It was a long hard wait for the eagles this weekend. I arrived at 10am and had planned to leave by no later than noon. But by 12 O’clock there were still no eagles.
The nest is now so big and deep that it is impossible to verify if it is occupied or not in the field unless you actually see an eagle enter or exit. Even zooming in on images recorded on my camera did not help. The small screen on the camera just does not reveal enough detail.
So, I waited. At first I gave myself an extension to 1:00pm. When 1 O’clock came and went and there where still no eagles, I bumped that deadline up to 2:00. And at 2 O’clock I moved it out to 3:00pm. After I have already stayed too long, it becomes very difficult to justify leaving without getting at least some pictures. So, I waited.
In the end I was glad I stayed. When the relief eagle finally showed up at 2:20pm—after four and a half hours of waiting—the two adult birds put on a really nice show for me, including some very unexpected behaviors.
It was the big female that returned to the nest today. That was my first surprise. I know that both the male and female eagles share in the incubating duties, but I was under the impression that the female was responsible for the lion’s share. In that scenario, I wouldn’t have expected her to be gone for 4.5+ hours.
As the female approached the tower she did not go directly to the nest as I might have expected her to. Instead she landed at the top of the transmission tower. She stayed there for several long minutes and without making a move for the nest. Further, I could not detect a reaction to her arrival in the nest.
After several more minutes the big female took to the air and flew off to the east, quickly disappearing from view. At this point I became a little worried because I really expected her next move to be toward the nest. I was briefly afraid that this behavior meant that the nest had failed.
But, almost immediately the male eagle sprang from the nest and chased after her. He had been on the nest the entire time! When I reviewed my pictures from earlier in the day on a bigger computer monitor at home, I was just able make out parts of his head and beak in some of them.
The male also soon disappeared, but withing a couple of minutes both eagles were back tracing out lazy circles in the sky above my head. After a few minutes of this they both again drifted off to the east and vanished behind a distant treeline. It struck me as odd that they would leave the nest unattended for so long. I do not remember seeing that kind of behavior last year. But the weather was balmy and there was no need for concern. The eggs would be fine through a short absence.
When the female returned roughly 5 minutes later she surprised me again. Even though she had left the nest heading east, she returned to the tower from the west. She must have flown a huge circle around the wetland center! I think she was messing with my mind!