild from the start. Think a second about its life. It hatched in January, about the coldest time of the year in this nesting territory. It is a carnivorous creature from day one. At the start, the parents kill the creature it brings to the nest, but after a while, doesn't bother anymore. An eaglet tears the meat with its sharp beak and claws, then gulps it down.

Although I do not have a photo of that process, I have witnessed it. The meat is tossed in the nest and the eaglets feed off of it for a fairly long period of time, if its food is of any significant size. For example, it could be eating possum, rat, fish, cat, rabbit or dog for dinner. The parent can pick up and carry a 10 pound animal to the nest.

This baby bird is about 4 weeks old in my estimate. It is very interested in what is found outside of the nest, inquiring on everything that is happening in the forest. He is aware that I am near; his parents have warned him. The glow in his eyes seem to indicate his desire already to leave the nest and fly free. Freedom rings in the Eagle. His posture is exactly that of a grown bird - one of astuteness, overseer, ruler of the forest, serious and highly perceptive, with far reaching eyesight.

I think it is worth an extra click to see the full size photo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cedar Waxwing just passing through Southeast Texas

Birds are in a hurry, but old man winter is not cooperating. It is migration time again, and we still have two more weeks of winter. The Yaupon do not wait however. Their berries are ripe, perfect for the Cedar Waxwings and Robins to eat. However, the squirrels were the early bird this year. With the drought last year, the berries were more important this year than normal to the squirrels. They have been eating them like crazy! Nevertheless, there are enough berries to go around. The arrival of the masses of this species is exact every year, about Valentines Day.

Amazing enough their arrival is always coincident with the first blooming and little noticed elm tree. Using photographic equipment, we are able to see the two wonders of nature singing in concert this year for spring time! It is not quite time to nest but time to bloom! Waxwings have the itch, you might say but they take their time getting back home. They dilly dattle around on their way up north, in no hurry, partaking as they go. No food? Move on! Eventually they will reach their nesting sites, but they move as slow as Spring moves, but start very early. 

These birds are very social and chat or fuss at each other while feeding.  They are accompanied by a hoard of  Robins. And no, I have not seen the Robins after worms. Robins do search for berries on the ground under the Yaupons, trying to eat the crumbs left behind.  I have plenty of worms in my backyard, but have yet to see one Robin in the spot where I raise the worms.

Eating berries in a tree is not an easy job, even if your body is made for it. The berries are in the most awful difficult places to reach, like on the very end of a branch. A squirrel will just cut the end of the branch off, but the birds must pluck each berry from the branches.
If you are persistent and play the game right, you are rewarded with the fruit of your labor.

Now for the unusual habits of this bird. Yes, they are very active and they eat fruit, especially well known for their affinity to the berries of cedar and thus their name,  they often are tipsy and a maybe little drunk to boot! After all, fruit ferments when the temperature warms up. Right now, the berries are rich in sugar and on warm days, expect them to contain fermented alcohol as well.The birds may fly into windows and do other "silly" unexpected things as a result of this phenomena.

These birds are fun to watch. Take some binoculars and watch them closely. These masked silky lively colored birds are out to have a good time in the forests of The Woodlands right now. They will soon be gone. Not cold lovers, they have been hesitant to move on north. These guys seem to be keeping warm today, all fluffed up in the north wind and looking toward the horizon for what is coming next. Bad news - arctic air will arrive again in just a few days.
Although some will migrate as far south as Costa Rica, most go no further than South Texas for the winter. That way they are closer to returning back to their summer home and can take the first flight home. To heck with the old saying about the Robin! Last one's home is a rotten egg! Thanks for the berries Woodlands! See ya at happy hour again next year! Meanwhile, on to the next bar down the road.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Family life of a Bald Eagle

Observing a family over the past couple of years in the forest of East Texas, I have grown emotionally attached. I think many people see their responsibility for the diversity of life on our planet. As a co-resident of our planet, a human and an Eagle share instincts developed through natural survival evolution through the ages. In the Bible, we are told that man has the responsibility to care care for what God provided upon this planet. We are placed here to make sure his work is kept in tact. It is a huge responsibility that we carry on our shoulders.

Take this Eagle family for an example of the human / creature connection. The Eagle will tolerate human presence but its family life is, after all, what is most important to him. Both male and female share the responsibility of the nest.  This youngster is being cared for by one of its parents. After bringing a small animal to the nest, the parent leaves the animal with the children in the nest. One of the eaglets can be seen here in the nest. The parent has done the work, provided food for the baby and now is enjoying the wind and warmth of the sun, cleaning itself while being close to the eaglets in the nest.

Sometimes, a parent must just watch out for predators such as a vulture, owl or a tree climbing coon.  Life is dedicated to raising the eaglets. Typically, we find two eaglets in each nest and the eagles will raise only one family each year. They arrive in late December and prefer to use an existing nest. It takes a lot of effort and time to build a new one from scratch. I have seen three nests for this couple over the years I have lived here. I am assuming the same birds are nesting at this spot but no one knows the age of the birds.

Duties as a sentry also requires flight over the neighborhood to see what may be on the ground and to observe any threats in the distance. Reconnaissance flights are also needed to find close and easily caught food. A parent is always close. Maybe we don't see them all the time, but they will fly at very high altitude to find food. They see us and we have no idea they are there. "Eagle eyes"  are well known to be highly developed for long distance precise vision. Their hearing senses are also excellent. Each time I have walked through the forest near a nest, they appear after I hear some calls. (See the Call of the Eagle).

So how attached are they to their young? This is one of the amazing features of the bird to me.  After caring for them day and night in the nest, they then teach them to fly, catch their food and then raise families. This is accomplished over about two years. The eaglets will migrate with their parents to the north during the summer and learn the places and means to make the journey. Up north, they continue to learn how to fish and catch animals with the help of their parents. This is one of the few birds that migrates south for the winter to nest, so when December comes, they fly back with their parents, another lesson in making and surviving a journey back to their nesting habitat.

As a sentry, the bird does not care what direction it faces. He can see in all directions from one perch position. He can turn his head more than 180 degrees and has peripheral vision to boot!

I have seen one of last year's eaglets, not full grown adults but not yet with full color, near the nest. Staying close to mama and daddy, it is content to fish and hunt with them until time to migrate back north. Then it will likely fly alone or with his sibling as this family will be caring for the two new eaglets needing their full attention all the way back north. They may find nesting locations near here but not likely very close because one of the criteria is to have plenty of range for hunting, not too near other families. However, our area certainly has its possibilities, with the new Lake Paloma and tree stands on Spring Creek. A second family started nesting here last year. I do not have any information on that nest this year.

The Bald eagle is a tremendous example of a responsible parent to us, working hard to ensure the best outcome and life for their youngsters. The Bald Eagle is truly a survivor and has been coming back strong in recent decades as a genuine and respected resident of many communities like ours.

In Central Texas, near Austin, there is a nesting couple that can be seen from the highway through binoculars. It is far enough away to not be bothered by visitors, but clearly visible. If anyone wants to know where that nest is, I can provide the information. Visiting that nest will not impair the family life of those birds.  Photography is feasible there with a long or strong zoom lens. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is an Eagle dangerous?

With three Bald Eagles in my vicinity one day last week, and with one suddenly bearing down on me in the forest, I asked myself a simple question. Should I be here around their babies alone, without a witness or anyone to warn me of danger? So I came back to the computer to learn that there are a few recorded incidents, but mostly with children. The sharp talons of an Eagle are capable of inflicting damage but an adult human is more able to incapacitate an Eagle than a small child.  It is highly unlikely that an Eagle would attack any human. Very few incidents have been recorded. Although the bird is huge, it does not weigh much. There are many incidents with an Eagle attacking small pets and they can carry rather heavy objects, a 15 pound dog, for example.
Seeing one flying directly towards you can give a person a strong rush! One is put into a state of awe while at the same time, sensing power and danger just moments away.  The bird is super fast in the air and is incredibly skilled in its flight, dodging tree branches and flying in relatively small spaces, as affords the typical forest. 

  The bird leaves its position on a branch with little warning and no sound. Literally a moment, just a blink, it has totally disappeared right before your eyes. I never feel actually threatened, but can be a little uncomfortable when I know the Eagle is looking directly at me and assessing every move.  So for my purpose here, I have to say that an Eagle is not dangerous. It knows man can hurt him and it prefers to stay out of the way. However, I would never ever threaten one of their babies!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Call of the Wild Eagle

The Woodlands Texas' Bald Eagles have returned again. We again have eaglets in the nest(s) and will continue this annual pattern as along as we have enough forest here to sustain them. Eagles require feeding areas and protection for their nest.

One of the majestic qualities of these extraordinary birds is their call.  Try the chirping sound below, because that is the most prevalent sound in the forest when they are nesting. It echoes among the trees which can generate an eerie sensation.

One also hears the sound of the call. I believe from my own experience that the call (below) is the warning of a possible threat. That is what I was greeted with this morning as I initially approached the nest site. First as I neared the nest, two eagles greeted me. I had been nearing the "call" for several minutes. Then suddenly I saw a yearling, one from last year's nest. That was a treat all by itself. What I was not expecting was that the yearling was flying with one of its parents, which followed it. Then the parent turned around to fly back over me, then "she" put on her brakes with her wings, a spectacular sight, and completely metamorphosed herself from a jet into a helicopter. I stood in awe! She was suspended in the air looking me over. I thought - they have me outnumbered and preparing to attack! I guess I passed the test though, because they disappeared over the horizon quickly and every once in a while, she returned, sometimes to check on me and other times paid no attention to me at all.  Once I did see both parents in flight concurrently.    

Sound 3 (repetitive chirp) is another call I hear frequently when in the forest. I get the feeling it is a signal announcing arrival. These recordings are provided by Your virus software might examine the site and warn of a potential virus at that website, but that is OK since the viruses are not in these files. I have verified that with two virus detection products.