It’s midnight in Washington D.C. as I write. It’s pitch black; the sounds of night peepers can be heard between the sounds of sirens and car horns. It’s dark in the woods, and probably a little scary too, for most everything and everyone.
A camera set for night vision illuminates a spot that almost seems to glow.
It’s a large, empty nest, probably bigger than any nest you’ve ever seen.
For three years now, the First Lady has come to this tree and made her way to the nest built high into the crook of a Tulip Poplar tree.
Her life mate, Mr. President, is always by her side.
They return to the nest, fix it up a bit and then, without even knowing it, introduce us to a miracle of nature.
Two years ago, in February, I got hooked on this amazing live feed of two American Bald Eagles. It’s called the D.C. Eagle Cam , and just like the couple, I return every year to watch them do their thing.
The birds arrived in 2015, and a year later, the cameras were set up by students and staff from Alfred State and SUNY College of Technology (both are at Alfred in upstate New York) who figured out a way to set them up without disturbing the birds so that the Internet could watch.
These two amazing birds have managed to lay two eggs (okay, well only one of them laid the egg and we all know who that was), and thousands of people from all over the world have tuned in for the whole event—to watch the pair take turns bringing each other food; to watch as they took shifts sitting on the nest; to observe as they protected those little eggs until they were ready, and to watch as those little guys started to work their way out of their shells, to breathe, to feed, to fledge, and to finally take off for parts unknown.
You get to watch it all, live, in living colour (well, except for the night vision) and in real time. Sometimes it snows; sometimes it pours, sometimes the breeze is so strong you think the babies will be blown right out of the nest. But so far, in the two years I have been watching, two babies have been born in each, and all four have survived those first few months.
But, just like it is for us to grow up and leave home, and to repeat that cycle with our children, it hasn’t always been easy.
Screens shots from the best thing on the internet today. © 2016, 2017 American Eagle Foundation, EAGLES.ORG.
There are a couple of stunning and very subtle things going on in the background of this live Eagle Cam as well:
- First, you can hear traffic. The tree is in the National Arboretum, which is really only miles from the White House itself (hence the names of the adult birds), so sirens, traffic, even the rare sound of the crack of a gun (or maybe it’s just a backfire….yep, that must be it) can be heard almost constantly—at least in the daytime.
- Then there’s the nest movement. Because the nest is so high in this tree, when even the slightest wind comes up, the nest sways in the breeze. It’s magical, it’s hypnotic—and it’s very, very relaxing.
- Then there’s there tree itself. It starts out at this time of year as a leafless piece of wood, hibernating for the winter, and then one morning….bright green petals start to appear—the kind you touch and they feel thick and soft and tender and damp? Before you know it, most of the branches have leaves and the poplar “flowers” (they’re made of leaves too, but they look like blossoms—the most delicate pieces tucked in like a rose) have burst forth from the branches. Later in spring, you can also catch glimpses of bright pink rhododendrons far down below near the ground.
Each year, I’ve watched for hours as the hatchlings go from the most fragile, wet little things, to white fluffy eaglets to the adolescent birds whose constant demand for food keep both mom and pop hopping…to the early days of summer when in turn, they fledge (manage to jump out of the nest to other branches) before flying away forever, sometime in the middle of June.
It’s sad to see them go. But that’s life.
What I realized as I watched was that all the other stuff going on while these baby eagles struggled to survive is life too. The fish and squirrels the parents catch, the quality and accessibility to the water for the hunting parent, the rebirth of the tree, the swaying of the empty nest. It’s all life—and it’s all a part of it.
Watching that first year sustained me through the long Canadian spring (they’re longer than the winters, or at least they seem to be when you’re in the middle of them). I was even moved enough to make a donation to the foundation that runs the “eaglecams” and looks after the birds. and if you feel so compelled, you can find the “support” tab easily on the main page.
After that first year, the question hung in the air in what was left of the spring and throughout the summer and into the fall: would they come back, and if they did, would there be eggs?
Last year, right around this time, there was a post on Facebook: The First Lady is laying an egg. I watched it—not an easy task (for her, not me; I was in awe). There she was, doing her best to squeeze the egg out—so quiet, so concentrated, and yet still so regal. And then, a second egg a little later.
I should mention that there’s a clear warning on the web page that this is a live natural activity, and that anything can or might happen; perhaps that is part of what makes it so awesome. And terrifying at times too. Yikes.
And things do happen. Sometimes the food the parents bring for the babies is identifiable and goes beyond fish or a small rodent (but really it’s mostly fish). Sometimes the older baby attacks the younger one (apparently they’ve been known to kill–but that hasn’t happened here…yet).
In that first year, the two babies grew up and fledged with no major issues; last year, there was a minor crisis when one of the two babies got its leg stuck in one of the branches used to make the nest. After much discussion–remember they do their best to let nature take its course–specialists climbed the tree while both parents were out, freed the baby from the unintentional trap, and then removed it for observation; the video of the ordeal, which you can see below, was wonderful to watch live. This is a different version with a bit of music, and I have to say the way it’s put together actually made me cry, so be ready before you hit play:
© 2017 American Eagle Foundation, EAGLES.ORG.
(Anyone using footage from the nest cams is required to give credit to the group; I don’t know if I need to do this as this was taken from You Tube, but I’d prefer to give these people credit wherever I can)
By the way, DC 4 is a girl.
And this year they’re back again, and just about ready to lay the eggs.
So now we wait with the First Lady. I’ll keep it on my background screen at work and I’ll glance at them while they sleep too. I’ll watch them eat and then help their little guys escape their little shell-traps.
And one might eat the other. Or a hawk could come down and grab them. Or they could survive and thrive and spread their wings and blow the pop-stand of a nest before too long.
The two cameras are in place, and the mic is working, so you can hear it all too. (Ever heard what a baby eagle sounds like? Now’s your chance). And if I were to lay bets, I’d say we’re going to see eggs any day now, so bookmark this page while you can!
Back to this idea of being in awe. I looked it up and Merriam Webster defines awe as “emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”
That about sums it up.
I’ll probably write about awe again, because I find it to be an amazing concept that fuels our perspective on life.
Question: Are there other amazing nature cams you’ve some across? We discovered this one: starting in June, you can check out the brown bears fishing for salmon in Katmai National Park in Alaska (right now, they’re showing highlights from last years’ feed, as the bruins are currently still asleep; there’s also a link on that page to the aurora borealis cams in the north).
Are there others worth checking out?