One of the Spring rituals along the Musselshell River is the return of Great Blue Herons to nest and raise the next generation. One particular Cottonwood tree was previously the site of 7 to 9 nests annually, however rough weather and high winds caused two-thirds of the tree to collapse a couple years ago. Current capacity is much reduced, and a tri-plex is all the tree can handle. Great Blue Herons are not meticulous nest builders, but what they lack in style and form, they make up for with sheer mass of branches and twigs.
Below are close-up images of the birds nesting on each level…
I made a quick trip to the nest this evening, with hopes of finding two eaglets there. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be, and only one survives. There is a precarious balance between life and death, and the risks in the wild, forty feet up in a tree are ever-present. Still, I was disappointed in this finding. It is highly likely that the missing eaglet was pushed out during a feeding event, or as a scuffle ensued between nest-mates, so I am naming the survivor Cain. I became even more concerned when I saw where Cain was perched…on the very edge of the nest. The diameter of the nest being nearly three feet, yet the eaglet unknowingly is tempting fate by his choice of location.
Here is a current picture of Cain, not noticeably different that Friday’s photo.
Hopefully this photo gives you some perspective on the precarious position he has chosen.
It has been three weeks since I last visited the nest. The eaglets would be roughly 6 weeks old now, but there may be something amiss. If you have been following this saga since the first post, you know that for the past five years these eagles have nested here, they hatched two eaglets each year, but only one survived. After visiting the nest this evening, I think it is highly likely that we are down to one eaglet already. You are probably wondering why I don’t know, after all, I can see right into the nest. Well, it was a warm day and the eaglet appeared to be very wary of my presence and only moved in barely perceptible motions. And he never moved enough to see if his nest mate was tucked in against his far side. I am pretty sure there is only one remaining, but could be wrong. In order to give you an idea of what I was seeing, and to make your own judgement call, I’ve included a shot of the whole bird with what looks like it could be another on the far side, and also a short video clip that might give you a better perspective. I will return to the nest in a couple days, but in the meanwhile feel free to leave a comment indicating whether you think there are two remaining.
Here is a close up of the eaglet. Feathers have begun to replace down, and he is able to hold his head up for longer periods with better control than in the past. Golden brown feathers are populating portions of wings, back and nape of the neck. His facial features are becoming more fierce and less comical.
Squirrel appears to be a dietary staple lately, but the hindquarters must not be very tasty!
Here is a picture for you to evaluate the number of eaglets…is there only one?
And finally, a video clip for your viewing pleasure. Not sure it helps decipher the number of eaglets, you be the judge of that!
On the trip home this evening, a fascinating string of thunderclouds overtook the sun and lined out roughly along a fence on the Petroleum County prairie. It looked great in color, but I think even better with a little old fashioned black and white processing!
A heated argument among Alpacas, and they eventually reached an agreement to disagree!
It is rarely good to start watching a series in the middle, so if you want to start at the very beginning, go and read Part 1 now.
Over the course of this past week the eaglets have grown considerably and appear to be more mobile, but still very awkward. When I visited the nest, the direct sun was upon them and they seemed warm by the panting they exhibited. The heat may have been the reason they kept apart, or maybe they’ve decided they get along better that way! In any case, there wasn’t any fighting among siblings today. One of the eaglets also appears to be significantly larger than the other, while both did look plump and full. Both parents were likely hunting while I was at the nest, and one made an empty-taloned fly-by towards the end of my stay.
This was as close as they got to each other while I was there. To help you with size perspective, I think there was about nine inches of space between them here, maybe a little more. (As always, click on the images to see them in a larger format.)
The one on the left is the larger eaglet, and he became aware of my presence and became a camera ham.
The smaller bird was actually pretty active as I approached the nest and set up my tripod and camera, but didn’t show a lot of ambition while I was shooting. Or maybe he was boycotting?
After reading through the Part 1 post, a reader asked how I was able to approach the nest in such close proximity. The photo below may help describe the layout better than words. The nest is about 40 ft up a Ponderosa Pine, which stands about 20 ft away from a sandstone rock outcrop. With a long lens, I can shoot the nest from the position where I took the photo below, and that is where I stay when the adults are at the nest. If the adults are gone, I will move to the top of the rock identified as the “Close Up Position,” which gets me a little over 20 ft away from the nest.
I hope to continue this chronicle next week, so stay tuned…..