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April 2019 ~ There are a handful of us that do this locally. By “do this” I mean follow our passion, and document bald eagles, their eaglets & their nests in Vermont and New Hampshire. Something really great happened a few weeks ago, and by chance I was alerted to a new nest in southern Vermont (this is an undisclosed location to protect the birds while they are nesting, and to ensure privacy of the land owner) just outside of Brattleboro. The gentleman who told me about the nest was not a photographer, but a worker at the farm near the nest. He tells me he has been watching the bald eagles and this nest for about 2 years. And now the puzzle starts to form. How long has the nest been there? Are the bald eagles in that nest banded? Many questions come up when a new nest is discovered.
What I can tell you is that this nest is unique in the fact it is landlocked. The Connecticut
River is several hundred feet away from the nest. The nest in Walpole, NH is landlocked in the same manner, so it is unusual, but not unheard of. This nest is right across from a farm, as is the one in Walpole. I have been out a few times to this nest so far. There was an adult in the nest (it does appear he/she was sitting on eggs), but I didn’t see the mate. My hope is to see the mate soon, and hopefully see if there are leg bands to identify the specific bald eagle. If eaglets are hatched, it should be in the next few weeks. And so it begins…documenting a new nest and hoping for eaglets this summer. I am honored to say I will be working with Vermont Audubon to document the nest activity this year.
April 22, 2019. A rainy overcast Monday evening. Temperature was about 59 degrees. I
drove over to my parking spot after work and walked out to the nest. I only saw one adult, and that was the one sitting in the nest. I decided to get a little closer today. The adult came out of the nest and flew around from tree to tree “yelling”. I backed off a bit in case it was my presence that disturbed her/him. The eagle didn’t travel more than a few trees away, maybe 200 feet at most? I was able to get a few good photos of its legs. This is the first time I have seen her/him out of the nest. There are no bands on the legs. I have several photos confirming this. It’s a bummer. If we had leg bands I would have more information about her/him. There is still hope his/her mate is banded.
I do not hear babies, but they may be too young. She was in the sitting position when I got there. Everything I see indicates the nest is still viable. I thought the leaves would be filling in on the tree they are in, but not yet. I can still see the nest directly. I stayed for one hour.
April 27, 2019, a windy Saturday morning.
I didn’t go as close to the nest today as I did last time. I don’t want to
disturb her at this fragile point in the nesting process. I had hoped to see a mate, but I didn’t. I didn’t hear any calls, and the one in the nest did not vocalize. It was still in a “lying” down” or nesting position, and stayed in the nest for the duration of my visit. I didn’t see him/her reaching its head down to feed or preen young . His/her head stayed focused on its surroundings while I was there. It didn’t appear to be behaving as if young were hatched. I stayed for one hour. The temperature wasn’t bad, but it was quite windy out today. There was a farm hand in the field. I was about 350 feet from the nest. The eagle didn’t seem disturbed at all. I’m hoping better weather allows me to stay for several hours next visit.
May 6 2019
It’s a Monday. Good things and bad things today. When I started walking out to the nest mama was in
there sitting on the edge of the nest with her wings outspread (cooling herself off). A few minutes after I got there, she flew off into the next tree. I heard her chattering, and before I knew it, the mate was spotted in the sky. This was my first time seeing him. While he was flying a snapped a few photos and could see the male is banded. The band is gold/orange, which means the male was hatched in Massachusetts some time between 1989-1998. I’m working on reading the letters and numbers on the band, but I wasn’t able to get a clear photo (bummer!). The male flew into the
same tree as the female at first, and a few minutes later flew into the tree with the nest. He perched on a branch about 20 feet away from the nest. He stayed there until I left. I was there a little over an hour. He kept opening his beak as if he was screaming, but no noise came out. I almost wonder if he was panting. (Bald eagles pant like dogs to cool off).
I am concerned. Neither parent stayed in the nest. She is clearly not incubating anymore, which means there should be an eaglet in the nest. What concerned me was the behavior. No one in the nest with the possible eaglet. Both parents out of the nest for close to an hour. No indication that mama was tending to anything in the nest, and no visual signs of an eaglet in the nest. My fear is that the nest failed this year. I’m going to
go back next week. I’m hoping to determine whether or not there is an eaglet there. At minimum I am hoping to figure out the band number of the male. At least then we know “who” he is.
It’s also that time of year when the leaves are filling in on the trees. It normally gets increasingly difficult to see the eagles in the nests and trees as the vegetation grows. This is a new nest for me this year. I’m curious to see how the leaves fill in with this nest. I can see buds starting. Back again next week.
May 15, 2019
I am excited and nervous all at the same time. I’m really hoping to see an eaglet and/or
the male again, so I can try to get a better photo of his leg bands. I leave for the nest after work (on a day where it is finally not raining!), I drive over and take the 15 minute walk to the nest. I can see mama sitting on the edge of the nest again. It’s a good sign she’s there. I notice bald eagles each have their own personality even though they all look alike. This mama does not like people around her. She is okay until I get a little closer and she starts to vocalize. I believe what they call “chatter”. She flies out of the nest and lands in a tree several hundred feet away. The male is no where to be seen. I so very much want there to be an eaglet, but I do not see one. I thought for just a minute I could see a small fuzzy head, but I could see, going through my photos, that it was just branches and leaves moving in the wind. I stayed a little over an hour. Mama sat in the tree the entire time I was there. No sign of movement in the nest.
So now I’m left with a lot of questions. Would the female be so vocal and “defend” her nest if there was no eaglet inside? Would she still be staying by the nest if there is no eaglet? The tree she flew to was several hundred feet away. Should she be that far from the nest if there was an eaglet in there? The other local nests have eaglets, and I am able to see all of them. Even the ones that were tiny… I could at least see a head in the nest. Is it possible this eaglet was sleeping when I was there? (I don’t see how with the female vocalizing!). The nest is quite deep. Maybe the eaglet is deep down in there and still too small to see?
I got some great shots of the female today, but was pretty bummed not to see an eaglet. I was also disappointed that the male was no where in sight. It happens this way though. I can’t expect much after staying for only an hour. I would stay longer, but I have permission from the land owner to be there, and I don’t want to overstay my welcome. The only conclusion I can come to, is to keep going back. I would say if I don’t see anything by the end of May, I will be able to conclude that there was “nest failure”.
I’m truly hoping that’s not the case. It’s still early enough that I have a sliver of hope. It would really be wonderful to observe eaglets from this nest. Alrighty then, back to the nest next week with my little sliver of hope. ***Side note: I sent in the band number I thought I saw on the male’s leg band to the proper people, which was W over 8. I must be incorrect, because that band number belongs to an eagle who hatched in 2016. That would make him 3 years old…too young to reproduce, and definitely too young to have a full white head. I’m sure the top letter is “W”. It looks like I may have to wait to get a better photo of his leg band, so that I can try to read it better. Lots to look forward to, even if it’s just having questions answered. Till next week….
May 20 2019
I normally take a few photos of the nest as I’m walking out to it, but I didn’t today. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. I know the eaglet has to be large enough to see at this point. Either I see one today, or I have to conclude the nest has failed. I take the 15 minute walk out to the nest. I can see the female fly off from the nest (she is still chattering and very vocal). She seems to be a tightly wound bald eagle. Then I see the male come in. He always seems quite calm and makes very few vocalizations. They say opposites attract? I’m too far away to get better shots of his leg bands, but I’m focused on the fact he has some kind of food in his talons. I can only see jagged edges, so it is not a whole fish or animal, but a large piece of one or the other. The female is out of the nest, so it doesn’t seem as though he is bringing food to her. And then I see it…. first this…
I can see the male tearing up dinner into little strips with his beak. THERE IS AN EAGLET IN THE NEST! The eaglet looks on as dad tears food up into bite size pieces for him to eat.
But that’s not the best part…After I get home and look through the photos I see this….
See the other little head by dad’s chest?! They hatched TWO eaglets this year! What a fantastic sight! Eagles will stagger their egg laying by a day or more between eggs. You can definitely see a slight difference in age between the 2 siblings.
I also got a few shots of the male’s leg band again. I am almost certain I did get the ID correct last time. I still believe it says W over the number 8. This means, if that is correct, that this male is only 4 years old, and my understanding is the nest has been there at least 2 years. That seems odd to me for several reasons, which is why I’m still investigating.
I was so happy to see two little heads in there! I will continue to follow them until the eaglets fledge and leave the nest (usually around mid July through early August-ish). I still hope to get a clear shot of that leg band to confirm or dispute my findings so far. It would be so odd to have an eagle that young already reproducing. There will always be questions. Sometimes I get lucky and get some answers. I now know this nest was successful this year with not just one, but two eaglets (Bald eagles normally lay 1-3 eggs in a clutch – one clutch per year). It will be exciting to watch them grow this summer. It will get more difficult as the leaves fill in more. It was much more difficult to see into the nest today than it was last week. The eaglets will get larger and easier to see now though. I’m already excited about my visit next week.
May 29, 2019
I got some fantastic shots today. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, no one, including me, will ever see them. I’m still kicking myself for that, but it is what it is. Lesson learned.
With that being said the two eaglets were in the nest alone when I arrived. As they get stronger and older the parents will leave them alone more in the nest, as they don’t need constant care. I saw an adult flying in, and I was all excited because I thought it was the male. I thought I’d be able to see his leg band maybe. All those thoughts were shattered when the I heard loud vocalizations. It was the tightly wrapped female. I have nicknamed her screaming Mimi. Mimi came flying in with something in her talons. It definitely wasn’t a fish. It looked like a small animal. I could faintly see four legs and possibly a tail. (I could tell better if I was looking at the amazing shots I got of her flying in but, ohhhh right, none of those photos came out hahaha!). She dropped the food off with the eaglets and flew to a nearby tree. I started to walk out at this point because she seemed stressed. I didn’t want her upset, especially when she should be feeding her eaglets. I didn’t see the male at all today. Short and sweet this week. Mimi and her family seem to be doing just fine. I will go back again next week. The eaglets should be quite large by then. They are growing fast, and will practice flying now, if they haven’t been already. Lots to look forward to.
June 6, 2019
It was beautiful out today. It was in the high 70’s with just a bit of wind and partial clouds. I noticed right away, as I started walking to the nest, that the leaves have filled in quite a bit. You can no longer tell there is a bald eagle nest in this tree until you get right up on it. It’s good protection for them.
When I finally got up to the nest I could see the two eaglets. They’re getting so big. I would say another week or so and the older one should start fledging. I didn’t see them practicing by flapping their wings in the nest, but they were alone, and were most likely recently fed. The older eaglet was preening itself and cleaning up, most likely from a meal. The younger one stays down deep in the nest. I can only see its head from time to time.
I heard a sound behind me about a half hour later. It was the male adult flying around
by the tree, I assume to protect the eaglets. I always back off if they seem upset. He really didn’t seem alarmed, but also didn’t want me very close to the nest. He vocalized just a little bit. Nothing like screaming mimi. I took a ton of photos of him while he was flying, and I think I finally got close enough to get the band information! From what I can see I believe the band says W/3, and not W/8 like I first thought. I have sent the information to the banding people, and they usually get back within a few days with information on that particular eagle. The last time I sent them info on W/8, they told me the bird was 3-4 years old. The problem is, this eagle is clearly an adult, not a 3 year old. The norm for bald eagles is to start mating at full maturity, which is at age 5 when they achieve a full white head. The curiosity is killing me. I will let you know as soon as I know!
June 12, 2019
The tree is completely covered in leaves now. I can’t see the nest unless I am standing very close to the tree at this point. I certainly don’t mind getting closer, but I always try to keep a certain distance, so that I won’t disturb the bald eagles. Screaming Mimi was no where to be found today, so getting closer to the nest was not an issue. The two eaglets are inside the nest alone when I arrive. It’s very hot today, so the fact that they are not practicing flapping their wings is understandable. There is not much movement today, and I can see one of the eaglets panting, so I know they are hot too.
About a half hour into my visit I see an adult approaching the nest from the air. It’s the male. I know this because there is no screaming from the sky. I did finally hear back from the leg banding organization. The one I believe is the male, the quiet one, has a light orange leg band with a silver letter and number carved into it, on his right leg. This band has been identified as the letter W over the number 3. Sex was not determined when he was banded, so I am making an educated guess that this is the male. The leg band was put on before he was able to fly, so he had to be less than 12 weeks of age at the time, roughly. He was hatched in 2012 in Deerfield, MA. This makes W/3 roughly 7 years old. They say bald eagles settle into a new home within 250 miles of where they were originally hatched. This indeed seems to be the case with this one. He is young, but he is an adult. From what I understand, he and his mate have been at this nest for about 2 years. They are certainly doing a great job!
W/3 didn’t fly into the nest, but instead flew into another tree a few hundred feet away. I think he isn’t bothered by my presence, but wants to be able to keep an eye on the eaglets while I’m there. Everything seems very normal at the nest. Soon I should see more wing flapping from the eaglets, and before you know it they will be out on their own. I think I’m more emotional about this than the eagles are. I always find it sad when the eaglets leave, but also hopeful that they will grow into adults and start nests of their own. It’s been an amazing experience to watch this nest so closely. I’m grateful.
June 22, 2019
This was not a very exciting visit, but sometimes that’s okay too. The nest is incredibly difficult to see now. Although it’s a bummer for me, it’s a good thing for the bald eagles. They obviously chose a great site for their nest. This nest is several hundred feet away from the water, which is unusual, but not THAT unusual. The problem with a nest like this for me, is viewing. Normally I can get to most of the nests by land or by kayak. This nest is impossible to see from the water, so the kayak does not come in handy here. This also means I only have one view of the nest (There are other obstacles, and I cannot get behind the tree they are in). I am only able to see the front part of the nest and a small bit of the sides. My photos from today reflect that. No good photos to be had today.
I didn’t see either adult by the nest today, but I know they will be there less and less as the eaglets get ready to fledge. I was able to see one eaglet, but not the other. This means the second eaglet may have been resting deep inside the nest, or it may mean the second one has already fledged and was flying around somewhere near the nest. This is the first year for me observing this nest, and this pair. After a while you get to know which spots they like to hang out in away from the nest, but I don’t have enough familiarity with this pair to know where they go when they are away from the nest. Hopefully, the longer I am around them, the more I will know.
Before long the eaglets will leave and the season will be over. I’m hoping the landowner was pleased with how things went, and will allow me to come back next year for another season of monitoring. This pair is very endearing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. I think maybe 3 – 5 more visits at this nest this year. It all depends if I can find them outside of the nest, but with this particular area, that could prove to be difficult.
June 27, 2019
Today was a better visit, but boy was it hot! When I first walk out to the nest I see one eaglet sitting upright. I don’t see the other one at first, and then get concerned. Then my head starts racing, like it always does. Gee, I haven’t seen Mimi or W/3 the last 2 visits. Did they abandon the nest, did we lose an eaglet, did we…OH WAIT! There, I see the 2nd eaglet and my thoughts calm down immediately. Both eaglets are in the nest, but the 2nd one was hard to see. I observe them for a while. They are not flapping their wings, which I expect to see at this point, but again, it is sweltering hot outside. They don’t move much during my visit, but they are alert.
Now comes the funny part…Mimi. I walked a little to see if I could spot one of the adults. They still shouldn’t be too far away from the nest. Then all of a sudden I hear her, and I literally burst out laughing alone there in the field. She is screaming of course, and I find this quite amusing at this point. She screams and flies around and eventually lands in a tree nearby the nest (still screaming). The eaglets don’t seem phased by her vocalizations at all (they must be used to it by now!).
I don’t see W/3 during this visit, but I make a guess that he is out fishing and foraging for the family. The eaglets look about 11-12 weeks old to me. I know at some point I will walk out to the nest and it will be empty. The eaglets will hang around for several weeks after they fledge, but they will spend most of their time exploring and practicing their skills. It’s sad because I know that means the season is coming to an end, but also makes me happy, because I know the bald eagle population here is starting to thrive. I’ll go back again next week to observe.
July 10, 2019
Hot would be the understatement of the century! It was close to 90 degrees today, with no wind. Most nests are near a a body of water. This nest is surrounded by land. Hot, muggy, and lots of flies/bugs. Not really my idea of a good time, but out to the nest I went.
I didn’t see or hear either of the adults today. I can see one juvenile in the nest, and then the other. They are not panting, so I have to believe they are not anywhere near as hot as I am. It is quite shaded inside the nest. Unlike me, they are not in the direct sun. They seem to be conserving their energy, and I still do not see any helicoptering (practicing of the flapping of their wings and lifting off the nest). It’s very possible they have fledged (have taken their first flight)
and returned for lunch, but that doesn’t seem likely. Even though I only go out every week to 10 days, it seems I would have seen them practicing by now, if they are. I do not believe they have fledged yet, but I can’t be certain that they have until I see the nest completely empty at some point. They are due to fledge, so I’m sure it won’t be long if they haven’t already. There is little movement from either of them for the duration of the visit. They will hang around the nest for a few weeks after they fledge. Usually sometime near mid to late August they will venture out on their own and start their journey in life.
So, no news really except everything looks good. I was only there for about 40 minutes today. That’s all I could take. I believe I will make a point of going to visit next when it is overcast, or slightly cooler. I will be able to stay longer and get a better observation in. At some point the photo I post will be of an empty nest. At that point we know the nest was completely successful this year. Audubon didn’t have this nest on their list prior to this year, so these observations will be added in to the statistics of the number of nesting pairs of bald eagles in VT. If I am correct, this makes nest #24 in Vermont.
September 14, 2019
I went back to the nest a few times, but didn’t stay long. The eaglets fledged, and I wasn’t comfortable, nor did I have permission, to walk around the rest of this person’s property. Once they start flying, it’s much harder to keep track. They come to the nest less and less, until they don’t come back at all. They are testing their hunting, fishing, and flying skills, and learning to be independent.
So, my monitoring of the bald eagle nest in Vernon has come to a close for the season. I had a great time watching this pair and their two eaglets this year. This was the first year this nest was on the Audubon VT list, so they are now added to the official bald eagle count. Audubon VT is still tallying results, but it is looking like we had 25 nesting bald eagle pairs and at least 36 bald eagle fledglings this year. I know the numbers are higher than that. I’m sure there are many hidden pairs that haven’t been reported. I don’t believe the nest in Townshend is on their list, but I’m hoping to add that one next year. I will email VT Audubon in a few months, and propose I monitor that nest as well. It’s a really great sign that they are coming back so strong. My hope is to get permission from the landowner in Vernon to do this again next year. I grew quite fond of this pair. I miss seeing them every week.
Here are some my favorite photos from this season…
Always a puzzle! I have been in contact with the land owner and he has graciously given me permission again to monitor the nest on his property this coming season. He said a few people had seen the pair near the nest lately. I decided to take a drive and see if I could find them. And then came the puzzle…
As I drive towards the nest, about 6-7 trees before it, I see a tree with another nest. The nest is smaller and in a small tree, but aside from a bald eagle I can’t think of another bird that would build a nest like that, except possibly blue herons. Blue herons normally nest directly on water though, and I was there all summer and never saw one. So it leaves a few possibilities. It could be Screaming Mimi and her mate are building a new nest close to their old one. It could be that they started that nest last year and chose to stay in the nest they used this this year, but I don’t recall seeing this other nest last winter. Things that are odd make me curious, and this is odd. By the beginning of March this question should be answered. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this pair again. I’m curious to see if Mimi has chilled out a bit or is still incredibly vocal. I’m curious to see how many chicks they have this year. I’m also hoping to get a glimpse of them over the winter! Lots to look forward to!
And right before I leave the area I see a large lump in a tree a several hundred feet away. I got all excited because I thought it was one of the bald eagles. I took a bunch of photos, but upon closer inspection I’m sure this is a hawk. The beak didn’t look eagle-like. There is a very slim chance it is one of the eaglets, (now sub-adult bald eagles), but as much as I wanted it to be, it doesn’t seem that way. I always wonder how the eaglets from each season end up doing, but without banding we have no way of knowing. Either way it has been soul filling to be able to observe this pair raising their young. I can’t wait till spring!