blackwater nwr

Welcome to the 2016 Eagle Cam Season

Two-egg clutch for 2016 season

Two-egg clutch for 2016 season

We want to welcome everyone to a new season on the Blackwater NWR Eagle Cam. For those who are new to the cam, we’ve been following this nest since the 2004-2005 season. We don’t band eagles at Blackwater NWR, so we don’t know if this is the same couple each year, but adult eagles can live long lives, are very loyal to each other, and are also loyal to their nests, so we’re sure that for quite a few years, we’ve likely seen the same birds.

Cam watchers have also asked if this is the same pair that is seen on the Blackwater NWR Osprey Cam. We do know that sometimes our Eagle Cam pair visits the osprey platform (we’ve seen them take food from one nest to the other), but we have a lot of eagles at Blackwater — one of the largest populations in the lower 48 states — so sometimes the eagles on the osprey platform might be different birds.

We have a two-egg clutch for this year. Bald eagles normally lay two or three eggs, so this is a normal amount. Below is our scorecard:

  • 1st egg
    Laid: 1/24
    Possible hatch: Around 2/28
  • 2nd egg
    Laid: 1/29
    Possible hatch: Around 3/4

There was a longer delay between the two eggs than we normally see, and we’re not sure why that is. Also, the parents appeared to delay the incubation of the first egg, which is a technique for ensuring the eggs hatch closer together (this might impact the potential hatch dates). We did see the parents off both eggs the other night, and we were a little worried even though it was mild. A cam watcher helpfully pointed out an interesting article from Duke Farms about eagle eggs left in the cold, so you might want to check it out.

The other reason we’re a little more nervous this season is because last season did not end well. Normally our eagles on the cam are rock-solid parents. We’re accustomed to seeing big drama from the Osprey Cam birds — everything from newbie parents abandoning the eggs during a long rain storm, to parents leaving the eggs unprotected around fish crows, to a male osprey abandoning the family, possibly to take up with another female. But over the years, our eagle adults have been incredibly efficient, brave, and loyal in their parenting, even protecting the eggs with a foot of snow on the nest. However, last year we saw something odd. The male adult left a new chick outside the nest cup and it froze to death. The chick was right beside him, but he didn’t seem to respond to the chick’s attempt to get back under him, and then it was too late. We’ve never seen anything like it with our eagles. He might have been a new parent with little experience or he might have been an intruder who had driven away the resident male off camera and wanted to get rid of the chicks that weren’t his — we’ll never know. But it’s left us a little nervous regarding how our parents will do this year.

So this season will be a bit different in that we’re not as confident as we normally are about our parents being the unflappable pair that gets the chicks through anything nature can throw at them. But then again, that’s why we watch wildlife cams. We never know what to expect, and that is what makes it exciting.

Technical Note

Before we wrap up, we did want to say something about our technical issues. As our loyal cam watchers will remember we had hoped to have streaming video for this cam season. There has been a delay in getting broadband service out to the rural area where Blackwater is located. We have heard that the new Harriet Tubman State Park Visitor Center (across from Blackwater NWR) is getting broadband, so we’re hopeful that this means it will soon be available to us at the Refuge. We’re keeping an eye on the situation and we’ll do our best to upgrade our technology when we are able.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Categories: blackwater nwr, eagle cam, eggs | 1 Comment

Preparing for Hatching

Three Eggs Up Close

Three Eggs Up Close

Well, we think we have some good news on the camera front. Our cam technician and ranger spent a good bit of time Saturday inspecting and replacing the last possible pieces that they could think of that might be malfunctioning and causing the darkness on the cam, and it looks like they were able to fix it. Keep your fingers crossed that this was the solution, and that it means there is nothing wrong with the camera at the nest.

As you likely noticed, we’ve also zoomed in our pan-tilt-zoom camera so that we have a front-row seat for the hatching, which could start sometime from Wednesday through Saturday. If you’re new to this process, the way it will work is that the chick will begin moving and eventually vocalizing from within the egg before it hatches. The parent will know before we do that something is happening, and we’ll be looking for signs of the parent getting up a lot and looking at the eggs. Another sign that hatching is starting is if the male eagle suddenly brings a meal and leaves it on the nest.

Eventually the eaglet will pip a small hole in the egg (using its egg tooth, which will fall off after hatching) and then slowly turn inside the egg and peck until it has created a crack that is big enough that the eaglet can push its way out of the shell. This is a very slow process (maybe 24 hours or more), since the eaglet will take a lot of breaks to rest.

Once the eaglet has hatched, it will be wet and tired, but it will quickly dry off and maybe even try to stand up for a meal, although the eaglet doesn’t have to eat right away — the chick absorbs what remains of the yolk before hatching and doesn’t need to be fed immediately.

The first eaglet out has a big advantage because bald eagles are the fastest growing birds in North America, and the first chick to hatch will be big enough to establish itself as the dominant chick and will have the advantage of being at the top of the pecking order. The sooner that the second and third eaglets can hatch after the first, the better for those chicks.

In the last two seasons, our female has not had good luck with her third egg, with one hatching late and the chick later dying, and then one never hatching at all. So we’re hoping that this year the trend is different and that the third egg will produce a healthy chick.

Before we finish this entry, we wanted to share a short video showing some winter scenes from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. If you haven’t been able to visit this winter or if you wonder what the eagles are seeing when they fly around the Refuge, this will give you a taste. The final shot of the eagle on the Osprey Cam nest is possibly one of the parents from our Eagle Cam.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Categories: blackwater nwr, eagle cam, eggs, hatching | Leave a comment

State of the Camera

Our parents are doing well, and fortunately all has been quiet at the nest. We captured a short video of one of our dedicated parents (I think it’s the male) in the rain not long ago, keeping the eggs warm and relatively dry. When the male eagle stands up and moves to the edge of the nest in the video, I think he’s relieving himself over the side before retaking his position on the eggs. The action on the cam right now is kind of slow, but it’s the kind of action we like to see at this time of year — uneventful incubation.

Update on the Camera

As our cam watchers know, our cam image went bad a couple days ago and now has temporarily improved, although we’re still getting a dark image on occasion. We’ve been online with our Eagle Cam for 11 years now, and we’ve never had an issue with the camera equipment at the nest itself during that time. We have had the eagles hit the camera and nudge it out of position when flying in and out of the nest (an issue we eliminated when we migrated to a pan-tilt-zoom camera), but we’ve never had cabling or camera problems around the nest that we couldn’t access.

When the dark image problem first appeared a few weeks ago, we did some maintenance on the ground and it seemed to fix the issue, but then it came back a few days ago with the colder weather. Over the past few days, we tried swapping out and improving most of the connections on the ground, but the image did not improve. It did improve, however, when the weather warmed a bit. This makes us a little concerned that something might be wrong with a cable near the nest — which of course we can’t visit while the eggs are there or even when the chicks are small and need their parents nearby. It’s possible a squirrel has chewed on the cable or a crack has developed, but right now about the best we can do is hope the clear image stays with us. If it is affected by weather, then we’re hoping that at hatching time, the weather is like it is now, which seems to allow for a good image most of the time.

While we’re talking about our cam operation, it seems like a good time to mention that this weekend we had a visit from WildEarth.tv. We’ve been in talks with them about possibly moving our operation to streaming video. As some of our long-time fans know, the reason we haven’t moved to streaming video before this is because affordable broadband was not available out at the Refuge (which is in a very rural location), and so we didn’t have the technology available to get streaming video up to the Internet. That situation has improved, and a partnership with WildEarth.tv would give us some added benefits that might make streaming video possible. We’re still in the early stages of exploring this partnership, but the meeting this weekend went well, and I’m feeling hopeful that this might happen and be in place for next eagle season. If it did happen, it would mean we would have a small banner ad to help pay for the broadband, but we would have high quality live video and sound online, and also an online archive of videos that cam watchers could view if they missed any action on the nest. We’re also exploring an additional ad-free feed for schools to use, since we know we have several classrooms that tune in to watch the eagles during the season.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
Support the Blackwater Cams
Contact Us

Categories: blackwater nwr, eagle cam, incubation | Leave a comment

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