Saturday, June 9, 2012

Eagles Don't Always Come Home - Birds's Nests

Bald eagle on the nest, Phippsburg, Maine spring 2010
Eagles make enormous nests spanning 4-5 feet across. They are messy, clumsy looking nests. They do hold these giant birds and the chicks, along with whatever food they bring home.

This next nest is a Tree swallow nest. It's sitting on a bed of Thyme in my garden. In the top third of the nest in the center is an egg. This nest came from a Bluebird box on our property which is occupied by Tree Swallows. That's why the nest is square in shape. This nest had been recently abandoned, though not long before. There is feces still on the bottom right corner. This is an elegant, inviting nest.

Like eagles, Ospreys build huge nest, too. Also like eagles, they usually return to the same nest year after year. This one is on top of a utility pole. The photo was taken in February. See the snow? Osprey build nests in high places like this and are often seen atop cell phone towers. The Osprey nests are frequently disruptive to whatever the intended purpose was of their commandeered superstructure.  Under certain circumstances, power and cell phone companies have permission to remove nests.
I have a book about nest identification. It's a Petersen Field Guide titled "Eastern Bird's Nest" by Hal H. Harrison. I find bird's nests harder to identify than the birds themselves, which can be very difficult. Nests vary in appearance depending on available materials. A robin may use hay rather than sticks if that is what available. In that case, the nest would look blond and very different from one constructed of twigs. 
I'm guessing that this is the nest of a type of thrush, but I can't say for sure. It's about 4 inches across and had a mud cup consistent with thrush nest building.

This nest is tiny by comparison to the others. It's about 3 inches across. It probably is the nest of a vireo or warbler. Moss was used on the lower half. Then, Pine needles and grass were wound around together to form the interior. It looks dry and cozy.

This nest is that of a North American robin. They use mud to make a cup and then weave other material around in the mud. The nests are about 5-6 inches across. Robins aren't too fussy about where they nest and often construct nests on and around houses. This one was attached to the side of a house in a climbing Hydrangea vine.

This nest is probably that of a flycatcher, perhaps Olive sided. Thought it looks quite whimsical, it's solidly constructed.

Baltimore orioles build nests about 40 feet up in deciduous trees and construct this pouch style nest. I love the pieces of tarpaulins that have been woven into it. On the bottom right are some white lumps of stuffing. They have been pulled from a pillow, mattress or sleeping bag.

A few years ago, I used to go almost daily to a Bald eagle nest to see what the birds were up to. I followed the progress of the two chicks born there through to the day they took their first flight. The next year, I went eagerly to the nest again. I hoped to catch another season of wonder in nest building, courting, mating and growing Bald eagle chicks.
It was early in the Maine spring. Bald eagles start courting and working on their nests in March here. The nest is on the shores of the Kennebec River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Unrelenting wind blows hard, raw and cold. My fingers froze. Several times, I pulled them back into the sleeves of my jacket, like retreating turtles. I cupped one hand in the other alternately blowing warm breath into the hand cave. I put in my time in my deep desire to see the eagles. But, no eagles.
Days went by. I wondered, "Geez, where are they?” The Bald eagle pair had nested there for several years, so it was not a new place to them. I had seen them in the air a few times, so I knew they were around. But, they were not nesting. There had not been any construction or other disruptions by man in the area. What could it be? Why had they forsaken me? Me? What about me? Of course, whether they nested there or not had nothing to do with me, but somehow it felt personal.
Like a little kid, I wished really hard for them to bring in a stick or even just light on the rim of the nest to investigate. I wished like a child wishing for a certain Christmas present though she knows that Santa Claus doesn't really exist. When I heard them keening from high in the sky or across the river, I pleaded hard. "Please, please, please," as if they could hear me or understand.
But, no eagles. I had time to look around, to ponder what had changed that made this familiar nest no longer appealing to them. A few years before, they had a different nest a couple of hundred feet away. A wind storm snapped off branches from the huge, White pine that held it. That year, they moved to this newer site. Like a bridge inspector I peered at the superstructure, looking for cracks, signs of crumbling, or changes in integrity. Then, I saw it.
Slithering up the side of the tree, sixty feet into the air above me, meandered a green video cable. It crawled from the woods before climbing up the opposite side of the tree from where I had been watching. The anaconda wire was the feed for a nest cam. The BioDiversity Research Institute had positioned a camera in the nest to monitor the Bald eagle population. In the process, they had captured and banded one of the adults. Should that bird be found dead, they could know about its life history.
             I was outraged like someone had stolen my lunch money! Though heartbroken and angry, I tried to be logical. Wasn't it a good thing to monitor the eagles? Most people can't go sit and freeze their fingers to see a nest and then, hopefully, one day the ensuing young. Most people sit in their offices, stealing moments to look at video cams across the planet. They are voyeurs to the lives of puppies, heinous baby sitters, cheating partners, and eagles. Video cams and photography are ways in which the average person gets to see things they otherwise would not. And in that, they become invested in their welfare. Monitoring of eagle populations is how we came to realize that we were killing them off in the first place!
To protect our resources, it's better to know more about them, even when sometimes there are counterproductive outcomes. There’s risks and always good and bad to everything. And, truthfully, there could have been other reasons the eagles did not come back to that nest having nothing to do with the plastic cable and camera. There are normal, natural reasons that eagles do not nest every year; it’s not always pathological. Perhaps they were just bored and wanted a new place with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, like everyone else.           

This past spring, a friend of thirty-five years called. She said she wanted to talk to me about something. 
  "What's up?" I asked.
            "I don't want to talk about it on the phone," she said.
            "Oh, come on! Just tell me!" I said, but no, she wouldn't.
So, we made a date to meet. That gave me a week to think about what she could possibly have on her mind.  
            My first thought was that something was wrong with her husband, or kids, or grandkids. "Oh God, I hope nobody's sick." I agonized. I asked my husband what he thought. "Do you think maybe there's something wrong with Mike?" My husband had no idea, either.
            With nothing to get my teeth into for a possible reason, I began to wonder if I had done something to tick her off. We hadn't talked much for months, actually. Come to think of it. So how could it be anything? It must be something. Like walking with a rock in my shoe, I went over and over every conversation between us for the past six months. I analyzed and worked over all of it, but remained mystified. Nothing. I couldn't come up with anything. Though I was at a complete loss, for the week before we were to meet, my guts were in a knot. She was my oldest, dearest friend. Nothing like this had ever gone on between us before.
            When I got to her house we hugged as we always did. Her dogs barked and jumped on me, scratching my leg through my pants as they always did. She screamed at them to get off, as she always did. She poured us each an oversized glass of red wine, as she always did. Then we, sat down in the living room, and she let me have it. Which she never did. 
            She told me I was an arrogant, social elitist snob. She said that I had totally changed and did not even look the same anymore. She said that since I had lost weight and become a celebrity, I thought I was too good for everybody else. She dredged up some year old, now friendship ancient history events, which had made her angry - things I could barely recall, never mind defend, things she had harboured for a year. She beat me over the head with the details, clear and fresh in her mind. She punched me with the word 'arrogant,' slapped me with 'snob,' screamed 'know it all,' until my ears were ringing. It was a first rate mugging.
            Like most people who are assaulted, I forgot that I ever took martial arts classes. Every kick boxing move I practiced in the gym had forsaken me. I was in disbelief at what was happening. I stared blankly at her, then laughed and blurted just the worst possible, wrong thing.
            "You're such an idiot, a moron! You can't be serious! What the hell...." I trailed off. She had to be joking. My glass of wine suddenly seemed all wrong in my hand. I set it down on the side table, carefully, before I dropped the whole thing or snapped the stem in half.
            "And that's another thing!" My old pal's smoking rant had only just begun, as it turned out. And I had just thrown gasoline on it.
            When it was 'over,' I was crying and feeling sick to my stomach. The room was quiet. Even the dogs had stopped their incessant barking, always the background to our conversations. I was still wearing my jacket, but I was cold. My fancy scarf and earrings I had chosen specifically for her to see now seemed ridiculous. My stomach churned and growled.
            "So," said my pal. "Ya ready to go out to dinner now?"
            "No, no," was my weak response.  "Are you kidding? After that?" 
            When she stood up I think I flinched. She said "I gotta let the dogs out. I'll be right back."
            She came back into the room with the bottle of wine. Still standing, she topped off her own glass. Wine dribbled down the neck of the bottle onto the carpet. She made no move to blot it up. Normally, an overly fastidious person, she would have jumped on it with a sprayer of Resolve.
            I thought, "Okay, I’m going to rise above this tantrum, this tirade, this whatever-the-hell." It had obviously bothered her, too. I said we might as well go to dinner, which we did. It was stiff. It was awkward. I watched every word that came out of my mouth. I edited and checked every joke. The spontaneous, apparently arrogant, elitist snob, know it all was having a time out.
           It's been months since that happened. I've thought about it every day. Reliving that verbal vomit session on her couch is replayed in my head nearly every night as I'm drifting off to sleep. She is my oldest friend. Friends should be able to tell each other what they feel like, right? Friends should clear the air, right? Friends should be honest, right? Friends should forgive each other, stay loyal, and get over it, right? But, I can't. I've lost some golden thread of trust. I've been told I'm a monster, a self serving, hideous beast that has stomped on my friend. And not just once. No! Apparently many times! I've been told I'm oblivious, self absorbed and uncaring!  I've been told I'm not lovable. And I can't get over it.
        There's a crevasse between us now. I see it every time we speak. My off the cuff, slap stick, jokester self dangles over the darkness waiting to die in every conversation. I can't be me anymore. In a friendship, if you can't be who you are, what is there? A friendship is where trust, loyalty and forgiveness are everything. In every other social relationship, we are at known risk. We know we would be fired for certain things, thrown out of an office for certain things, or even arrested. But a friendship is a relationship we choose because of safety in the bond.
         I don't know what to do with this. I don't know where it will end up. I take each day with her, one at a time. Maybe I'll forget. Maybe I’ll forgive. One thing I do know is that sometimes eagles do not come back to the nest.              

To watch a live Osprey nest came, visit this site:!/live-cams/player/live-osprey-cam