My interpretation of the White Rock pair's 2012 return -- but largely from comments from Christian, Tina and Karen.
Our daily observations from cams, but particularly our direct contact with the birds, is always exciting and always leading to new insights. As one insight blossoms into conclusions the birds as quickly dispel or redefine these in a different context.
Two nights ago I was reviewing the White Rock pairs return – or their "not return"—depending upon your perspective. The observations by our viewers of what was happening at the White Rock site was quite exciting and yet somewhat contradictory. Were we seeing Ma and Pa or some intruders? Last year the male or both birds returned October 7th or 8th. So this year on October 3 at 5:57 p.m. when adults were seen back in the nest the obvious conclusion was that this pair, like so many, were returning earlier this year. Then observations started to sound conflicting.
Christian was visiting three days later and showed me an image of "Ma" but he and Tina had not thought the female they saw the last couple of days was Ma. The female seen the last couple of days even looked different than the bird he showed me beside the nest. When I saw the only image he had, it seemed possible the adult shown was not in the complete "white plumage" I had seen in Ma the previous couple of years – and Tina and Christian had shown me hundreds of fine images of the pair. So this begged the question of who was present? Pa seemed to be the same but Ma was different. I promised to view other images.
By the 16th of October the story yielded new revelations. A totally different female, with a black band on the tail and dark streaks along the tail shafts and a few dark feathers in the head was the obvious winner of an "in the dark" dispute reported by those living below. I decided to call Tina, who holds these eagles in high regard, but who, from our previous discussions, I knew that she knew individual eagles better than most people. Tina is very perceptive of the eagle differences. I always remember my Oriental friend saying, "You Whites all look alike!" Indeed. And to all but the "Tinas of the world", most adult bald eagles look alike. Obviously they are instantly differentiated by each other. So I asked Tina and she gave me a copy of the attached note summary.
It now seems pretty clear. Pa arrived back October 3 and over the next two and a bit weeks had 3 different females attempt to share his territory. What seems remarkable, most of you watchers detected that Pa was not happy with any of the new ladies – in essence saying to most of you, that these ladies were not Ma. The first two females were older and had clearer white feathers. The 3rd lady was the one with the obvious dark rim around the tail indicating she was probably in her first adult plumage. She was also the winner of the dark evening dispute heard by the local people. Pa did not seem happy with the new ladies. This is how I left the discussion last Thursday evening with Tina. But her concluding remarks kind of floored me – ".. but Ma will return shortly". I stated I doubted this as we were now two weeks later than last year – and these are the eagles that are so precise! I simply worried something had fallen her on her northern migration and we were witnessing the beginning of a new partnership.
It was jolting the next morning to get calls from Karen to say "Ma was back"! And surely enough she returned with incredible outward joy and boisterousness. Better late than never – and it feels so good to be wrong!
Quick update: We have installed 10 new additional cams for this season. Today Ken got the first actually running on the web BUT behind the scenes. It is all happening but a little slower than hoped for. Ken is struggling with taking over some of Richard's functions -- but the good news is he is succeeding. It was unfortunate that the two new PTZ cams at White Rock are still not yet on the web -- but hopefully they will be running shortly. Our test shots show they will be letting us see this incredible pair of birds on several of their favorite perches and outward onto Boundary Bay as they hunt. Following these adults on a hunt will be the challenge for the keeners who get to man the ptz cams. This year we have 10 ptz cams about to come on-line from White Rock, Delta 2, Lafarge, Mission, Harrison Mills and two on the Chehalis Tower that yesterday had 276 eagles feeding on salmon carcasses around the tower. We hope that our late fall rains will finally allow the salmon to enter their spawning beds – and then their carcasses nourish the river and feed our eagles.
During the November – December peak the past two years, the Chehalis Flats, the home of the Fraser River Bald Eagle Festival, had 5,000 to 10,000 eagles within a couple of miles of our CAM Tower. If you are booking a tour to the Chehalis for this wondrous event it is best to plan for early December – there are still seats available to reserve on the Fraser River Safari Tours that travel this incredible eagle domain – the world's largest gathering of eagles ever witnessed. The new Harrison Mills nest cams and the two Tower cams overlook this famous eagle gathering site. This is also where Glen Browning and Christian Sasse will give the camera workshop – with a FRS Tour thrown in!
NOTES on the White Rock Pair's arrival summarized by Tina:
Hi David ,
so here is what I can recall, going back over my images and the Forum.
Oct 3 2012 , @5;57 pm - first sighting of a pair of eagles at the nest tree
Oct 4 2012 eagle pair at the nest
Oct 6 2012 same eagle pair at the nest, this pair is the one with the light black edge on the outer edge tail feathers and one with an all white tail
Oct 9 2012 eagle chasing another eagle seen at the nest
Oct. 10 2012 more eagle chasing seen during the day, and then in the evening the housekeeper at Russ's saw three eagles chasing through the trees
Oct. 12 2012 I was at the nest , there were two eagles perched above the nest, could not ID them from my distance
Oct 13 2012 two eagle seen at the nest
Oct 15 2012 I went to the nest and there were two eagles perched in the Camera tree, and a third eagle perched on top of a tree to the south of the nest, I have seen this perched used before by the original Pa and Ma last year
Oct 16 2012 eagle in the nest has a black feathers in its tail and some on its eye area on its head, the second eagle at the nest has a full white tail
Oct 17 2012 eagle with black edge tail feathers is in the nest many times, digging and moving some branches and settling in the nest bowl, and is aggressive toward the other adult when it comes into the nest bowl, which I think is original Pa but maybe it is the new adults mate, but I think that it seems like original Pa , by his mannerisms and the way it seems confused about the other eagle working in the nest .....
so my opinion is that the first pair that arrived was chased off by the original Pa, then a second female and male pair have appeared and are maybe trying to take over the nest, and the original Pa is trying to defend the intruders and claim his nest , and is still looking out for original Ma,,,, and that the original Ma has not yet returned to the area.
And when the original Ma returns then she will clean house of any unwanted guests !
I can only guess that my observations are true and maybe I am being hopeful that the original pair will once again be in the nest for us to watch . I have looked over many images and I think that this is the original Pa and that original Ma will return soon, I hope that my observations help you , I will keep observing and going to the nest as often as I can to try to capture some clear images of the eagles that are there, I will call you if and when I see something interesting, Cheers Tina
Then of course, just as Tina predicted, Ma returned the very next day (Oct 19) just after 9AM!!!