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Anything outdoors!  Tornadoes, eagles, blizzards, or auroras.  If it is in the sky, running through the woods or swimming in the water, I'm there!

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When storms and eagles collide....painful to see and hear

As most of you know, things I love are Melinda, the kids, my family, eagles, and storms that could potentially kill me. Sometimes the last two don't mix.

I know some of you who read this blog like to see the pictures and stories of the pairs of bald eagles who nest each year near my home in central Minnesota.

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This late winter and spring, we got to watch one of the year round resident pairs build a brand new nest very near the road on the west side of Lake Constance just outside of Buffalo, MN. This pair has nested for at least the past 5 years in the same general vicinity, picking a spot with a good view of lake. The fun with this pair started out in the late winter as they stole fish off the ice from inattentive fisherman. It made for some interesting photos and also confused the heck out of the non-locals who were not aware of these specialized fish connoisseurs (but I have seen them carrying rabbits, squirrels, and even a snake back for dinner).

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This pair worked together long and hard to build this new nest for raising their young.

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It was funny to watch the male carry in nesting material and carefully lay it in just the right place...only to have the female move it to where she wanted as soon as he would leave to fetch more.

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Eventually the nest was done and the female was sitting on an egg(s).

Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago. Cullen and I drove by just to see how things were going and were happy to see the heads of two little fuzzballs poking up from inside the bowl of the nest. Both looked to be healthy and strong. I felt confident they would both survive as their parents were not new to the whole raising eaglets concept.

About a week ago, Cullen and I again drove by and both eaglets were standing on the bowl of the nest about 2/3 of the size of their father (the smaller adult), with one just a little smaller than their sibling. I made the comment that one morning with a good southeast breeze we should come over and take some shots of the eaglets catching the wind in their wings as they would fledge very soon. My plan was to do this the weekend just before the 4th of July.

Then came July 1st.

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The worst wind event in many years came rolling out of southwestern Minnesota knocking down tens of thousands of trees in a path of destruction from southwest to the northeast. The eagle nest was directly in the path of the bowing line of storms.

On the morning of July 2nd, Cullen and I decided to see how the eagles had fared with winds gusting over 70 miles per hour. As strong as their nests are built, this one was not real protected and was in a dead tree. I was worried.

As we rounded the corner near Mike Paripovich's horse ranch, my heart sank. The nest was no longer there.

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In fact the entire tree was missing! My first thought was the tree, nest, and it's two young occupants had gone into the water. I felt just sick. Upon closer inspection, it was evident it had gone down into the grass. In one of the other dead trees to the north sat the female. Alone. No sign of the male or either of the eaglets. My heart sank at the sight of this mother eagle, hanging close to what she knows, sat wondering what to do now. I was convinced the male and the eaglets had perished in the collapse and ensuing impact of the nest hitting the earth.

Yesterday, Cullen and I decided to drive by once again to see what was going on and if by a small miracle, the male was back in the area. "What is that???", I said to Cullen as we came around the corner. There perched on the branch of the "feeding tree" we saw a clump of brown feather hunched over leaning into the breeze about 40 feet off the ground! It was one of the eaglets! HOLY MOLY! I reached for the phone to call Melinda and let her know of the good news and to also call the biggest eagle fan I know....my mom! Both were relived to hear one of the babies was still alive. Despite the joy of seeing the eaglet, I was still saddened by the fact the sibling was no where to be seen. Soon the female soared overhead carrying a fish in her talons and landed on the same branch as the eaglet! She carefully ripped off pieces and handed them to the eaglet with great care as not to drop anything. Yup, life is good again. One eaglet is better than none.

Tonight I decided I would grab the big lens and a tripod and see if I could get lucky enough to see the female carrying food back to her baby. I parked at the public access and gave Melinda a call to let her know what I was up to. I remarked maybe my presence would get one of the neighbors curious enough to come talk to me and open a conversion opportunity to find out what they had seen. As I was walking along the road, I saw the man who lives just north of the nest walking out to his shed. I walked up and introduced myself and asked it he had been watching the eagles this year. He said his name was Mike Lee and yes, he and his wife had been paying close attention to the eagles and what had happened on Friday. He also said both eaglets were alive. Huh??? Really??? Evidently one of the other neighbors had donned a pair of waders and gone into the grass on a search and rescue mission of sorts. He had located both eaglets and knew for a fact both parents were still alive. He actually called the University of Minnesota Raptor Center for advice on what to do. They advised to do nothing. Even on the ground, the parents would still care for their young! According to Mike, the one eaglet up in the tree was able to fly very short distances and had basically worked his way up from the ground, limb by limb, to where it was now. The other eaglet, which was a little smaller, was still on the ground but would hop from dead limb to dead limb in the tall grass. I thanked Mike and his wife for the info and continued down the road to the nest. This is what I saw:

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Both parents and the one eaglet. It was hard to sit there a few hundred feet away and listen to the lonely cries of the one eaglet still on the ground beneath them. Hidden from view by the tall grass, but very vocal, and obviously very much wanting to be up in the tree with it's family.

As I stood there taking pics this evening, I had three different people stop in their vehicles and tell me how much they missed seeing the nest. These weren't people who lived on the road. These were people who went out of their way to take a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the national bird...right at their doorstep so to speak on a regular basis. One gentleman even wanted to know how badly the nest bowl was damaged and if it could be raised into another tree close by via helicopter. If only nature was that simple.

So in the era of webcams broadcasting the life cycle all over the world (as in the Decorah, Iowa eagles), I was reminded of how nature really works. In my world, I would like every eagle egg to hatch and in three years afford me the opportunity to snap photos of a beautiful, white headed eagle soaring over me against a bright blue winter sky. It doesn't work that way. Stuff happens. As tough and smart as eagles are, sometimes things don't work out and some don't survive. With all the internet attention and in some cases human intervention in the name of preserving wildlife (referring to two instances where eaglets were either rescued or relocated live on the internet this nesting season), we need to remember nature takes care of it's own. As much as Walt Disney has tried to make us believe humans and animals are on the same level, the realistic fact is we are not.

However, as I sit at my laptop typing out this rambling blog entry, I know of one eaglet who is sitting in the tall, dark grass tonight I am rooting for. Hopefully a steady diet of fish will give it the strength (and flight feathers) to rejoin it's family in the branches above very, very soon.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

OK....eyes are wet......, Having watched Decorah 3 from egg laying to fledging, & the rescued 3 of NBG nest losing a parent at a critical time and relocated to a 'foster home' with the Wildlife Center of Virginia raising until able to be released (end of July), I feel for that sibling currently on the ground, but it will motivate it to 'branch' on the ground, get strong wings to power it up, short distances at a time.Thanks bill for posting and hope many read it. You are a very good writer!!! M

Dann Cianca said...

Gee whiz... I saw the eagles and thought it was winter all over again. ;)

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