Migration. Spring is coming!

A very wise person told me not to watch the calendar. The birds know when spring is coming and when the ground will warm and the icy waters of Manitoba will melt. My friend’s name was Hector Gray. The village of Graysville, Manitoba where I had my pottery was named after his family. The Grays – Hector, Wilma, and their son, George – were my best friends and always there when George Toews rang for me to come and pick up meddling lambs. George carried the orphans downstairs to the cellar for me and my kids fed them with bottles of milk from our cow until they could safely go in the barn. Spring lambs! The low flying honking geese abounded. They landed on the farmer’s fields looking for leftover grain from the harvest in the fall. ‘Back then’ the geese arrived after 1 April. Today, however, is 4 March and sightings and photographs of the first arrivals from their winter migration brought joy for many in the Manitoba Birding community yesterday.

In the southwestern corner of our province, Gary Bajus caught sight of these Canada geese on a farmer’s field and posted the images for all to enjoy on the Manitoba Birding & Wildlife Photography FB page. Thanks Gary!

3 March 2021 Southwestern Manitoba @ Gary Bajus
3 March 2021. Southwestern Manitoba. @ Gary Bajus

And in Winnipeg, photographer, Andrew Standfield, took the images of this Bald Eagle in Charleswood and posted them on the Manitoba Birding and Wildlife Photography FB Page. I am posting these here because the local group is seeking information about the band. Can you help identify this majestic raptor?

3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield
3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield
3 March 2021. Charleswood, Winnipeg, MB. @Andrew Standfield

In Manitoba, the adult Bald Eagles tend to return to Lake Winnipeg congregating around Hecla Island. Soon the Ospreys will be arriving, too. A public utility, Manitoba Hydro, built nesting poles for the Ospreys after many had been electrocuted on the hydro poles in an area south of Gimli. This is a great ‘birding’ area of Manitoba.

Just twenty kilometres north of Winnipeg (at the bottom of the map), near Selkirk, is Oak Hammock Marsh. The Wetlands of this Nature Center are renowned for the diversity of the species that visitors can see. Besides the other wildlife, there are over 300 species of birds alone. And like all of us, the first arrival of a Canada Goose signals spring! And that goose arrived today, 4 March, at 1:05 pm.

First Canada Goose arrived at Oak Hammock Marsh, 4 March 1:05 pm. Image from Oak Hammock Marsh’s Streaming Cam.

The Manitoba Bison herd at Fort Whyte Alive on McCreary Road in Winnipeg is always there – rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine. The wetlands area of this beautiful nature area are also home to hundreds of species of birds and the lake is awaiting the arrival of the geese and ducks. What you want to bet one arrives today or tomorrow!

Bison herd at Fort White Alive

Oh, and spring means that the geese and ducks will be coming back to the park near to where I live. The Dark-Eyed Juncos will be back picking the threads out of my carpet while the Grackles will be hoping to have a successful clutch with no interference from the local Crow family. Of course, Sharpie will be keeping an eye on all of the garden activity.

Dark-eyed Junco

Take care everyone. Spring must be here! It will be +9 degrees Celsius in Winnipeg on 6 March 2021 – or that is what the weather news is promising.

Gosh, lots of nest happenings!

Today is a check in with our favourite birds. I am working on a developmental chart so that you can check and see how the various birds are growing and if they are meeting their milestone goals. That will be ready for tomorrow, hopefully. We haven’t checked in with our favourite ‘babies’ for a couple of days and there has been lots of activity.

Our first stop is in Fort Myers at the SWFL Eagle Nest with Harriet, M15, E17 and E18. Just yesterday E17, the one that picks on her little brother, was sound asleep in a food coma. E18 decided it would be a good time just to sit on her! You can tell the difference between the two because E17, two hours older, currently has many black feathers on its back.

These two just get funnier and funnier. They have been working on cleaning up the nest, looking over the edge at the world around them, and flapping those wings. When they stretch, like E17 is doing now you can see how long their legs are. Meanwhile, after they have eaten themselves silly, they often look like they are turning into snow people…round blobs with very large jelly bellies.

E18 decides that E17 is a good sofa.

The parents have been introducing the little ones to various types of prey. The eaglets will imprint the animals into their memory and know, when they are older, what to hunt. The other day there was a virtual smorgasbord of three fish, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a cattle egret. The kids have eaten til their crops were so big they simply fell over in a food coma. E18 is at the top of the screen. Have a look. Looks like he has swallowed a small ball. E18 really liked the Cattle Egret. I guess eaglets get tired of eating the same old thing, too.

M15 feeds E18 rabbit and Cattle Egret, Harriet feeds E17 fish

At the same time there has been some very concerning activity. A Great Horned Owl (GHOW) knocked M15 off a branch and into the nest the other evening. It is a wonder he was not severely injured. The owl has gotten braver and almost took Harriet out of the nest – like literally pulling her out. The owl knows that there are little ones for its dinner in that nest. The advantage the owl has is that it flies silent, like a Stealth bomber and it is nocturnal. There is concern because E17 and E18 are too big to fit under Harriet anymore. They often sleep at various places on that big nest. They would be easy pickings for that owl. I know I sound like a broken record but GHOWs are powerful opponents. There is nothing cute about them when it comes to survival.

The image below is from an established Bald Eagle nest near Newton, Kansas. A Great Horned Owl is taking it over to lay her eggs. The owl and eagle confront one another. The Bald Eagle leaves. To date, there have been no other altercations that I aware. The Bald Eagles might have found somewhere else to lay their eggs this season. The GHOW’s eggs will hatch if all goes well and the little owls will fledge at the end of April.

The image below shows the Bald Eagle decided to leave and wait to fight another day. Better safe than severely injured.

And speaking of injuries. Look at this fellow. His lead levels just continue to improve. And when they are cleaning the clinic, A Place Called Hope, he gets the run of the place to walk around. The rehabbers say he loves being ‘the big cheese’ and gets to look at all of the other patients in their cages. When the weather gets better, he will be able to go to the outside aviary. My goodness, he sure looks fabulous!

Sure are lots of changes and goings on in the bird world. Down in New Zealand, the Royal Albatross Chick of 2021 was left alone by its mother, LGL (Lime Green Lime) for the first time over the weekend. This is normal and is called ‘post guard’. The parents begin to leave them alone for periods of time preparing for when the chick will only see their parents when they return to feed them. Happily, the little chick’s dad, LGK (Lime Green Black) flew in about three hours after the mother had left. So that first solitary time wasn’t so bad except for one of the red banded non-breeding juveniles that wanted to give it a hard time and scare it. In actual fact, the older ones are just curious but they can get a little rough. This causes the little ones do get frightened. Imagine the first time you are left alone ever and some big Albatross comes over and starts pulling at your head! It had to be frightening.

Red Banded Non-Breeding Albatross giving the Royal Cam Chick the ‘going over’.

In the image below, the Royal cam chick puts its head down in submission. This is the second visit from the Red-banded non-breeder and the little one wants to protect itself.

Royal Cam Chick is afraid of the Red-Banded Non-Breeder and puts head down.

This little boy (OK, they haven’t announced that but because of its size and rapid growth everyone believes it is a boy) entertained itself with stretches and playing with nest material when it was fully alone. Over the course of the next months, it will build play nests all around its natal nest for something to do.

Solly, the Port Lincoln female Eastern Osprey, with the satellite tracker had been heading north. We have been watching her break records for moving so far away from her natal nest. Now at 154 and 155 days she appears to be heading south. Perhaps she has finished her adventure for now and is going home to her barge nest in Port Lincoln.

She had gone north of Eba Anchorage and now she has doubled back. Streaky Bay is on the way to Port Lincoln!

And one last check in for the day, little E24 over in North East Florida Eagle nest with parents Samson and Gabby. What a cutie! Talk about milestones – this little one seems like it is going to beat all of them. So precious. Pin feathers are coming and his eyes are nice and clear.

Gabby still incubates that egg and you might be wondering about it. The folks at the American Eagle Foundation determined that the second egg never began cracking. Half of E24s shell did slip over the small end and because of the yolk oozing out and an illusion where the crack was it looked like the other eaglet had been cracking around the middle to get out. They are saying that never happened. The second egg was not viable and it was all just an optical illusion.

E24 will not mind growing up an only eaglet. His parents take such good care of him and they challenge him every day with something new to learn.

To make sure that he clears the nest with his ‘ps’, NE24 tucks his head way down low and his tail high up. Incredible! Just watch out parents if you are in the line of fire.

So right now, everything is alright on the two Florida eagle nests, SWFL and NEFL. The Great Horned Owl still occupies the Bald Eagle nest in Kansas. The Eagle Warrior continues to improve. The Royal Albatross chick is growing by leaps and bounds and is in ‘post guard’ stage. Meanwhile Solly has decided, for some reason, to maybe head back home or to go back to Streaky Bay. She seemed to like that place a lot. We last saw her there a week ago or a little more hanging out with the pelicans. And NE24 remains adorable.

Thanks for checking in. Take care everyone. See you soon!

Thanks to the AEF and the streaming cams at SWFL and D. Pritchett, AEF and the streaming cam at NEFL, A Place Called Hope for the image of the Warrior, Derek the Farmer for the streaming cam with the GHOW, Port Lincoln Ospreys for the tracking information on Solly and the Cornell Cams and the NZ DOC for the Royal Cam Albatross.

Let’s make their future better

I have watched Harriet and M15 and E17 and 18 very closely since those kiddos came back from CROW with their eyes all healed. What I have observed is that M15, the dad, seems to intuitively know when E18 wants to eat but won’t because of E17. Yesterday, M15 filled E17 up and then he turned to E18, on the other side of the nest, and started feeding him. The little fella was full to the brim. And, for whatever reason, Harriet has turned a lot of the feeding duties over to M15 lately. She is a great mom but M15 you get my gold star of the week!

M15 feeding E18, 10 February 2021. SWFL Eagle cam with D. Pritchett.

Today has been a very sad day due to some avoidable deaths in the Bald Eagle family. I so needed a laugh and there it was. Lady Hawk (Sharon Dunne) does a lot of videos from the footage at the eagle and albatross cams. This time she did a bit of a funny one. We all like to cheer for the underdog. So here it is, one and a half minutes of slap stick comedy at the expense of E17. She does deserve it, at times. One and a half minutes. Just so you know who you are looking at, E18, the little underdog is on the left. His older sib that causes all the mischief, E17, is on the right.

Make sure you get that red line back to the beginning. You might want to put it on full screen. Enjoy.

Now, let us quickly move over to that nest up at St. Augustine, Florida – the NEFL one with Samson and Gabby. The little one there, E24 is enjoying some nice fresh fish brought in by dad.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think the second egg will make it. And, you know what? Maybe that is OK. We have one healthy eaglet on this nest that would be much older. I think you can imagine what that might be like. E18 was born within hours of E17. This one would be many days younger. Sometimes Mother Nature takes care of things.

And this little one is a fluffy little butterball. Round and healthy, clean eyes. And look, there is a wee bit of white on that rear end where we will see a tail emerge. And those tiny little wings. Precious.

A friend told me once that the second egg is the ‘insurance egg’ if something happens to the first. In their lifetime, Bald Eagles will hope to be able to replace themselves in the numbers. That is how treacherous it is out there for them.

Gabby feeding E24 fresh fish. 10 August 2021. NEFL Eagle cam.

There has been quite a bit of sadness in the last few days in the Bald Eagle world. It is difficult enough for the eagles to survive hatch. You are witnessing that. We have seen so many loses. But beginning with hatch, just the slightest thing can cause a left egg shell to go and slip itself over the second egg. That eaglet might not be strong enough to get out of two shells! Then there is surviving intruders, avian flu and pink eye and well, a drought that brings no food, floods, or even bad parenting. Living to be two years old is extremely difficult never mind making it to adulthood for a Bald Eagle, a bird that is extremely protected by laws, is a real feat. And anything I say about these beautiful eagles is as easily applied to our hawks and falcons.

Several beautiful eagles were taken into care in the past three or four days. Each one was suffering with high levels of lead poisoning. One eagle was actually shot by someone! Yes, shot. Others ate carion and ingested the lead shot. We have made the world of the birds toxic! Some have died or had to be euthanized. Today, I am bringing you the story of two. One older eagle and one beautiful juvenile and some ideas on how you might help.

The Wildlife Service of the State of Virginia provided the following description. It is good and will answer a lot of your questions: “Lead is a soft, pliable heavy metal and fragments easily. Historically, lead ammunition has been frequently used in big game hunting, including deer, elk, and moose hunting. Even when a lead core bullet passes all the way through its intended target, as much as a third or more of the bullet’s total weight will be broken away and remain inside the animal. A normal practice for hunters is to remove the internal organs of the shot deer or other game animal, and simply leave the “gut pile” in the fields after removing the body of the animal. Nearly all of the gut piles contain tiny shards of the lead ammunition”.

There is something that you can do to help. Talk to people or write to someone with influence to make it illegal for lead to be used in anything that has to do with hunting and fishing. There are viable alternatives that do not poison the wildlife or the water. And they are available. So if you want to do something and you have a few minutes one day, write to your political representatives. You can use the same letter, just change the name. In the US make sure you write to the people in the US Fish and Wildlife Services, the Department of the Interior, your congressperson and your Senator. In Canada, write to your MLA and your MP. You don’t even need a stamp. Do it on line.

If you know a hunter, find out if they will consider taking measures to bring the gut pile home to dispose of it properly.

The Migratory Bird Act protects all eggs, nests, birds, feathers of all birds except house sparrows, starlings, and pigeons. They should then be protected by our human inventions such as lead weights and lead shot. If you know of someone that hunts or fishes, maybe you could also talk about how lead impacts wildlife – and give them a packet of heavy rubber weights or stainless steel shot in exchange for some of their old gear. The lead shot and weights would then be taken to the same depot that would receive other harmful items such as paint.

Notice how the injured beak has healed so that the eagle can hunt.

CT Environmental Conservation Officer Michael Curran found the male eagle in the image above hardly able to move. He recognized it because a local reporter had photographed the Bald Eagle in October with a severe beak injury and posted the image in the local paper. No one knew if this beautiful adult would survive. Most thought it would not. Well it did. Curran discovered the male eagle a couple of days ago starving, with swollen feet in the cold, and covered in mites. The eagle could barely stand for more than a few minutes. That eagle was lucky. Someone found it who cared. Curran knew where to take the eagle and that was to ‘A Place Called Hope’ where it was given round the clock care. At the end of 24 hours this bird still had the will to live so a routine lead toxicity test. The level was found to be 48.9. While no level of lead poisoning is safe, this is a horrifically high level. The wildlife rehabbers at A Place of Hope have started this wonderful, strong-willed ‘I want to live bird’ on chelation therapy. They have not seen an eagle survive with this high of toxicity but this bird is a fighter and they said they will be there to fight with him.

And then there is this beautiful juvenile.

The beautiful juvenile eagle above is Decorah Eagle, D35. She was found dead on 29 January on the banks of the Iowa River just south of Iowa City. An examination on site revealed that she was well fed, had excellent feather condition, and there was no damage to her feet and talons. D35 had a transmitter and it was working. No one could understand why such a healthy eagle would be dead. SOAR (Saving our Avian Resources) did a full necropsy including x-rays. She died of acute lead poisoning. There were high levels of lead in her blood system, #6 lead shot in her stomach, and her stomach acids had worked on other lead shot causing it to break down and be even more toxic. There were also high levels of lead in her liver and fat reserves. She didn’t have a chance. It would have been an awful death.

These are only two of the eagles that have been impacted in the last few days. There are more. I could create pages. One beautiful juvenile bird that was healthy in every other way died and one older one who lived through a massive beak injury is now fighting for its life. You don’t hear as much about these levels of toxicity and deaths in the spring and summer because they happen during the fall and winter’s hunting season more often than not.

And if lead toxicity isn’t enough – something created entirely by humans – then there are balloons. You can also help with this. Spread the word. I am attaching an image that has been circulating on social media to make the point:

Every type of bird from Pelicans to Eagles, tiny little song birds to great big hawks get tangled in balloons. One slogan that is also going around shows a bird’s legs all wrapped in the string of a balloon. It said, “Balloons don’t go to heaven, they tangle bird’s feet”. Fireworks might be fun but they terrify wildlife as well as domestic pets. Balloons are beautiful and we used to let them go full of wishes and hopes. No one knew the damage they would cause. We now know. So we can stop the practice and find another way of celebrating.

I want to close on a high note. These little ones are healthy and strong. We want to protect the future of their parents and them so that one day we can watch E17 feed her babies, see E18 bring in the fish for his kids, and E24 set up their nest. How wonderful that would be.

Samson has lots of fresh fish on deck and E24 loves a nice big feed before bed.

Dinner time at the NEFL nest.

There is a lot of fresh fish on the SWFL nest, too. Dad just brought in that small catfish. Earlier there had been two more fish and a squirrel. Lots of food, thanks M15! Harriet fed them well and they are in their own corners, Harriet in the middle to stop any nonsense.

And I want to leave you with an image of E17 and E18 and Harriet. Look how big they are! Great view over their territory. Gosh, aren’t they lucky. Twenty gold stars for the Pritchett family who maintain the cameras and the nest their dad started. Amazing.

Thank you for joining me today. Remember, ask about those lead weights. I don’t know the regulations in Europe and South American or in China where so many reading my blog live but check. I intend to write Cabela’s and Canadian Tire today to see what lead products they stock and find out who to ask about stopping the practice. Maybe one of the owners of these companies will want to be a hero for our wildlife. You never know.

See you tomorrow. Stay bundled up. Be safe.

Thank you to NEFL Eagle cam and SWFL Eagle cam and the Pritchett family for their streaming cameras where I get my screen shots. Thank you to Lady Hawk for her great video and to SOAR and A Place called Hope for the images today.