May 14, 2006

Vermont Eaglets

chicks78.jpgNest Update: For a couple weeks now, we've been trying to find out what is causing the interference you see on the Eagle Cam (the blurriness and white bands on the image). We have swapped out all our equipment, moved the transmitter, removed overhanging brush, checked the computers, rechecked the camera, and still the problem exists. Interference with the wireless signal can be very hard to diagnose, but we plan to keep trying, and we thank you for your patience as we try to eliminate it.

This afternoon, we had several episodes where it looked like one of the eaglets was branching -- or sitting out of the nest and in the branches of the tree. This would be a lead-up to flying. We'll keep watching to see if we can see definite flight in the upcoming week. Also, we'll update the Gallery early this week.

On a different topic: A cam watcher alerted me to the fact that the Washington Post has put up a video of Martha (the injured eagle from Maryland), showing her capture and release. I don't know how long the video will be up, but here is the link.

Vermont Eaglets

Those folks who watched our Eagle Cam in 2005 remember that last year we had a three-eaglet nest, and because of our bountiful nest, we were treated to a special adventure. Craig Koppie -- an endangered species specialist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- came to the nest and removed our middle eaglet (a female). Craig removed several eaglets from other nests at Blackwater as well, and took them all to Vermont, where they took part in the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative -- a three-year project that hopes to reestablish nesting bald eagles in the only U.S. state without them.

vt2005.jpgLast year we were fortunate enough to be able to watch Craig on the camera as he entered the nest to retrieve the chick. (You can see the Gallery shots here.) Once the eaglets were in Vermont, we were able to watch them on the Vermont Eagle Cam as the birds sat in the hacking tower until they were ready to fledge. (A hacking tower is where transplanted birds wait until they can fledge). We then saw the eaglets become independent, and they eventually dispersed to various parts of the Northeast.

Several cam watchers have asked if we know what happened to our Eagle Cam female. We do not know at this time as no one has reported seeing a bird with her band numbers. We do know that two of last year's eaglets were found dead at a later time. This is not uncommon as many eaglets do not make it past their first birthday. One Vermont fledgling was hit by a train in New York while scavenging for food, and the other was found in a nearby field where it apparently died of a severe bacterial infection in its trachea. We were recently told that neither fledgling came from Blackwater.

This year is the last year of the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative project, so last week Craig Koppie once again came to Blackwater Refuge to visit some of our eagle nests, looking for eaglet recruits. Melanie Lynch, of Chesapeake Bay magazine, is a good friend of ours and was kind enough to share some photos she took while covering the event for her magazine. These photos show Craig visiting a nest at Blackwater Refuge and then a nest on private property. All the nests Craig visited had eaglets that were not yet fledglings. Click on the thumbnails, and note that I left some of the photos large so you can see the details.

In the first shot, we see Craig with all his tree-climbing gear and his pick-up truck filled with crates for holding the eaglets. Craig is a master falconer, long-time raptor biologist, and licensed bird bander. In the next shot, Craig starts his way up a loblolly pine tree (about 60% of the eagle nests in the Chesapeake Bay area are in loblolly pines). In the third shot, Craig is under the nest (eagle nests can be around 60-100 feet off the ground), and in the fourth shot, we see Craig climbing over the edge so he can get access to the eaglets. At this point, the mother eagle is flying nearby and calling out but not bothering Craig.

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In the next set, the first shot shows Craig holding up his new best friend, which he's wrapped in a towel so the eaglet doesn't hurt itself. Normally Craig talks to the eaglets a bit to calm them when he first enters their nest, but once he starts handling them, the birds are normally docile. In the second shot, the bird is lowered down inside a gym bag to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistants on the ground (a couple of the USFWS people are from the New England office which oversees the Vermont project). In the third shot we see the two siblings on the ground, getting their first real look at these strange human creatures. And in the fourth shot we see the eaglets getting banded. Each eaglet gets a color band (so the eaglet can be identified with binoculars) and also a standard silver USFWS band with a unique ID number and the phone number of the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland (where North American banding records are kept).

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In this final set of photos, the first shot shows Craig working his way up the next tree, which is on private property near the shore. Next we see one eaglet getting banded, and then in the third shot we see the two bands up close. Craig says the bands do not get hot in the sun, and are not uncomfortable for the eaglets to wear. Next we see a close-up of the handsome chick, and in the following shot the chick shows off his transparent third eyelid -- or nictitating membrane -- which he frequently uses to moisten and clean his eyes. And finally we have a parting shot of our beautiful eaglet.

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If you'd like to read more about the day's events, the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative website recently posted an eaglet diary. Also the event was covered by a local news outlet here in Maryland.

And remember that you can now see these same eaglets in the hacking tower on the Vermont Eagle Cam. When the eaglets are ready, the bars will be lowered and the eaglets will be allowed to fledge with the hope that they will one day return to Vermont to breed.

Final side note: Just recently it was discovered that a breeding pair of eagles have produced a chick in Vermont. You can read the story here. This is promising news for the folks who have been working hard to reestablish bald eagles there.

And if you'd like to see a tree climber in action, the Colorado Division of Wildlife recently banded their eaglets as well, and there is an online video showing the climber at work.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at May 14, 2006 06:02 PM