White Rock Nest Falls

Friday, July 31 2015 @ 05:05 PM EDT

Contributed by: davidh

Hi All:  Hancock here.  The White Rock nest fell.   It finally happened and what a great fortuitous way it did fail -- no bird was hurt or is in danger and nobody on the ground was hurt.  Wow.  Great to see the two step process of the downfall:  1:20 PM and 3:05 PM yesterday.

I have been following this White Rock pair for about 19 years in several different nests -- all of which I believe relate to the same territory -- now called the White Rock pair.   This pair have had to work hard to hold onto one of the world's best chunks of bald eagle habitat --  a good home site overlooking the most productive waterway on the continent does not come without effort -- or costs.   Obviously the competition for this space is great (a different pair occupies about every half mile of cliffs/shoreline overlooking Boundary Bay) and, in this case as we saw the last couple of years, this competition is not just between a lot of other eagles wanting to take over your territory.  It is also competition for the very space occupied by the tree so another million dollar house can be erected.  

Previously I had followed this pair through 3 different nests -- 2 large fine eagle nests that earlier were very productive but, due to the 'competition for tree space' on which to build quality houses near the Crescent Beach cliffs, were cut down.  Then as that second tree was removed the eagles, so intent on nesting in this prime territory, tried to attach more branches in another much younger and thinner nearby Douglas Fir.  This immediately prompted the landowners to have an arborist climb that tree and remove the few branches onto which the eagles were desperately trying to 'hook initial branches to start another nest'.  With these few base structures removed the eagles' nesting season was again thwarted.  This was at the end of the 2009 nesting season and off went the adults to the Alaska salmon buffets.

This was when I called Ellen and Russ.  They had wanted to see a nest in their clump of trees about 1/4 of a mile to the south of these earlier nests.  I had years earlier examined their fine grove of large fir and from their bedroom en-suite Russ pointed out a tree, visible from the proposed bed location, where he would like an eagle nest.  I had agreed but said the eagles, who had just gone through the first nest removal, were now already ensconced in a new nest.  Now, about 2 years further on, with the eagles' 3 nesting attempts totally destroyed by the developers, was the time to call Russ.

Within minutes during the July, 2009 phone call Russ agreed for me to give his tree climber instructions on how to place a few appropriate nest supporting structural limbs in the desired tree.  The 'Block Bros' pair, as I had known the eagles for the first many years, left for the north and within 3 weeks we had the key nesting branches wired into the tree.  It was true this was certainly not a very thick tree but offered height with our nesting structure being 112 ft. up from the ground.   Most of you then know the results.  On the second day after the pair returned from the north in early October, 2009 they were placing branches onto our 'pre-prepared' platform.  Ma and Pa really took to our efforts.  To make life easier for them we laid out branches on the nearby lawn so the eagles could easily pick them up, fly out over the cliff to pick up the updraft, and carry their supplies up to the nest.  As a final touch I bought a couple of bags of nurseryman lichens and dumped this out onto the lawn.  Again Ma immediately responded and took our offerings up to line their nest. I swear you could hear the eagles say thank you!!

A key element of this pair's effort has to acknowledge their incredible resilience and adaptability to the human environment.  This pair from the moment they decided to occupy that tree top offering of a few support branches did so with the daily activities of a dozen lift machines and at times nearly 100 workers scurrying around right below them.  They went about building a nest AND nesting in spite of this incredible activity.  These are urban eagles -- and the hustle and bustle of humanity, when well below them, is an acceptable background din!  Since they arrived in 2009 that nest supported 10 successful hatchlings � Alpha through Lima (minus Golf and Hotel which eggs were destroyed by a juvenile eagle just before the hatching date).

That first spring/summer of 2010, was totally successful.  Later that September, with the eagles absent in the north, Russ brought in a high lift and the climber and I installed our first set of live streaming cams looking into their nest.  The rest is history. But there is one small detail.  Not only has this pair -- and their prime territory -- gone through almost annual challenges but we were always concerned that this tree would not withstand many years of use.  The tree was simply too spindly at the top.  In 2012 we added a few appropriate support branches to another stouter tree, but one slightly south-west and down the slope from the existing tree.  This tree is viewed from our cam called White Rock South (a PTZ).  This new 'alternative nest tree' was obviously less desirably located down-slope but the tree had other attributes, at least I thought so!  The thicker supportive branches would possibly support a nest for another 100 years, the overhead branches would offer more protection from wind, sleet and sun to the incubating parents or the growing eaglets.  I am hoping the eagles will think the same.

What this territory offers is of course the almost constant 'updraft' lifting eagles, nesting materials and food constantly up the 300 feet from the sea to the nest.  So being 20 feet lower is perhaps no real asset.  So now it will be an interesting set of options open to the eagles over the next two weeks and then, if they are able to return, their final decisions of where to place their new nest for 2016 will be seen.  Will they take advantage of the lower structure that Russ has already agreed last night to have me and the climber 'refurbish and clean-up' in hopes of enticing them into that home, or will they choose to build a home in another tree?  This pair has used our 'lower home base' on occasion as a resting site. So they know of the options.  Of course we don't yet know if they will survive the fall north and south migrations but we assume they will.

In the last paragraph I said that the options may well be decided in the next two weeks -- before departure to the north. Actually the adults could have left this past week but obviously they have not done so.  Perhaps they will linger longer and set the beginning of next year's nest before they leave.  At a couple of other nests this is exactly what happened.  For example when a pair fledged their young at the 'Nelson Street Nest' in Richmond, BC back a few years, the road crews could not wait any longer and removed the nest two days after fledging.  While we had a new artificial pole and nest already built and ready to go it was not erected for another couple of weeks when the eagles had left the region on migration north. ON THE DAY OF INSTALLATION we were met by a local resident living about a half mile north-west across the farmland.  He said that two days after the nest tree and the adjacent trees were removed the eagles had initiated a new nest in a tree in his back yard.  He had watched this pair in their two different nearby nests for over 10 years -- as I had.  

Before the parents left the region for the north they had already built it up to a depth of about one foot. On their return that October they continued to build up that nest and have stayed there until this 2015 season when the nest's supporting branch failed and the nest came down.  As an aside, our artificial nest remained empty and unoccupied for about 3 years until the summer of 2014 when a second pair started to visit it. At this time the original pair from this site was occupying successfully their new nest to the northwest.  So finally late in 2014 our artificial nest was occupied by a second pair.  In short what was one territory was now occupied by two pairs.

In the fall of 2014 after the artificial nest pair had been north and now returned, they were consistently seen in the nest, carrying sticks and by the spring of 2015 were regularly hunkered down in what I thought was an incubation position.  However, this site was not productive in 2015.  Maybe by 2016 this pair will be productive - having eked out a territory from a section of another pair.  On the other hand, with the original pair's nest now having failed to the NW it will be interesting to see the final adjustments they will all make.

Back to White Rock.  Over the next few days we may see some clue of what this pair has decided to do for the 2016 nesting season.  We may see some attempt to start a new nest.  Hopefully will be on the base platform we have started. On the other hand they, or a new pair taking over, may find another tree suitable to support another nest.  The drama continues.

Our key White Rock camera zoomer, ANNIE, and her crew will keep you all posted.  Thanks again to Ellen and Russ for their caring support of these eagles and our cams.


David Hancock

Hancock Wildlife Foundation