[Bristol-Birds] SFHR Eagle nest Report 11 Feb 2012

  • From: "Wallace Coffey" <jwcoffey@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Bristol-birds" <bristol-birds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2012 19:26:16 -0500

 South Fork Holston River 
 Eagle nest Report 11 Feb 2012
  number 10 is the estimated incubation days to date
  number 33 is the estimated total days of incubation for the pair
  hatching date estimate is the weekend of March 3.
  fledgling date for young is anticipated near the end of May to June.

 Weather is becoming normal tonight for breeding Bald Eagles
 on the South Fork Holston River in Sullivan County, TN.  

 The pair is not evident.  On a good day you can search the
 area and not see an eagle. Everything seems quiet.  There are always 
 doubts as to whether they have abandoned the nest.  Where are they ?  

 It is stressful. 

 One day, when we were convinced they had left, the pair arrived
 late in the afternoon.  They soared very high above the nest.  The female
 went into a dive and pulled up just a couple of feet from the nest. She
 hovered and eased down to the nest from the top.  There are
 no limbs covering the nest from above as is more often the case for the
 species.  We had not noticed this before they approached from above.

 A few seconds later, the male made the same approach from very high
 and came in to stand on the nest with her.

 Together they fussed with the lining of the nest.  This is a normal behavior
 for the duration of the nest use.  It must be some kind of maintenance or
 bonding ritual or both.  

 She eventually settled down on the nest and kept getting lower and lower.
 She became prone and no longer visible.  The male flew away for the
 evening and she settled until nightfall -- evidence of incubating.

 On another night, before she had laid an egg, he left for the night's roost
 and she followed him as is normal for eagles.  She had waited, as expected,
 in a nearby perch tree for him to go to the nest, check things out, adjust
 a stick or two.  She did not follow him to the nest.  They left near dark.

 It is not likely she left the nest today.  She is heading into one of her
 colder nights and days.  The temperature was about 36 degrees when
 this date (11 Feb) began at midnight.  The wind-chill was 30 degrees.

 The temperature continued to plunge thru the night and dropped throughout
 the day to 23 degrees by 4 p.m.   The wind-chill went into single digits
 at 9 degrees by 3 p.m. and maybe one of her coldest hours on eggs.

 Snow is blowing steady throughout the area but there are bands of snow
 and bands of sunshine.  She enjoyed a fair amount of sun today.

 These reports are based on the assumption the nest is active and everything
 is normal.  That will be a continuing hypothesis until there is evidence to 

 On cold days or bad weather days the female does almost all incubating and
 brooding.  During incubation the male does not bring food to the nest.  Big
 raptors have little problem with long periods without food -- sometimes days.
 She may leave the nest for a very short period.  The male will take care of
 about 5 percent of the daily incubation activity under such stress.

 On good and or warm weather days, they may share the daytime incubation
 fairly evenly between them.

 She always incubates during the night hours.

 She is a little larger and strong than he is. Her defensive capabilities may be
 a bit better or more determined.  The longer she incubates the more
 attachment she might develop.

 We feel much anxiety about early abandonment.  Word had begun to spread
 like wildfire when the eagles first arrived in the vicinity.  We found them 
 and eventually located a nest before anyone knew there was a nest.  But the
 word has spread.  Even when we are in the region and far from the nest,
 neighbors have figured out we are key to the site and play a special role.
 They give us thumbs up as they drive past.  They roll windows down and slow
 to tells us: "isn't this wonderful."  Few have said the word "eagle."  It seems
 almost a hush word.  But they know what we are doing and that we know
 what they are talking about.  We are sure they have told family members.
 Maybe folks at work.  Who wouldn't ?  

Much effort has been made to be casual and distant to the nest.  We 
are aware of one or two people who went to take photos.  The last 
we could determine,  the landowner, who lives on the site, did not know there 
was an eagle's nest there.  Considering personalities and such, we are 
letting it ride out and hope for the best.  The eagles need their own

We found a very far off vantage point to watch the nest but we must have
a spotting scope to see details.  With a pair of binoculars, we can see birds 
come to the nest.

We are the eagle watchers.  Neighbors found us out.  We have drawn a couple
of family groups.  They have held children to look thru the scope.  Some have
been nearly in tears and had to choke their emotions of seeing their national
emblem nesting where they nest.  Lord help us all !  We never expected
that.  Everyone is almost in reverence as they stand to wait and look at the
eagles.  A crippled woman rode a tricycle a quarter mile.  They are so proud.  
So very thankful.  So joyful !

They want to know what they can do to protect the nest.  What can we
ask authorities to do ?  What do we plan to do ?  We have quickly communicated
with all the known authorities who should be in both a legal and thoughtful 

 The eagles face tremendous risks with such a great nest.  It is risky 
 to pick out a place and be successful.  We can't guarantee the eagles
 or their neighbors.  At best, we can let it take its course and that includes a
 course that includes neighbors.  

 For the moment, all seems as well as can be expected.

 From the visible evidence, these are younger eagles and this may well
 be in their first ever nesting attempt.  If they had been nesting elsewhere,
 together, they would still be there.  They may need to learn a thing or two.
 Hope they are quick and smart students.

 The Avens Bridge Pair on South Holston Lake in Virginia, is now about five 
 years at the same site, despite having lost a nest and two young last year
 to a terrible storm.  We think they stayed in the area and help account 
 for the larger number of eagles at South Holston this winter. 

 The Avens pair has built a bigger nest and are again active.  
 But their site is very remote. Very difficult to approach.  They built on a 
 track of about 2,000 acres and it is private and no one lives there.  

 The South Fork Holston River birds may have been among the eagles on 
 South Holston Lake this winter.

 We know of two or three other pairs in the region for which we have not yet 
 been able to pin down a nest.  This is not easy.  There are many difficult
 factors.  It is not about driving up and down the road looking for a big stick
 nest.  That could happen but is not the way you seek out eagle nests.  It is
 the way you stumble onto one.

 Professional eagle biologists have been advising us.  We were told the Avens
 Bridge Pair would be loyal and build back for this nesting season.  That 

 They told us well-established eagle pairs will sometimes hunt up to six miles
 in one direction from the nest.  That could be an area almost as large as a
 Christmas Bird Count circle.  How do you deal with that type of search ?  We
 use technology to aid the effort.

 Wallace Coffey
 Mike Sanders










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