Sadness and Hope in Latvia

Spilve is a northern neighborhood of Riga, Latvia. It is most famous for its airport that was operating during World War I which is still busy today training pilots. The word Spilve means a type of ‘cotton grass’.

Spilve Airport with its classical facade. Wikimedia Commons.

Spilve is also the name of a very young and extremely beautiful female Golden Eagle and she is the heroine of our story.

The Golden Eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. This strong eagle is capable of killing cows and horses but normally subsists on medium sized mammals and large birds. They also eat carrion (dead animals, mostly road kill). Golden Eagles are about the same size as Bald Eagles. Their plumage is a beautiful golden brown and their heads are brown with a gold nape. Their average life span is thirty-two years. In Latvia, they are only a few Golden Eagles. They are extremely rare. They are listed in the Red Book (both in Latvia and Russia) and are highly protected. The European Union Directive 2009/147/EC and Article 4 of the Bird Directive also protect their habitats. Various other laws set up protection zones around nests – year round and seasonal. Anyone must have a permit to enter as human interference is prohibited. With the advent of human-made platform nests, there is a slow increase in the number of Golden Eagles.

In 2010, Ugis Bergmannis, Senior Environmental Protection Agent, built an artificial Golden Eagle nest on an isolated island in a bog. That site is managed by Latvian State Forests. Eaglets were raised on that site up to and including 2016 when the male, Virsis, lost his mate. (No one knows how old Virsis is). There were many females that came around the nest that Virsis protected but no bonds were made. Then in 2019 a dark eyed, dark feathered beauty came to the nest. She was too young to breed but Virsis must have been attracted to her. In the late winter of 2020, the pair began to bring twigs to the nest. During March they were mating. Streaming cam watchers along with the people of Latvia were excited because it had been more than three years since a little Golden eaglet had hatched on that nest! Golden Eagles are extremely rare. Eyes were glued to the streaming cam feed and then at 16:30 on the 28 of March 2020, Spilve went into labour for three minutes. At the end she was chorteling to Virsis to come see. The first egg was fully laid at 16:33. So many people in Latvia and around the world celebrated. On 1 April, Spilve laid her second egg.

Spilve looking at her spotted egg.

Golden Eagles take from 40-45 days of incubation between the day the egg is laid and hatch. Local statistics state that only 8% of the Golden Eagle nests having two eggs actually fledge two juveniles. Of Spilve’s eggs, only one hatched. The first egg was unviable and the second hatched on day 38, the 9th of May 2020. The young eaglet was named Klints which means ‘Rock’. The word for Golden Eagle in Latvian is ‘Klinsu Erglis’.

Little Klints is born on 10 May 2020. Spilve looks down seeing her first eaglet.

The early prey was just small birds brought to the nest. The normal prey for Golden Eagles is rabbits and fawns and some wondered if this area had enough food for the family. Images on the streaming cam show the parents arriving with full crops but often there was no food on the nest. This begins to change after about a week. On 17 May, Spilve catches a large rabbit while Virsis cares for Klints. It is a feast for the whole nest including Klints who is chirping away. After this, a variety of food is brought to the nest including a fox cub, more hares, and even ducks. Food items are plentiful and Klints thrives.

I can stand up – on my ankles!

Virsis and Klints looking into one another’s eyes. How touching.

Klints with Virsis.

By June 1, Klints is strong and is standing.

Klints. 1 June 2020. Standing and looking over edge of nest.

Family portrait on 5 June. Virsis on the left, Klints in the middle and Spilve on the right. Virsis made five small prey deliveries on this day. Everyone is doing well.

Family portrait. Virsis on the left, Spilvie on the right and little Klints with a full crop in the middle.

The following day, Virsis brings the legs of a rabbit and its spine to the nest along with a raccoon for the pantry. Watch out Klints!

Food delivery! Watch out below.

Klints watches, in anticipation, his father deliver the heavy raccoon to the nest. Klints is in his accelerated growing phase and needs a lot of food.

By now Klints is very steady when he is standing and you can see the gorgeous black feathers coming in at the wing tips. What a beautiful eaglet!

Did you order a raccoon?

Parents begin to leave Klints on the nest alone by itself. They bring small prey items and Klints mantles and tries to eat them whole without a lot of success. Spilve feeds him. On the 12th of June only a small bird is delivered to Klints by Virsis. It is raining off and on and it is getting hot and humid. 13 June is a much better hunting day for Virsis and he brings a large prey item into the nest. There is enough for everyone!

On 16 June Spilve arrives at the nest with a limp. There is a big thunderstorm and no prey items on the nest for Spilve and Klints to eat. Both are cold and drenched.

Cold and shivering.

Once the rain stops, Virsis brings food to the nest for Klints. Shortly after, Spilve arrives with a small bird. There is lots for everyone to eat. Klints is not self-feeding and he relies on Spilve to feed him. He is meeting each and every one of his milestones. Look at the gorgeous dark plumage coming in on Klints’s wings and back.

Virsis brings prey to Klints.

21 June. Huge milestone. Klints begins self-feeding! Like every other eaglet, it depends on the prey item as to how much success they will have. Spilve is not far away. She watches over Klints so no intruder will harm him. Klints has a difficult time and on 23 June Spilve is at the nest to feed him a late morning breakfast.

23 June Spilve feeds a breakfast of leftovers. Mom and little one kissing.

On 22 June, Vrisis brings in two baby cubs and an adult Black Grouse. This is a bounty. Everyone eats well. Adult eagles can travel as much as 10 kilometres to hunt. Vrisis makes it clear that there are ample prey items to bring to the nest.

23 June. Exercising in the 28+ C temperatures.

June 22 is the last time Virsis is ever seen. He will be presumed dead. Without Virsis to bring in large prey items, Spilve is limited to the area of the nest for hunting. The female eagle’s main job is to take care of and protect the eaglet at the nest. She will only then only hunt around the nest for both of them to survive. Owls and other predators do live in the area. Spilve brings the small prey item which is on the nest near Klints’s talons but he cannot eat. It is too late.

As one of the researchers said, a week without enough food caused this very healthy Golden Eaglet to die of starvation. They said it is clear that one adult cannot feed the baby. And, indeed, after Virsis disappears, owls are around the nest and Spilve knows she cannot leave her baby.

30 June 2020

Klints dies of starvation on 1 July 2020. Spilve brings a small food item and tries to wake Klints to eat. She brings food twice before she comes to understand what has happened. How very, very sad.

1 July 2020

Spilvie was seen visiting the nest in August. She was very careful around the body of Klints which is partially covered with pine needles. Some eagles are known to cover the bodies of their dead in the nest, sometimes moving them periodically. Others cover them and leave them for a few days and then remove them. Eagles have their mourning rituals. At the Captiva Bald Eagle nest in Florida, little Peace was kept in the nest for a number of days and then removed. When Hope died, the parents stood vigil over her body until it was removed for a necroscopy. Both died of rodenticide poisoning, something that could easily be avoided. Peace was young but Hope was big and strong like Klints. So very, very sad.

Spilve is very, very careful. She finds the little bit of food that she brought to Klints after he had died and she eats it.

I am trying to find out if this is a last visit to the nest for Spilve before she migrates for the winter. If anyone knows, please write to me.

On 25 February 2021, a stranger comes to the nest.

Soon Spilve and the new male are making nestorations. It appears that they have bonded. Klints body is covered with more pine and twigs.

You can see the video here;

I would like to thank one of my readers, Etj from Brazil, for alerting me to this wonderful nest and to the plight of this family. All of the scaps of Virsis, Spilve, Klints, and the new male are taken from the Latvian Golden Eagles/LVM Klinsu erglis streaming cam. (Be aware of the time difference. I am not showing images during the night and either the cam is down or there is no IR). Let us all hope that Spilve and her new mate have many successful years together and healthy fledges.

Gusts and a creaking Ironbark Tree kept the curious away

Daisy might have been awake all night with the loud creaks and swaying of the Ironbark Tree in the frequent gusts of high winds last night but not a single intruder was spotted. BooBook Owl stayed home. WBSE Dad didn’t venture out to check on the nest in the evening or this morning. It has been more than twenty-four hours since he has been about. Spotters on the ground say that he is off at Goat Island, some 12.2 km away, with Lady. And, so far, Raven has not made an appearance. It is nearly 7am, the tree is creaking gently and Daisy is quietly doing nest maintenance. If you squint your eye, the white in the down lining of the nest looks like little twinkle lights.

Notice how Daisy turns clockwise in the nest as she continues maintenance and rolling the eggs.
Daisy continues to take down from her breast adding it to the nest and turning clockwise.

Sometimes Daisy will quickly get off the eggs to go and fetch more plant material somewhere else on the big WBSE nest that she can’t reach by extending her neck as far as it can.

Daisy quickly leaves nest to gather up more plant material from the WBSE nest.

When Daisy prepares to leave to forage for food, which she did last evening for about an hour, she tucks the down into the nest cup folding it over on the inside. She also uses her beak and stretching her neck she pulls leaves up close. This way she can cover the eggs while she is away. Of course, we have now seen times when Daisy is frightened off the nest by both the WBSE Dad and BooBook Owl but, normally, she takes the time to gently and quickly conceal those precious eggs.

Daisy Stretches her Neck to bring in plant material near to the nest cup
Daisy continues to use her bill to bring in leaves and plant material close to the neck cup. She might be preparing to cover the eggs and leave for a quick morning foraging.

I wonder if you have ever thought about the amount of energy it takes a duck to lay an egg? I certainly hadn’t until this year when I watched Bald Eagles have hard labours when laying an egg and then Daisy. Those eggs don’t just pop out easy!

Sibley says that a single egg can weigh as much as 12% of the bird’s body weight. For Daisy, remember that she layed an egg every day for nine days. That has to be exhausting! Specials with precocial young often lay more eggs because the mother does not have to feed them. Precocial young are more fully developed when they hatch. Their eyes are open and they are fully feathered. In the case of the Black Pacific Ducks they can walk and find their own food. Remember that the ducklings will jump off the nest and follow the parent to the water to forage for food. They will actually jump off the nest before they are fully capable of flying like their mother. Daisy will keep them warm at night for approximately two to three weeks. Altricial young require much more care. They are born without feathers and require their parents to feed them until they are capable of self-feeding. A good example of an Altricial young is a Tree Swallow.

It is now after 10 am and Daisy has had only one intruder. The Raven showed up about 8am. Daisy quickly reached over and clacked, like she did yesterday, and off it went! Hopefully Daisy will have a non-eventful day on the nest. Fingers crossed!

White Bellied Sea Eaglet 26

Has anyone’s life not been changed by something happening in 2020? Have you had to work at home? did you have a friend or a family member get Sars-COVID 19 and die? Did your business have to close? Did you wonder how you would pay your rent or mortgage? Did you long just to visit with family or friends? Or take that vacation you had been planning for years only to have it cancelled? It clearly has not been an easy year for everyone.

My blog is normally about contemporary Canadian ceramics but this year has been different. In between writing book chapters on ceramics and the environment, I have, like millions of others, taken the time to watch live bird cams. I became very attached to Big Red and Arthur, the Red-Tail Hawks whose territory includes the Cornell University campus in Ithaca. Like so many others, I would wake up in the middle of the night and check on Big Red. Often she was encased in ice (yes, that is true) incubating her eggs or protecting her eyases. The Js fledged about six weeks before the time that the White-Bellied Sea Eagles were hatching in their nest. That nest is in an old Ironwood and Turpentine forest near the Sydney Olympic Park. Two eggs with both hatching. This years numbers are 25 and 26.

WBSE 26 was inspirational. Sometime, shortly after hatching, her leg was broken.  When 26 would cheep when the parents would leave the nest, 25 would comfort 26. This is something very special. Normally sea eaglets are very competitive because that is their instinct, to survive. Even when they were getting ready to be fed, 25 would help 26. What an amazing sibling 25 was.

For more than a month, 26 scooted on its ankles always getting to the prey first but losing it because she could not hold on tight. It didn’t matter. Both thrived under the good care of Lady and Dad.

In the image above, 26 is on the left and 25 is on the right. If they were sleeping in the nest, you could hardly tell them apart. 25 had a little more colour, a little more rust or peach around its head. It was only when they stood up or when 25 was jumping up and down and walking easily that you knew which was which.

26 worked hard to do all the things that her older sibling could do and in turn, she provided inspiration for the elderly and physically challenged on the chat line.  She practiced her wingersizing. She climbed higher and higher on the branches til she got as high as where her parents roosted at night. She figured out how to feed herself and hold on to the prey. Everyone hoped that she would be able to hunt and live like a normal sea eagle in the wild. She had worked so hard to attain every milestone.

26 fledged but returned to the nest after six days.  She rested and the parents fed her.  On the fifth day, she fledged again.  She was harassed by a bunch of currawongs and to help fend them off, a Magpie joined 26.  This is not normal, like everything else in 2020. Normally the Magpies and the eaglets are sworn enemies.

Later that day the currawongs chased 26 out of the forest.  A day later she was discovered on the 22nd floor of a high-rise apartment building a mile away from the nest in the Sydney Olympic Park.  What a surprise that must have been for the owners finding a nearly 75 cm high eaglet with a wingspan of 2.5 metres on your balcony before you have even had breakfast? 26 could not, however, fly out of the balcony because it was partially covered and there was lots of furniture. The owner called the wild life rescue and 26 was taken into care, first by WIRES who provides care and vet services. Later 26 was taken to the team at the Taronga Zoo.

All of her on line fan club hoped that 26 would go through rehabilitation and become an educational bird. She had, however, a broken right leg that had not healed properly. She could not put any weight on it and because of that the left leg had suffered major cuts and lesions for overcompensating. Even the right leg was injured. The veterinary team determined after observing and feeding 26 for several days that she could not survive in the wild if they amputated her leg. They were also concerned about the high level of pain she was experiencing. To try surgery to mend the broken leg meant even more pain and no guarantee of success. However, it was determined that she was in such pain that the kind thing to do would be to euthanize her.  This turned out to be a bit of a controversial decision because of the physically challenged/people with disabilities who saw themselves in her struggle. It will be awhile before all of the tears dry up. Every day someone tells me how much 26 meant to them. Many wrote poems and tributes and I am including the one that I wrote for 26. I hope that it might also be inspiring to you. She was special. No one can quite put their finger on the ‘why’ of it all but there is no doubt in my mind that 26 gave hundreds of people a great gift and that gift was her time with us.

My greatest glory is not my falling but in rising up when I did.

Many believed I would never stand but, I did.

Many believed I would never branch.

Many believed I would never stand to sleep.

Many believed I would never self-feed.

But, I did all of those things.

Many believed I would never fly.

But I flew, high and fast, with strong wind in my wings.

Believe in yourself as I believed in me.

Soar above everyone’s expectations.

Don’t count how many days you soar but how well and high.

Never give up.  I didn’t.

Images Courtesy of Sea-EagleCAM@BirdLife Australia Discovery Centre, Sydney Olympic