Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pale Male Mulls and John Blakeman on Bald Eagles Then and Now

Photo courtesy of 
 Pale Male has the sweetest expressions, even if he's looking at something he might like for lunch.

Central Park Hawkwatchers report all is going as it should for this time of year.  Stops by both hawks on the nest along with the yearly minor nest renovations are in full swing  

 And yes, Pale Male can be caught,  well... mulling, on the nest.  It's one of my favorite Pale Male watching moments.  He'll stand on the nest looking at a particular portion.  Stare at it as if he's trying to figure something out.  He'll fly off and come back with a twig which he then adds to the portion of nest he'd been staring at.

Occasionally the twig doesn't work in the way he had in mind so he'll drop it aside, take off for another twig which, then seems to fit his ideal specifications as he puts it in place, takes a look and leaves it.  

  Prairie du Sac, on the Wisconsin River, just below the dam.   

For whatever reason, the sudden appearance of numerous fish at catchable depth, or something else the Bald Eagles were aware of but we watchers weren't, at least a dozen eagles suddenly left their perches and flew over the river.

John Blakeman, the ever incisive raptor biologist from Ohio,  read yesterdays eagle post and sent in his take on the spookability of Bald Eagles-

Dear  Donna,
I don't know the details of the eagle-watching restrictions; but they seem to derive from an antiquated last-century misunderstanding of the social behaviors bald eagles.

We had the same problem here, where in the 1980s the Ohio Division of Wildlife, in concurrence with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, made pronouncements that no one would be allowed to hike within a quarter-mile (or some such giant distance) of an active BE nest. Farmers would be allowed to plow or harvest, but not stop or get off the tractor.

This was from some earlier “study,” as I understand it, where some biologist investigated the distance at which nesting BEs became disturbed when humans approached a nest from a great distance. This work, as I understand it, was done in very remote norther forests, in wild Minnesota or Canad, some time ago, when eagles were still being shot and poisoned.

That perspective takes into account nothing of authentic, easily-seen Bald Eagle behaviors in the 21st century, as at the site you’ve tried observe.

Contrary to the antiquated and no longer applicable BE literature, modern Bald Eagles are extremely social (congregating in winter in massive, localize aggregations), and moreover, simply pay little or no attention now to nearby humans, whether in cars, or walking around.

Last spring, during Fellowship Hour after church, one of the kids in my congregation (of humans, not Bald Eagles) rather incongruously said that there was a big eagle sitting in a tree next to the church parking lot. Every one heed and hawed at the imperious kid’s pronouncement, until someone looked. Sure enough, a big white-headed Bald Eagle was sitting out there.

A number of people said we needed to stay indoors, and just carefully “peak” at the bird through the windows, so as to not alarm it. I, being the raptor expert, said, “No, let’s get all the kids and walk out there and see this great bird. She’ll just sit up there and watch us in all our Sunday finery.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Twenty-five people stood under the tree and took pictures for 10 or 15 minutes, before the eagle decided, on her own, to fly a few blocks north back to Lake Erie, here in Huron, Ohio.

Let everyone get as close the eagles as they can. Encourage them to take pictures, and marvel at our National Symbol. Nothing finer (nor safer, for people or eagles). These are not your grandfather’s Bald Eagles.

–John Blakeman,

Raptor Biologist

I  agree with you John, these particular eagles have a very high flush point. I crawled into the back of the Blazer, and opened the hatch back  in order to get a better view of the multiple eagles flying  over the river.  Most of the Bald Eagles, even those in the next tree, paid absolutely no attention at all to the big window flipping up.  One eagle did look down with one of those raptor isn't-that-interesting-looks and then turned back to watching the river with perfect calm.
The Second Installment of the Prairie du Sac Bald Eagles Coming Soon!

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Prairie Du Sac Eagle Congregation and Juvenile Games

The weather has been in the minus zero range on and off for some time in Wisconsin.  A giant drag to live with in many ways, a damp finger can freeze to the car door in no time but it also makes for optimum eagle viewing as many of the water ways are frozen over.  The eagles then congregate where the rivers are still open to do their fishing.

Any number of small towns that have open water, often around dams or power plants, during the frigid days January, February and early March now have what they call Eagle Days for one weekend a year.  The town high school opens its doors, the ladies do a giant bake sale, the local rehabbers bring in their education birds and do talks, as do various and sundry raptor experts and  local artists sell their eagle art, ranging from earrings to pots to paintings.

It all tends to be very earnest, sweet, and quite fun.

Therefore when I read the rules concerning eagle watching in Prarie du Sac, it all seemed a touch on the draconian side.  They distribute a map  which appears to cover the entire area with places in which no one is allowed.  I wondered just how one is supposed to see an eagle when the areas along the river except for a few little dots, all appear to be forbidden.  And while in those dots one mustn't leave one's car.

OK, I admit it, I was more than a little grumpy from sleep deprivation.  But I also had to admit that sometimes people, uneducated in the ways of birds can be total dopes, and yes it's minus 10 out there and if idiotic people keep scaring the eagles, it is a definite waste of the bird's energy.

Viewing area 5, one of the little dots, was next to the dam and I figured even if I couldn't leave the car, nor get much chance to take photos, I should be able to see something.

I need not have worried because when I pulled into the paved area on the map's speck five.


Including a pair sitting in a tree about 15 feet away.  Speck 5, was the eagle's prime fishing spot below the dam.

These two sat patiently watching the Wisconsin River below and appeared to be a pair.  I'm not sure how riveted Bald Eagle pairs are to each at this time of year but these two appeared downright chummy.

The female than took off and went for a soar back and forth above the river below.
There she goes.  Also note the eagle standing on the ice left watching the raft of water fowl.  Though Bald Eagles eat mostly fish they don't mind a duck one bit if they can get them.  I then looked further to the right.  Oh my.

It looked a little like this evergreen had sprouted very large fruit.
Documentation alert:  Yes this is a very bad photograph but it is a set up for what happens next.   The juvenile eagle with her wings closed has been standing there in the shallow water when another juvenile comes in very low struggling a bit to stay airborne with something and nearly knocks the first bird over.
Then the juvie with prey does this kind of mock kill happy dance as left juvenile looks on.  

By the way I can't decide what the prey is.  Part of a water bird, something fishy, someone's left overs?  

Suggestions welcome.

The happy dance didn't get a rise out of left bird, right bird waits.
Left bird looks down.  Wow, what's that?  Right bird waits.
Left bird does a quick turn and starts to fly at right bird.  Right bird crouches...
...grabs the prey and starts to take off.

The chase is on, or appeared to be but the second eagle juvenile instead of continuing the chase...
...hops up and down on the rock a few times reminiscent of the way young Red-tails "kill" inanimate objects on occasion.  This young eagle appears to be a yearling.  The other may be 2 as it appeared to have more white feathers.

This is when I began to hear the crows go totally wild.

More eagle antics coming soon.

 In the meantime, by way of Robin of Illinois, cat versus mailman---