Books, bird count, bunnies, and beak bites (yes, a shark bit an eagle)!

The pandemic and the onset of winter and, now, the Polar Vortex, mean that more often than not, my friends are tucked up under an old quilt or duvet, sipping hot tea, and reading. It is a favourite pastime of Canadians in the winter! And a lovely one at that. It is so nice to find articles in the strangest of places remarking on how we have all come to love books in the past year and have supported small book sellers. Many of my friends order an armful of books each week. Sadly, our libraries have been closed. It has encouraged me to seek out small publishers and second hand shops.

A nice surprise arrived in the post today. It is a book I ordered several weeks ago from an on line shop that specializes in used book. The book is called On the Wing. To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. I haven’t finished my last book but I was tempted to peek inside. Gosh. That first page got me really excited. Let me quote some of the lines: “With no companion, guided only by the ancestral memory she carried within, our little hawk was staking her life. Nothing like the abstract idea of migration that I’d imagined, it was humbling even to be a spectator to the mortal intensity of what the tiny, determined speck below was doing”. “No one would ever know what she thought, but it was clear as we watched, something had swirled to life within this falcon, becoming the driving force of her entire being”. Tennant was in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2000 ft in the air, following a female peregrine falcon, with a tracker glued to her tail feathers, from Padre Island to the Arctic. Oh, I can’t wait to join him on this journey!

And, speaking of migration, before it happens, there is the Great Bird Count from 12-15 of February. And everyone can take part from toddlers to seniors, experts to backyard birders. It is fun and it is free. You just need your eyes (OK, mine aren’t so good because of glaucoma but I can still spot those feathered creatures luring around), a good memory or a note pad and pencil, and a computer to submit your findings.

Just imagine everyone around the world looking out their windows from Friday to Monday counting the birds that they see. You can spend from fifteen minutes each day to as long as you wish. Everyone goes to birdcount.org and reports their counts. Then researchers at places like the Audubon Society, the Cornell Ornithology Lab, etc will create a giant map of where all the birds are. Bird counts happen several times a year. All those counts reveal how recent weather patterns impact the birds and their movements. I hope you will join in the fun!

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And now for some updates on some of our favourite birds.

First up is the NorthEast Florida Eagle cam nest near St. Augustine. E24 is filling itself up with nice big bites of fish for such a little one. Samson brought in several nice big fish today and stocked up the pantry. No worries for Gabby if she is hungry or E24. Not a worry in the world. One of the things I love is seeing the dad fill that fridge up good. It looks like armadillo could be on the menu tomorrow. If only Gabby had a fridge and some non-harmful insecticide spray. There are so many mosquitoes there.

Look at that little one, so fluffy and round.

Well, the second wee one has a problem. A half of the shell from the first hatch did not get out of the nest fast enough and it slipped itself right over the other egg. So, it is making it much more difficult for E25 to hatch. That is why it looked like the chick had pecked all the way around the middle. It was an illusion. Gabby is looking down at a new hole the one inside is making as she tucks E24 in for a nap.

This happens often. Sometimes it takes so long for the little one to hatch that the first born is just so much older and bigger and the second born doesn’t survive. The older one totally dominates everything.

You can see how the shell got slipped over. It looks like the little one inside cracked this egg all around but it didn’t. Look carefully. There is a pip on the left end toward the bottom corner of the picture. Let’s hope it works and gets out of there soon.

I wonder if it is hotter in Fort Myers where E17 and E18 are growing up. The eagles in NEFL just don’t seem to be panting as much today as Harriet, M15 and the twins are.

Just look. You would think they are the best of buddies sharing a joke. Born within two hours of one another, they are twins. But that doesn’t mean, as we all know, that there isn’t fierce competition when it comes to food.

They both had a great big breakfast this morning. Just look at that crop. E17, the oldest, can’t even see its feet.

And here’s E18, just as stuffed. Sometimes I just want to poke one of those crops to see how they feel.

As the day progressed and the temperature rose, the little eaglets searched for any shade they could find around the nest.

It wasn’t long until Mom Harriet flew in and rescued her babies from the scorching Florida sun. She is like a ‘mumbrella’.

Right around tea time, Dad comes in with a snack for the youngsters.

In the book I am reading, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss, the author Margaret Renkl says: “The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten. Bluebirds eat insects; snakes eat bluebirds; hawks eat snakes; owls eat hawks. That’s how wilderness works, and I know it. I was heartbroken anyway”. Renkl was referring to the wrens eating the bluebird eggs in the nest box on her porch. But today, for a snack, M15 found a fluffy little bunny. My friend, Michelle, always tells me that the bunny will become an eagle. It still makes me sad. The hawk that comes to our garden and I have an agreement. He can’t touch the rabbit that lives there or the little Downy Woodpecker. Sparrows are fair game.

M15 has once again made sure that the eaglets are too full for E17 to cause any mischief to her little brother, E18.

But the day is not over. It is 6pm on the nest and the twins are getting fed the rest of the rabbit. E18 has watched and learned well. He is now the master of what we call ‘snatch and grab’. I have seen him do this several times today. Pretends he is not interested, parent offers, he rushes and grabs. It turns out the eat far faster but, hey, whatever works. It is hard to see but both have huge crops and will sleep like babies the rest of the night. Great work Harriet and M15. Gotta’ love this family. If only every eaglet were as lucky (or every child) to have such great parents.

I have not checked into the Captiva Nest on Sanibel Island for several days. The last time there was an intruder and after reading about Romeo and Juliet or the Trio, I just couldn’t stand another heart break. I call the Captiva nest “the sadness”. It has not always been this way, just this year. This is where Peace and Hope, the beautiful eaglets of Connie and Joe died from rodenticide poisoning. You will remember how remorseful the parents were. And then there was an intruder. But, things happen in an instant on these nests and to my shock, when I clicked on the camera for the Captiva Nest today, there was Connie wrestling with a small shark! Seriously, a shark. It actually bit her beak. You can see the blood. (Just a note, it wasn’t blood from the shark). She fought with that thing and didn’t let it get the best of her. And for all the bother, she had a massive lunch. That shark is now an eagle – a fish with feathers. The bleeding was reported to CROW and the vets watched the footage and noted that the blood had stopped. No need for an intervention. Yeah. A quiet little yeah. I honestly don’t know how you would try and help a full grown eagle if it didn’t want to be helped.

Connie must have been very proud of herself. You can see the water in the distance and that shark was alive when she landed on the nest with it. These female eagles really do impress me!

Joe came in to check and see if everything was alright. And Connie allowed him to share her fish when she was finished – but not before!!!!!!!!!!

You can see the blood on her beak form when the shark bit Connie.

This is an image from the other camera monitoring this nest. Looks like a small shark to me.

Over in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the Eagles at Duke Farm are experiencing very different weather from Florida. It is currently 1 degree C. or 34 degrees F. at the nest. Over the next couple of days the temperature will rise to 2 or 3 C and that snow should melt. And then, wham. Just about the time you think it is over for this nest, the snow comes back heavy on Saturday and Sunday.

I promised an update. It is nearing 9:30 pm on 9 February. Across North America the birds are trying to sleep. In Australia, they have been awake for a few hours.

Tomorrow we will check on the Royal Albatross and see if Gabby has one eaglet or two.

Sleep well everyone. Take care of yourselves and don’t get out in this extreme weather unless it is absolutely essential. Check out the site to put in the birds you count in a few days – just so you know where to go. It is such a joy to share my love of these beautiful creatures with you.

Thank you to the NEFL eagle cam, the SWFL cam and D. Pritchett Farms and Real Estate, Captiva eagle cam, and Duke Farms eagle cam for their streaming cameras. This is where I get my screen shots for you.

More good news, Wisdom is home!

Oh, it is another cold one on the Canadian Prairies. -28 with an extreme cold warning. The birds are fed and there were two Blue Jays stuffing themselves under the feeders. It is always nice to see them.

Lots of things happening in the world of our birds! Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the switches on the individual nests or the antics of the Es.

The image below is the best image I have of Wisdom. Remember. Wisdom is the oldest banded Albatross in the World and is at least 69 years old. Here she is in 2011 with her Moli on Midway Atoll. Wisdom is a Laysan Albatross. Look at how close the nests are together! Midway is a small atoll measuring 6.2 square kilometres or 2.4 square miles. In other words, it is very crowded with the half million pairs of Laysan Albatross calling it their nesting territory and home.

Wisdom, 2011. Image courtesy of USFWS.

There is ten years between the image of Wisdom and her chick in 2011 above and the one below. The one below was taken yesterday right after she arrived back on 6 February to relieve her mate. While Wisdom was out to sea her beautiful little chick of 2021 hatched. Is it just the cutest?

Wisdom sees her 2021 chick for the first time on 6 February.

Oh, look at the little sweetie peeking out.

Wisdom looking down and preening her baby.

Images thanks to Friends of Midway Atoll.

I want to include some historical images for you of the Midway Atoll and the Laysan Albatross. All of these photos were taken by government staff on the atoll and are courtesy of the USWFS. Some of you will remember Midway for its strategic positioning during WWII. Today it is the home of the albatross!

1965
1958

In the image below, the adults have white plumage with brown wings and the most amazing eye makeup of any bird on the planet! The fluffy brown feathers and grey bills and faces are the baby Moli grown into juveniles. If you look carefully at the back left you will see that the juvenile is losing its fluffy brown down. Soon it will resemble the adult.

There are actually funny contests on Hawaii for the Moli with the craziest moulting pattern! Some seriously look like bikinis.

June 2008
9 January 2012

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Well, Harriet and M15 seem to have the SouthWest Florida Eagle nest at Fort Myers under control. Sometimes the little ones, the second born, figure it out but, in this instance, it seems that little E18 is getting some help from mom and dad. Where there are issues related to who is dominant or food resources, the largest can really cause distress to the smaller one. Some of you might remember that Hope pulled all the hair off the top of Peace’s head in one of their bopping sessions. It was really too horrid to watch. Sometimes the competition results in the death of the smaller, weaker, and more submissive one. This is not going to be the case on this nest! Twice now M15 has stepped up when E17 was full and asleep and started feeding sweet little 18. I am a sucker for the underdog! M15 stuffed that little eaglet with big morsels of rabbit and then Harriet moved over and fed it some fish. Needless to say both the eaglets are sleeping on cropzillas tonight.

[Images of Harriet and M15’s nest courtesy of D Pritchett Eagle Cam.]

Both eaglets have little crops. Watch E18 is going to go to sleep and M15 is going to feed little 18 more rabbit!

E18 really enjoys its private dining with dad!

Stay asleep E17!!!!!!

E18 really loves his Dad.

Harriet walks over to feed E18 some fish but I think this little one really enjoys his rabbit. Look at the way E18 and M15 are looking at one another. So sweet.

I am going to sleep a little better tonight knowing that little E18 went to bed with a full tummy and that his daddy, M15 is keeping an eye out for him.

This was a few hours ago. It is amazing how these little ones begin to understand how to survive. Some of them get pretty inventive in getting food and staying out of the eye of the bigger sibling. Little E18 is doing well and the parents have its back. I noticed Harriet giving M17 a tap on the beak yesterday as if it was a warning for a time out! That eaglet can’t help but get in trouble wherever it is. E18 was even bopping back at Harriet. I wonder if she has a secret time out spot? Yesterday I was hoping that M15 would build a little pen around 18 for a few minutes.

Harriet feeding E18. Image courtesy of D Pritchett SWFL eagle cam.

Remember the Trio of Eagles and their nest at Fulton, Illinois? the two males Valor I and II and the female, Starr? I like to imagine in my mind that it is easier to take care of a nest of two youngsters but I want to give M15 a big round of applause this morning. He is right there with Harriet looking after the kids. And he certainly is close to E18.

I want to be very careful and try not to put human emotions onto our birds. But I do wonder if M15 was hassled by a big sister when he was in the nest.

Harriet and M15 both on deck. Image courtesy of D Pritchett SWFL eagle cam.
E18 peeking out while E17 naps. Image courtesy of D Pritchett SWFL eagle cam.

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Down in New Zealand, another Albatross mom returned from the sea. Lime-Green-Lime (LGL) slipped yesterday to relieve Lime-Green-Black (LGK). I know it is hard to get your head around all those limes! The winds have been blowing and the fishing must be good. She was only away for three days.

LGL arrives home. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab and NZ DOC.

Ah, the proud mamma looking down at her two week old baby.

LGL looking down at her precious chick. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab and NZ DOC.

This kiddo sure learned how to get his bill in place so that he could get that squid shake. Yum. This two week old already weighs 1.2kg (2.65 pounds)!! Oh, my. And I will absolutely say, for certain, that this has to be a little boy! The average weight of a Royal Albatross chick at fledge (usually mid September) is 8-8.5 kilograms. The largest has been 14.3 kilograms. This little one isn’t going to be little for long if these parents keep feeding him lots and lots of high protein oily food! Such gentle and loving birds.

I have said it before but I find the Albatross so relaxing. Yes, there is lots of drama but some how it just isn’t as visually stressful as the Bald Eagles. It is a bit like watching Daisy the Duck. You can sit for hours with the birds simply rotating on their nest. There is no bopping or pulling the siblings hair out. And, of course, there aren’t any siblings! The parents focus for two years is on this one single chick.

Nice feeding! Image courtesy of Cornell Lab and NZ DOC.

Ranger Sharyn gently removes the chick for his weight check. Look how big he is! Now, no more daily checks. He is doing fine. He will only be weighed Tuesday mornings.

Ranger Sharyn preparing to weigh the chick. What a handful! Image courtesy of Cornell Lab and NZ DOC.

Ranger Sharyn is so gentle with this growing chick. Ranger Sharyn! Did you remember to bring the bigger bag for this big boy?

This baby is growing! Image courtesy of Cornell Lab and NZ DOC.

Awwwww.

And last but never least, our beautiful Bald Eagle mom at Duke Farms in New Jersey. Yesterday the snow on her big nest was almost gone. Look what is happening now!!!!!!!! Oh, my. She is one dedicated mother that will persevere through thick or thin. It was nice she had a break to shake all that snow off. Let’s hope that this bad weather that they are having on the eastern coast of the United States lets up soon. It is the same system, I think, that is sending strong winds to the eagles at Fort Myers along with some rain.

Sunday, February 7. Snow returns to the nest. Image courtesy of Duke Farms eagle cam.

Just looking at that nest in NJ makes me want to run and get a bigger and thicker pair of socks. This poor mom. Nothing but snow. I do wonder if we will see more of this in the coming years with the climate changing. Or if eagles like these will have to relocate further south. We will keep an eye on them.

Stay safe. Thanks for joining me today to check in with our favourite birds. See you tomorrow!