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.

Ravens threaten Daisy!

Daisy’s Monday morning in Australia (Sunday in North America) started out as beautifully as it ended the evening before. She had gone to forage returning at 19:45 yesterday evening. It appears to be a growing pattern, leaving in the heat of the afternoon and returning right before dusk. This pretty much ensures that she will miss the sea eagles if they come.

While she was away yesterday, the Rainbow Lorikeets came to visit Daisy, full of energetic chatter but, at the same time, wondering where she was! They are so cute. They almost look like stuffed plushies someone has placed on Daisy’s nest tree.

Where’s MY Daisy?

It is going to be hot again today for Daisy. They are predicting temperatures of 34 climbing to 39 tomorrow. Our pour little duck needs a paddle pool up there with her!

Daisy decided not to leave this morning for a bathroom break or to forage. Instead, she stayed on the nest. The Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos can be heard around 7:15 but it is an Unkindness that rattles Daisy’s world at 8:04. A group of Ravens is called an Unkindness and they were certainly not nice to Daisy. In fact, they were downright threatening. They moved from the top of the tree down closer. It was impossible to get am image of them in the tree (see second image below) but their shadows could be seen and their noise was deafening. Daisy was so frightened.

Australian Raven. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Look at the image below. Notice that Daisy has spread her feathers out in a manner similar to when a raptor mantles its prey. Her tail is fanned out and the feathers on her back are raised. She is protecting her clutch of eggs from these predators. The Ravens try harder and harder to get Daisy off her nest of eggs so they can eat them!

Daisy flattens her feathers and her head against the nest.

The Unkindness bullied Daisy trying to get her off her nest for five minutes. It must have seemed like a life time. And then they were away!

Except for the heat, the rest of the day has been relatively uneventful. The birds and animals of the forest are trying to expend as little energy as they can and remain cool in the hot Australian heat.

Daisy gathers up leaves and methodically covers her clutch of eggs and flies off to forage at 13:04:44.

Daisy leaving her nest to forage.

Notice how Daisy has moved leaves over on top of her down and tucked it in tight today. She might be worried about the Ravens coming back to try and find her nest. Or maybe she thinks the sea eagles might stop in to see if anyone is incubating the eggs.

Daisy flies from the nest.

Look at the image above. You can just see Daisy flying off. It got really hot on the nest today. The afternoon is the worst. Daisy left a little earlier than usual. Eggs are incubated at 37.5 degrees. It is possible that the heat from outside and the down stuffed around could keep the eggs toasty warm until later today. I wonder if Daisy will return around 17:00 or if she will wait til almost dusk.

Update: It was a very short foray for Daisy. She was gone only until 14:32 – so under an hour and a half. When she returned it looked like she was pretending like she had just landed on the nest. Like always, she looked around and walked very slowly before going over to her nest. What I find interesting is that she does not immediately move the leaves or open the down. It is always like she is simply waiting a little more being overly careful. Daisy is so cautious. What a good little mother!

Thank you for joining us and checking in on the little duck that built her nest inside the nest tree of the big sea eagles.

Thank you to the Sea Eagle cam, Birdlife Australia, and the Discovery Centre for the cameras that provided the images.

Day 11 of incubation

It is noon on Daisy’s nest in the Sydney Olympic Park forest. She has started to pant as the sun shines directly on her. Like other birds, panting is a way for Daisy to regulate her temperature; she does not sweat like humans. It is, as summer days go, hot. The weather at Homebush Bay indicates that it is 34.1 degrees C. I wonder if it is actually hotter on the nest?? It is normally understood that heat rises. And, as you can see from the image below, Daisy is in direct sunlight right now. Some parts of Australia are bracing themselves for very hot weather in a few days, up to 39 degrees C.

The hot sun at high noon is shining directly on Daisy.

Many have thought that Daisy would need to take more breaks during the day as the heat builds. However, since it is 12:30 and she remains, I am thinking that she will follow her regular pattern of going off in the afternoon to forage. She has now gathered up more down to cover up the eggs from predators.

At 13:18 Daisy begins to take the down of the nest cup and fold it over inwards. Sometimes she just does this and then will turn and do her cute tail wiggle. Occasionally, she does this when she is rolling her eggs but, most often, it is a sign that she is thinking about leaving to eat. Remember, Daisy does, if all things go serenely, have a pattern of leaving the nest between 1300 and 1400 to forage. Yesterday it was 14:02. And yesterday, she returned at 16:49 but noticed both WBSE on the camera tree and aborted her landing on the nest. So, on average, if voluntarily, it appears that she takes about a two and a half to a three hour break.

In the images below, Daisy begins to tuck the down in around the egg cup. Once the down is folded onto the top of the eggs, she then goes about placing leaves and plant material, and small twigs to further disguise the location. It took her eight minutes to get everything right so that she can leave. She departed at 13:26.

Daisy is busy folding the down that lines the nest cup inward.
Very methodically she continues folding the down in a clockwise direction.
After folding the down, Daisy begins to use her bill to bring in plant material.
It is not always easy to move the leaves and twigs with her bill but Daisy is tenacious.
Once she is satisfied that the eggs are covered as best she can, she leaves to forage to keep up her strength. It is very hot in Hornbush Bay and she needs food and water.
Daisy’s nest is nicely concealed.

All birds have predators and Daisy is particularly vulnerable as she is an outsider to the forest. Her presence and her seven eggs have caught the attention of some, like the Raven and Pied Currawong, that would eat her eggs. Like Daisy’s plumage that serves as camouflage, the manner in which she has concealed her nest is meant to distract any potential threats. She has used the leaves and plant material on top. They blend in perfectly, there is absolutely nothing that would call attention. Daisy is also very discreet and alert in her comings and goings from the nest. Every move is slow and calculated unless she is frightened off by the approaching sea eagles or if she notices their arrival in another tree. Then she leaves quickly!

This is day 11 of Daisy’s brooding or incubation. Even though the eggs were laid on different days, Daisy did not start hard incubation until the last egg was in the nest. Imagine that one minute there are eggs, and within a few minutes the nest will be brimming full of peeping and clacking ducklings. This is precisely what will happen. This is known as synchronized hatching. The number of incubation days to hatching varies but is normally 28-30.

Daisy’s little ducklings – should the nest survive and they make it through the forest to the water – will be covered with fuzzy yellow down. They will have a characteristic dark chocolate brown-black line running from their bill through their eye. There are some white patches on their wings. They will be ever so cute!

Black Pacific Ducklings

Daisy’s ducklings are precocial at hatch. This means that they do not need Daisy to feed them. Daisy’s role will be to lead them to the water where they can forage themselves. Daisy will also help them to learn about predators and she will keep them warm in the evening. In a couple of months their new plumage will be that of an adult Black Pacific Duck, like Daisy.

They are known as ‘dabbling or puddle ducks’. They feed by tipping rather than diving to the bottom of the shallow water. They often forage at the edge of the river and lake like they are doing in the images below. They do not, however, hunt for food on land.

Black Pacific Ducks foraging on the shore. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Dabbling along the muddy shoreline. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A great image of a Black Pacific Duck foraging in shallow water. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It is due to be another hot day in the forest tomorrow. The prediction is that it will be 37 degrees Celsius. This might turn out quite well for Daisy as the White Bellied Sea Eagles could be at Goat Island enjoying the cooler weather near the water. It is 16:42 and Daisy has not returned to her nest. She will be enjoying the cool waters of the canal and the river and, since it is so hot, might decide til near dusk when it is safe for her to return to her nest. The sea eagles are normally roosting then.

An uneventful day is a good day for Daisy the Duck.

Thanks for dropping by to check on the little duck who is occupying the large sea eagle’s nest in Sydney Olympic Park forest. Stay safe everyone. See you tomorrow!

I am grateful for the Sea Eagle cam, Birdlife Australia, and the Discovery centre for the cameras they support. This is where I get my scaps.

Quite a fright

Late yesterday afternoon Daisy arrived back at the nest right before 17:00. In a split second, she saw the two WBSE on the camera tree and was able, quickly, to abort her landing. They scared Daisy. She stayed away only returning at 19:43 as the sun was beginning to set on the old Ironbark forest.

And if that wasn’t enough of a fright, in the wee hours of the night she was literally scared off by sounds coming from the nest. Daisy was so frightened she quickly flew off after listening for a few minutes. And that scared off the Ringtail Possum that was climbing up the nest peeking in at Daisy sleeping in the sea eagle nest. It seems they both scared one another.

Common Ringtail Possums are small. They are about the size of a medium domestic cat. They are grey with some white behind the eyes with a white tip on their tail. They use this tail almost like a fourth leg wrapping it around branches to help them climb. They are forest dwellers and are very familiar with the sea eagles that raise young on this nest. Many people think they have their nest at the very bottom of the sea eagle nest. Like BooBook Owl and the more threatening Common Bushtail Possum, they hunt at night. They are vegetarians feeding on plants, fruit, and flora. The little Ringtail possum is the only species of possum in Australia where the male is actually involved in caring for the young possums. They are, again, not as much a danger to Daisy as the Common Ringtail Possum.

Common Ringtail Possum. Notice the thick tail that they use to help them climb. Photo courtesty of Wikimedia Commons.

The possum that Daisy should be very fearful of is the Bushtail.

Brushtail Possum at Grampians National Park, Australia courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brushtail possums are the most widespread marsupial in Australia. (They are also in New Zealand). They are brown and have really bushy tails with a underneath furless patch that helps them to climb trees and hang on to the branches. They hunt at night and eat leaves, flowers, fruits, insects, small animals, and eggs. They are not related to the Opossum of the Americas and they are not the benign fruit eater portrayed by many books. They pose a real problem to Daisy as they are, as noted earlier, keen egg eaters. These possums are known to have eaten parrots, keas, robins, as well as larger kiwis. Researchers believe the decline of the North Island Kokako (endemic to New Zealand) to almost extinction was caused by the Brushtail Possum. The Kokako is a large grey-blue song bird. It has a black mask and long legs. New Zealanders are working hard to restore the populations of these lovely forest birds.

North Island Kokako perched on a Branch. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It is now past dawn in Sydney, Australia. No sign of the White-Bellied Sea Eagles. Daisy is setting serenely on her nest. You will notice that she has been bringing in some of the down that was scattered. The nest is quite fluffy now!

Daisy, after dawn, January 22

There is absolutely no telling what comings and goings will happen today. It is Day 10 of brooding!

Daisy’s beautiful layered plumage on her wings.

Dawn casts a beautiful rose-gold over all the forest.

Dawn

And just about the time Daisy settled into a quiet early morning, she heard something land on the camera tree. It is 7:18:48. Too late to get off the nest or cover the eggs, she decided the right thing to do was to freeze flat.

Daisy lays ‘frozen’ hoping that the large bird on the camera tree does not see her.

Whatever it was, it was, its shadow indicated that it was a large bird but not as large as a sea eagle. Spotters said it was white so it is likely not then the Raven who continues to come, hoping to find Daisy gone and eggs for dinner. The bird left in about ten minutes but Daisy stayed frozen like she is in the photo above. Gradually, she began to relax.

Daisy relaxing slowly.

The first threat of the morning has come and gone after the excitement of the possum who came during the early night.

Stay tuned. An updated post will come in about six hours. Stay safe. Thanks for dropping in to check on Daisy.

Thank you to Sea Eagle Cam, BirdLife and the Discovery Center for the cameras from which I took my scaps.