The Eagles Have Returned

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Not that the eagles ever left, however, their nest of six years was removed, which gave rise to wild speculation as to their fate.

High tension towers were being replaced, one of which held their nest. Though in past years, the nest had been removed accidently, remodeled and relocated from the left to the right to the center by the eagles themselves, the middle of the tower arm seemed to be the final site.

Much to the eagle’s surprise, the home tower dating back to the 1920s was removed and a new style tower constructed in its place. Though ‘science’ says eagles bond and nest in January, our eagles were never polled and began to bond and touch up the nest in October. Just as the power company took down the tower.

The eagles appeared upset, one screeching at the other as they were perched nearby. Hearts were breaking in sympathy. Before the old tower was deconstructed, the giant nest was cradled, lowered by crane and stored on site. The plan was to return the nest on a new style platform as encouragement for the eagles to return. That was the plan but would the eagles agree?

We watched that pair daily and never once did an eagle land on that tower. It didn’t look good.

Then a new nest was started a mile downstream and hopes soared for our faithful pair. During one twenty minute period, the suspected male brought six large branches to the nest where both eagles discussed their placement.  

The nest grew larger and finally looked like it was move-in ready. Still, no eagle would land on the nest platform in the new tower. It was in a way, comforting, to see eagles nesting in a giant sycamore tree rather than in non organic, cold metal tower draped with high tension wires.

During nest construction many images were taken and shared. On one occasion, a pair of adult eagles was observed downstream of the nest and another pair at the nest in the sycamore. Were there two pair of eagles or did the eagles seen downstream make it to the nest before the observer could?

Sure enough photo evidence and direct simultaneous observation revealed there were two pairs of eagles seen at different times on the new nest. Now what?

Then one day an eagle was seen perched on the rail at the nest on the tower! Would eagles occupy both nests, would there be a territorial dispute?

One eagle on the tower nest was hopeful, but why would they go through the trouble and wasted energy to construct a beautiful downstream nest?

It was a confusing time, as we all concluded the sycamore nest was the nest of record. Then both eagles were seen on the tower, the suspected male bringing material to the rebuild the nest. January twenty-third was the last date eagles were recorded on the downstream nest while activity picked up at the tower.

Now the question was, who were the eagles at the tower, the interlopers or the faithful pair? Try as we might from images and observed past individual behavior, we could not definitively conclude their identity.

The original pair had an easily seen size difference, the conclusion was the larger bird was the female. This is a generalization which may not be true in every case. This pair was closer in size to each other. The original larger bird had a unique expressive head movement not seen by the bird identified as the female.

Was the male from the original pair with a new female? We concluded there was no sure way to tell.

Now a fully prepared downstream nest awaited tenants, hopefully, the other eagle pair. No such luck as the nest was now declared abandoned. At one point a local red tail hawk and then an immature eagle briefly visited the nest.

The other eagle pair left the area though several un-banded immature eagles were commonly observed.

Now all attention was on the pair of eagles nesting at the tower. When the nest was relocated in the new tower, an eagle cam was installed but failed to function. The plan was to remedy the camera during the banding session.

When the eagles were observed mating, the countdown to egg laying began. Hatching followed on schedule and the day to conduct the banding of the chicks was set.

May fourteenth, a crew from PSE&G, the state zoologist heading the project, and the state veterinarian, along with eagle project volunteers, participated in the banding of two eagles determined to be males. Each bird given a thorough physical exam, blood samples drawn, beak, talons and primary feather measured, weights taken.  Green aluminum bands, H-04 and H-05 were placed around the legs. The concerned parents circled the tower while the banding was in progress.

When the eagles were returned to the nest, a consolation prize of two large fish was left as a compensation for their trouble. After everyone left, the parents returned to the nest and as in past years, continued to care for their young. This year, the world will stand witness to the rearing and eventual fledging of two young eagles whose shadows will glide over the earth to the amazement and wonder of our children and grandchildren.

Thanks to PSE&G we now have a live webcam, an incredible gift to the world of nature and environmental education. The eagle webcam may be accessed at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faqEAavMO40 [youtube.com]

This will spark curiosity to ignite the desire to seek deeper knowledge, not just about eagles but the entire interrelated community of nature, of which we are a part; a benefit to all. 

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

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