Not exaggerating, I pretty much see an eagle almost every day. If not, then every other day. It is still breathtaking. It is still beautiful. Every day. My sidekick and I are self-proclaimed bird nerds. The Bald Eagle is my favorite of all. Hers, the Sandhill Crane.
I have taken quite a few photos of eagles in the last few years. Not all perfect, but all were real. At the local wildlife refuge with the raptor center booth, as well as in the wild. We have taken a trip down to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota and viewed beautiful eagles, both at the center and in the wild, including our first Golden Eagle. I have posted several of these photos before and had my own posts on the Eagle Center and the refuge, but thought them appropriate for this post.
We fell in love with the Decorah eagles online just like everyone else. We have watched them build their families (tensing up every time those little ones get to the edge just about falling when mom nudges them back in) and the eaglets leave their nests every year, and were heartbroken when they built a new nest last year and we couldn’t watch them. I even got my mom addicted to watching them on her laptop, before she passed away. We are so excited and hopeful that we will be able to watch the new nest this year.
We also watched our own drama unfold right here in Minnesota when the little eaglet, Harmon, got his leg stuck in his nest and the Raptor Center and Minnesota DNR intervened to help him out. When he was returned to the nest, we were so sad hearing him crying for his mom at night to come back and take care of him. We were glued to the computer, and just when it seemed like mom was never going to return, we again cried. Tears of joy this time, as mom returned to take care of little Harmon and continued to watch him grow and leave the nest. Technology, eh?
I do feel very fortunate that I live in an area where Bald Eagles are pretty common. My little town butts up against the Mississippi, and the eagles take advantage. It is prime real estate for them as a nesting spot and food source. But just because they are common, doesn’t mean I take them for granted.
I first saw the eagle’s nest a couple of years ago in the winter of 2011. Purely by accident, I must say. Driving around with my sidekick and her friend, I made a wrong turn and ended up at the end of a dead end along the river in a residential neighborhood. Yes, I’ve lived in this town for 20 years. Yes, I’m a woman driver. Straight ahead was a huge eagle’s nest. I was proud of my sidekick, who identified it right away. She is a bird nerd, but only her close friends know it. At 15, it’s just not cool, Mom. We sat and wondered if it was active, how long it had been there, was it abandoned? It sat on private property and we could only view it from the car. After that day, I would check in from time to time, not very often and not ever seeing an eagle to go along with the nest.
Then last summer, the property owner donated a few acres to the city. The city decided to turn the land into a nature preserve. I remember thinking in the back of my head “I wonder if that is the area where the eagle’s nest is?”
After so much hype in our little town with a groundbreaking ceremony and the former property owners present, the nature preserve opened, and Bailey Point Nature Preserve was born. Those of you who know my sidekick will find that fitting, although she will say it is spelled wrong :) We were at the park the second night it opened at the end of August.. Only because we had previous plans the first night (insert winky face here).
A lot of the area is inaccessible. Just because it is the river and several islands. Across one of the thru-ways is a WMA. On the opposite side of the park is a residential neighborhood. We pulled into the small parking lot (which was basically the dead end I previously mentioned) and had a hard time finding the eagle’s nest. Of course, it was the end of summer and all the trees were full of green leaves and there was a lot of tall grass. It had been a while and we really couldn’t remember where we had seen it. The park consists of a few intertwining walking trails. Period. No play area. No picnic tables. No BBQ’s. Perfect.
Since it was summer, the bugs were also out. We headed down the first walking trail and rounded the bend and saw the eagles nest just to the left in a tree. No eagles, but it was summer and they don’t always “hang at home” once the kids leave the nest :) We followed a couple of trails, enjoyed the nest, other birds, the river and nature in general. We were excited to go back. I was looking forward to frequenting this park.
Two days later, we were back and saw a juvenile eagle sitting near the nest. A previous fledgling, perhaps? I didn’t even know if the nest was active.
After this visit and a few more photos, I wrote a review of the park that was published in the local paper, including the juvenile eagle photo. I was hoping I could find that online but I can’t. Now I wish I would’ve taken a photo. After that, I returned here and there. Fall turned out to be the busiest we have had in a long time with my portrait photography and her dance team, and we just couldn’t find the time to get back.
With the dance team season over, and not a lot of people wanting to get family photos in -30 below weather, we have now again hit a slow time. A few weeks ago I pulled into the park’s parking lot after work. It was late in the day, but I did grab this cell phone pic of the sunset.
I saw one lone eagle sitting in a branch along side the nest. Wondering where it’s mate was? Eagles mate for life, as a lot of wildlife do. Humans should take note of wildlife habits. Although the female Black Widow spider kills it’s mate so maybe that’s not the best advice.
I returned a few days later on my lunch break and was disappointed the trails were not set up for walking. After all the snow we have gotten, I would’ve needed snowshoes. So I sat in the parking lot, listening and watching the birds, and took photographs of the usual winter suspects. Black-Capped Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Blue Jays, with the occasional sound of a Northern Cardinal off in the distance. No sign of the eagle.
Same thing a couple of days later, I again went after work, and again one lone eagle sat in the tree before sunset. I started to think maybe the mate wouldn’t return. Had it died? I know that part of the river is still frozen. Unusually so, as it has been open there in the winter for several years. But it has not been this bitterly cold in a very long time. I had heard that there were eagles that had to go far down river for open water and food.
A couple of weeks ago I pulled in and was delighted to find that the trails had been groomed for walking! It was a balmy 3 degrees above and I said to myself, “Why not?” I grabbed my outdoor gear and camera and went for a walk. No eagles that day, but snow and scenery along the river.
Last week, it was an awesome 18 degrees and I FINALLY saw two eagles. One was on a branch, and the other was sitting in the nest. I was thrilled! For a minute, I wondered if there were eggs, as mid to late February is when they should start mating and laying eggs. But then she flew out of the nest for a bit and came back with some sticks. Tidying up the homestead, getting ready? Then they both flew off talking to each other to find some lunch, I’m sure. I realized then there were no eggs yet, as they would never have left them unattended.
While my camera was trying to zoom in and get a flight shot of one of them, out of my peripheral vision I saw movement and heard scrambling. I had just taken a photo of deer tracks on the trail shortly before I saw the eagles. Low and behold there were two deer running across the trail in front of me. Seriously?! And my camera was set on flying eagles, not frolicking deer. And I call myself a photographer? LOL. They stopped for a second and looked at me through the woods and went running off.
On my way back to the car, I ran into a woman walking her dog and we exchanged the normal pleasantries. I told her that I had seen a couple of deer and that there had been two eagles in the tree. She told me that was great, that she hadn’t seen both lately because they must be going further down for food sources since the river was frozen. I asked if she knew if it was an active nest and she said yes, it’s been active for the last 3 or 4 years :)
I was excited, but yet my mind started wandering to the “I wonder’s”. I wonder if the eagles flew off because they were afraid of me? I wonder if the presence of people in the park will affect their ability to raise young, or even lay eggs? If she does, I wonder if she will stay on the nest like she is supposed to, or fly off at the first sign of people? Then I remembered the Decorah eagles had their nest on a farm. There were several people and other animals on the farm.
The nest is at a great location, the eagles have a great resource in the river and on the land with rodents. I can’t measure distance to save my soul, but it is a ways off of the walking trail. In plain sight, but off. I just hope stupid little boys won’t get curious and try climbing the tree (no offense to the stupid little boys or the ones who used to be ;)) Maybe a sign is in order. STAY ON THE TRAIL or some such. Hmmm…wheels are turning on that one. Wait…one saved raptor at a time (inside joke which I will share with you all some day)!
At any rate, I have been back a couple of times since then. Once over the weekend with my sidekick who had an assignment to finish for her photography class. I can’t believe she brought home a Nikon! Geesh, some people! (again, friendly banter to the Nikon users, I am a Canon gal myself).
And then again today, where I again saw both eagles in the park. Along with several Woodpeckers, a few Trumpeter Swans, Blue Jays galore, Black-Capped Chickadees, and a couple of Golden Eyes on the river. The Cardinal is heard, but not seen, as usual. My nemesis bird. That, and the elusive Pileated Woodpecker.
So I finally blogged about the eagles. To get my mind off of another bird for a while.
Hope you enjoy my photos, I am looking forward to sharing more eagle photos with you!
Have a great week and enjoy the warmup. For now!