[Posted for David Hancock ~JudyB]
To Doug, Sheila and Phoenix followers:
It is with great sadness I heard of the loss of Phoenix. No one knows more about the empathy one develops toward 'our babies' in watching the intimate moments of incubation and exchange, hatching or not hatching and those early 'wobbly headed' feeding efforts than our Live Web Cam followers. Then the bond becomes greater as many of our eaglets get exposed to some of nature's vicissitudes, the inclement weather, deteriorating nests, the variable food deliveries and sometimes the resulting sibling conflicts that can arise and worry us all. But as someone who called me yesterday said, "finally a death witnessed live-on-cam and the world did not fall apart."
The Phoenix loss is a personal tragedy but even more it makes us aware of the fragility of wild creatures. The miracle to me is that any chicks survive. That we have had so many opportunities for glimpses into the eagles' incredible lives has been wondrous. The cams have allowed us to see eagles wake in the morning light and break out from under a total covering of snow that covered the incubating eagle during the night; we have seen owls and other eagles attack or steal young eaglets out of nests; we have seen nighttime attacks on the nesting birds by raccoons; we have seen how easy and in a few unprotected seconds an exposed eagle egg can be swiped by a raven; and we have seen sibling fights to the near-end -- but thankfully not to the end. And yes, we have even witnessed -- even heard -- how an eagle goes into labor when laying an egg. The live cams have been an incredible window into the formerly unseen reality of life in an eagle's nest. We are so much richer for this.
The personal loss of Phoenix makes our understanding a personal reality, an opportunity to be thankful for what we have all witnessed these past five years of viewing.
The purpose behind Doug first allowing our release of his private video connection to his neighborhood eagle nest to our wider Web-based audience was to offer the world -- not that we at all understood the size of the web world at the time -- a personal glimpse into the dramatic lives of our favorite bird, the bald eagle. And boy has the world had a ride! And Doug we all thank you so much. Without tragedy, without empathy we would be without concern. At every turn, the Louisiana oil debacle, the Dolphin Cove slaughters in Japan, seeing the unguarded egg for a moment at an incubation exchange get snatched by a raven so it too can survive, or the yet unexplained loss of Phoenix, should make our appreciation of nature's vulnerability more real. The fragility of our earth's systems are largely in our hands -- can we be trusted? Can momentary concern and empathy be translated into better, non-greed behaviors over the long run that encourage world sustainability. These live cams evolved because Doug and I hoped so. Yes we can make a difference!
It is interesting that our loss of Phoenix was not at all unlike the opening year, the 2006 season, when this Hornby eagle pair produced 2 unviable eggs right before the eyes of the world. Over 50,000,000 viewers got a realization that not all wild creatures survive. That we were able to quickly find an alternative bald eagle nest site, that of the Sidney -- Epicure nest, and follow the development of these incredible birds was a stroke of luck. The bald eagle volunteers of WiTS and other British Columbia eagle supporters came forward to suggest a hundred other nests to view. The Sidney eagles, largely due to the specifics of their protected nest site and the Epicure landowner's total dedication to her birds, their incredible tolerance to industrial cranes and a supportive local group of volunteers, became the focal nest site over the coming years. But our Hornby eagles, particularly supported by Doug's regular commentary and the publication of his pair's 20 year life story in The Eagles of Hornby Island have annually remained a hit. Doug's book is a 'must read' if you wish to understand his 20 year relationship with his eagle neighbors. What an irony that at the beginning of the year Doug announced he was selling his house and the 2009 year would be the last transmission from the Hornby Nest. From the 'down house market' that did not enable him to sell, we benefited.
The entire live wild cam industry, at least locally initiated by Doug and our Hancock Wildlife Foundation, has brought eagles, estuary ecology, spawning salmon and rare hibernating white black bears to the public's attention. This is our continued goal with a number of continuing and new projects presently under development.
The Phoenix loss will hopefully also contribute to long-term knowledge of what has happened to him. Between Doug, the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (a local Rehabilitation Center) and the Ministry of Environment and now the Health of Animals veterinary lab examination, we hope over the next few weeks to learn how or why Phoenix died. That will be reported when the autopsy and analysis is complete.
The 2010 bald eagle nesting season, like most seasons, has had its ups and downs. Both our Sidney-Epicure nest and Vancouver-Lafarge nests lost an egg early in the season, and one of the remaining Lafarge eaglets died shortly after hatching, but both sites succeeded in fledging a single young. This is no small effort. In the wilderness areas of the BC coast one young is the average. It is only within the urban and suburban eagle populations of south western British Columbia, the areas around Vancouver, Victoria and up to Campbell River that we see two young being more the normal. The urban BC eagle is almost twice as productive as the wilderness eagle. Interesting!
And while we all rejoiced in seeing a young eaglet fledge the Sidney and Lafarge nests, our Delta OWL nest, in the front yard of the northwest's largest Raptor Rehaber, O.W.L., their nest suffered an incredible natural catastrophe early in the nesting season. Right on video, the 12 inch center of the nest fell out and dropped to the ground right while both adult eagles were in the nest. The adults stayed on site but seemed not up to the repair job. The adults are still on site protecting the territory. All three of these nests, Sidney, Lafarge and Delta OWL and another couple are about to have their cams cleaned, refitted with new and better cams or get new ones. These plans are detailed elsewhere.
I am optimistic that Doug's long-nesting birds will triumph again next year as will some of the over 300 additional nests in greater Vancouver or the over 500 nests on southern Vancouver Island and the neighboring Gulf Islands. The birds are making the comeback from an era of the 1950's when, classified as "Vermin", they were shot and persecuted (Alaska even paid a bounty for killing eagles -- yes we have changed!), to the eagles now knowing they are safe in our urban settings. The big challenge for our viewers, and any children or grandchildren they might have, is, "Will our exploitive generation leave enough 'clean environment to grow clean food for the salmon, intertidal life, waterfowl and muskrats that our eagles can survive'?". The spectacular bald eagle, perched at the top of the food chain, offers a fascinating window into how well our generation is treating the land and our oceans. The Phoenix autopsy could be an interesting posting on our score card.
Again, thanks Doug and Sheila for awaking us all to such a intimate way of viewing the world we share -- and depend upon.
HWF Director & Eagle Biologist.