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.

It’s Cold out there

The Polar Vortex has come down to the Canadian Prairies. Outside it is -33 with a wind chill that makes it far colder out there. Today, two BlueJays appeared at the feeder along with the chickadees and the sparrows. The sparrows were floofed up to keep warm, so much so that they were the size of those amazing navel oranges I got as a child in my Christmas stocking. Mother Nature seems to take care of the birds.

You might also be feeling some of this Arctic air where you live. So stay safe and warm!

The eagles at The Duke Farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey got hit by the same storm that dumped rain on the Northeast Florida eagles. More snow arrived progressively through the early hours of the morning and the day. And, just think, everything had melted for this Bald Eagle couple and the nest was drying out.

Despite all of the snow, those eggs must be toasty. My only concern is when there is the exchange of incubation duties and the snow falls down on them. The new parent’s temperature will certainly thaw that snow and, let us all hope that the pores of the eggs do mot get clogged.

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For Bald Eagles, the time between the egg laying and hatch is 35 days. There are three eggs under our mom at Duke Farms. The first was laid on January 17, the second on the 20th, and the third on the 23rd. So, there are approximately 22 days left until we hold our breaths for the first egg to pip.

And speaking of pipping, Gabby and Samson got drenched with all of the rain in Northeast Florida. This was the same system that sent snow into New Jersey (or so I am told). The rain did not stop their first egg from pipping at 5:31 am yesterday. I will bring you updates as they are available.

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2pm 7 February. Pip is now a crack.

The nest that Samson and Gabrielle use originally belonged to a long time mated couple, Romeo and Juliet. For ten years, they fledged every eaglet that hatched. That was nineteen eaglets in total. Then something tragic happened and this is why I always mention intruders. It might be all well and good to think that eagles lay their eggs, find food, raise their babies and life is simply golden but, it is not. By now you know many of the things that can happen. In 2018, several eagles tried to take over the nest of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet was injured in one of the battles trying to protect her eggs just days before they were due to hatch. Romeo was left, just like Daisy the Duck, to take care of everything by himself. That is, as you will imagine, an inordinate task as he has to feed himself and the eaglets, brood them so they are warm, as well as protect the territory and chase off intruders. The little eaglets are very vulnerable in this situation once they hatch. On Christmas Day, 2018, the first of the eggs hatched. Almost immediately a female eagle appeared when Romeo was away and snatched the eaglet taking it away. Romeo was so distraught that he left the nest like Juliet and never returned. Neither Romeo or Juliet have been seen since.

The intruding eagles did not take up residence on the nest. Eventually a male eagle appeared. My heart skipped a little beat when the was identified as one of the eaglets born on this very nest to Romeo and Juliet. It is always terrible to see such a pair of wonderful eagle parents be injured and driven off their nest. If there is a silver lining, it is the fact that one of Romeo and Juliet’s children will raise their grandchildren on the nest. The male’s name is Samson and he was born in 2013.

There were a lot of females that flitted in and out of the nest trying to get Samson’s attention but he was not interested until Gabrielle appeared. And, if it couldn’t get any better, Gabrielle was not the female eagle that attacked Samson’s mother, Juliet. This is Samson and Gabby’s second year together as a mated pair. Both of their eaglets in 2020 fledged! This year they also have two eggs – and as you know from above, one of those is pipping right now.

By early afternoon, the rain had stopped. Gabby was getting hungry. Samson first brought her a little fish which she ate right while incubating. It really was that small, like an appetizer! Gabby must have been disappointed. But not long after, Samson came in with the main course, a nice fresh possum!

Did I ever warn you that people who love raptors wind up trying to identify a lot of prey brought to the pantry?

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Gabby was quite impressed and jumped off the eggs and tucked in.

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She stopped long enough to check on the progress of the pipping before settling down.

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Back to incubating those eggs!

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We can’t see Samson in the image below but he is on a branch just out of the picture frame watching over Gabby while she gets some sleep and protecting the nest from intruders.

Isn’t it amazing how they can bend their neck and tuck it under their wings?

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Gabby asleep.

Hatching is one of the first survival tests the little eaglet goes through. If the chick is not strong enough to break out of its shell using that special tool called the ‘egg tooth’, it will not be strong enough to survive in the wild. And speaking of hatching, E24 hatched and E25 has its egg cracked all around. Congratulations Samson and Gabby!

Oh, look at that little fluff ball cuddling with Gabby. It can melt your heart instantly!

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E24 and Gabby.

E24 looks straight at us and is a sweetie. E25 is working hard to get out of that shell. Gabby and Samson are going to be busy tomorrow feeding these little ones. Oh, I hope that there is no bopping.

And for those of you not quite familiar with the egg tooth, see that white bit on E24’s beak – that is the egg tooth!

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Samson is busy stocking the pantry with fresh fish! Best way to stop any bopping that might start, fill the kiddos so full of fish they pass out!

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One of the real heartaches is watching these little ones grow up and then poof – they are gone and we never know what happens to them! It is only if there is something so unusual about them, like the torn wing of WBSE 21, that makes them instantly recognizable, that we know if they are alive or dead. It is very difficult to get permission to band the birds. And it is even more expensive to both band the birds and put satellite trackers on them. There is some headway being made in the use of trackers especially with the Albatross and the Ospreys. Many are using trackers on the Albatross to plot their interaction with the large international industrial fishing vessels. People are working diligently to try and get laws passed that would apply to all fishing vessels no matter what flag they fly under. For example, the laws would regulate the use of specialized hook covers (or other methods) so that the Albatross do not become bycatch. Those trackers are also allowing for the discover of illegal fishing vessels and they also allow an understanding of how far these amazing birds fly.

Eastern Osprey are severely endangered in Australia. This year three were born at Port Lincoln in a nest on a barge. Two lived to fledge: Solly, the oldest and female, and Dewey, the male. Both were banded with metal identification tags and coloured bands. Solly wears an orange band and Dew has a burgundy one. The research team at Port Lincoln were able to get permission for two satellite trackers. One was attached to Solly. (The other went to a male that had hatched in a different nest.). Solly took her very first flight off the barge on 24 November 2020. On 3 February 2021, Solly was 136 days old. She made history as the tracker showed that Solly travelled more than 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the barge at Port Lincoln. Even more surprising was the fact that she flew inland, not along the sea where she would catch fish! She stayed at Mount Wedge for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Streaky Bay.

But wait! Don’t let that term ‘inland’ make you think that Solly would stay in a place for two days if it didn’t have fish. Solly loves her fish. And there are some very beautiful lakes up on the peaks. She’s a smart girl.

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Solly with satellite tracker at the barge at Port Lincoln.

The map below shows the Eyre Peninsula. At the point and just to the right is Port Lincoln. This is the location of the barge where Solly hatched. Today, the tracker has her heading north up at Streaky Bay. The closest named town near Mount Wedge is (I believe) either Kyancutta or Lock.

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To give you some perspective on where Port Lincoln and Streaky Bay are in relation to the rest of Australia, here is another map. If you locate Adelaide, Port Lincoln is not marked but it is across Spencer Bay to the left at the first blue anchor. Solly is heading north from Port Lincoln. I wonder if she will begin to head north west and wind up in Perth? Will keep you posted as Solly continues to make Osprey history.

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In the image below, an individual riding their bike along the shore at Streaky Bay came across Solly! The individual was David Lewis and he only had his iphone with him. But, does that matter? While we can’t see Solly very clearly, it is always – and I do mean always – a relief to have the bird spotted.

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Photo by David Lewis posted on Port Lincoln Osprey FB page, 8 February 2021.

Every time I look at this image from Australia, it reminds me that spring will be coming to North America in a few months. All of the birds will start migrating in. How grand! It will be nice to even see the Dark-eyed Juncos who, for some reason, like to tear the threads out of my outdoor carpet for their nest. Who cares?! It is going to a good cause.

Have a wonderful rest of your day everyone. Thank you for stopping in to catch up with the birds! See you tomorrow.