This nesting season, I have been suffering from double vision. I watch the Duke Farms Eagle Cam whenever I can, but I also visit to a Bald Eagle nest (above) in Ridgefield Park, N.J., roughly 40 miles east-northeast of Duke Farms. The contrast in vantage points -- a nearby videocam trained on the Duke Farms nest vs. a distant spotting scope trained on the Ridgefield Park nest -- is dramatic and illuminating. It is akin to watching parallel universes that, when combined, give a much more well-rounded perspective of a Bald Eagle familys nesting season. Take the two photos above, both taken on Feb. 17 of this year. With the Duke Farms Eagle Cam (above left), you can watch the activity inside the nest, but not much beyond the nest. At the Ridgefield Park nest (above right), which lacks a cam, you can see the big picture of the nest and the adjacent environment but not inside the nest, where most of the action takes place.
With the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, folks around the world can see major events instantly -- when the first egg and second eggs arrived, for example, and when they hatched. You could see both eagles protecting the eggs in early March (above left), for example, but all you knew of the world around them was snow. At the Ridgefield Park nest, which sits in a Cottonwood along the Overpeck Creek, almost everything has been a mystery. In early March, no one knew if or when any eggs had been laid, let alone how many. You might see something as extraordinary as a coyote on the ice directly below the nest (above right), but you couldn't even see if the nest was still active. With the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, viewers would become concerned when they saw the two chicks left alone (left) for any stretch of time. With the Ridgefield Park nest, no one knew for sure how many eaglets there were until photographer/birder Jill Homcy posted a YouTube video showing three eaglet heads. And that wasn't until early May -- nearly two and a half months after Duke Farms viewers after knew their nest was home to two eggs. Photo by Alice Leurck
At the Ridgefield Park nest, you can often see Mom or Dad perched on a branch near the nest (right) -- and realize that the Duke Farms eagles are likely not far from their nest is either. With the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, you are part of a larger community of eagle watchers. As the viewer counter on the UStream site will you, there are often 100 or 200 people watching at once, with some sharing their observations and comments instantly on line. At the Ridgefield Park nest, you are likely the only person watching the eagles, from a little cul de sac across Overpeck Creek. The Sycamore that is home to the Duke Farms eagle nest nest is leafed out now, but the cameras view is unaffected, and we know what the eaglets are up to almost anytime during the daylight hours.
The Cottonwood tree in Ridgefield Park is so leafed out now (right) that the nest is barely visible. Seeing the three young through the thick foliage is difficult at best. But you can still see Mom and Dad flying in with a big fish, or even cooling off in the shallows along Overpeck Creek (see the Ron Shields photo below), and that is reassuring enough. The other major contrast between the two nests is the Duke Farms nest is tucked away in an undisclosed, secluded location somewhere on the 2,740-acre property. The Ridgefield Park nest is on the site of a major redevelopment project, and the adjacent waterway can be a busy spot, accommodating kayakers and rowing teams. The world we see outside the Ridgefield Park nest is the world that the Duke Farms eaglets will enter in the next month, and it is a great big world indeed.The best thing about both nests is that they exist at all. A few decades ago, no one in New Jersey would have thought it possible.
Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Wright writes The Bird Watcher columnist for The Record and the Herald-News. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and the deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.
Photo by Ron Shields