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To Climb A Bald Eagle Nest Tree....
Topic Started: Jun 8 2006, 04:34 PM (8,592 Views)
A couple of people have e-mailed me with questions related to how the nest tree was climbed and what it was like having the ultimate birds-eye view from the nest. I will attempt to describe this experience here in detail, and then post (in the next couple days) several pictures taken from the nest.

Every bald eagle nest tree presents a unique challenge that can only be realized by standing at the base of the tree and looking up. Prior to the climb I watched the EagleCAM in hopes of gaining some insight as to how I would access the nest.

This is when I started to get nervous.

Some of the most difficult nests to get in are the ones that sit on the very top of the tree with little or no trunk above them. The problem becomes getting around the bottom of the nest to gain access to the platform. If you have nothing to tie into above and pull yourself up, then you must find a way to navigate through a maze of sharp pointy sticks as you claw your way around the bottom and up the side.

I watched the EagleCAM again….this is when I really started to get nervous.

I asked several of my fellow biologists if they had been to the base of the tree and could offer me a description of the tree’s crown. Their response was “no”, and that they had only seen the top of the tree from a distance during the installation of the EagleCAM. I wasn’t surprised. These biologists are world-class and know the importance of leaving the birds undisturbed unless completely necessary. Our banding/marking expedition would be the first visit to the base of the tree. It was time for me to start packing my gear.

My back pack is stuffed full of options. My harness, helmet, and rope are the essentials, the rest of the gear becomes a lot of weight that I may or may not us. My climbing partner and assistant, Giacomo Renzullo, is carrying gear too. We both agree that we are over-prepared. “It will be easy”, he says. I stare to the north at the National Park Service boat that is just arriving to pick us up and take us to a location closer to the nest site

The NPS boat ride is calm and short, the hike up to the nest tree moderate. Everyone is excited and ready to begin. The adult birds are nowhere to be found. Did they see us? Probably not since we observed one of them hunting several miles to the east as we were getting on the NPS boat.

Giacomo and I gear up and make our way down to the base of the tree with the rest of the biologists. “It’s a ladder. Are you going to free climb it?”, Giacomo remarks. A “ladder” is the best way to describe this tree: sturdy branches evenly spaced and to the ground. No need for a rope, just climb. But the problem of getting around and over the nest structure was still one that I needed to solve. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I tie on a short rope for lowering the bird and I start the climb.

The climb up is easy and short. In less than 5 minutes I am up around 35 feet and under the bottom of the nest. I hear the chick softly vocalizing. I laugh to myself about my situation. The nest structure is on the top of the tree’s bent leader, which began to grow horizontally after a wind storm cracked and splintered it. The damage is old and the tree has healed itself. I wonder to myself how old the tree is and if nesting bald eagles prior to 1950 had tried to use this tree before.

Surmounting the nest isn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. The real challenge becomes finding a way thought the lattice-like barrier created by all the small branches that supported the nest structure. I tie in and climb around and find a way through the maze…the chick sees me and moves to the far edge of the nest. He slips near the edge but catches himself. My concern fades as he moves to the other end of the nest. I squeeze through a small opening and stand on top of the branches next to the nest. I snap a few photos and relax.

The alarmed chick softly clucks as I offer him complements and other kind words. Patience. I move slowly at first, taking more photos as I further converse with the nervous eaglet. More patience. The chick’s initial fear gives way to cautious curiosity. He is calmer now and I can move on to the nest platform without fear of him slipping and falling off. I wonder what the eaglet is thinking as I gently tap him under the wing with a stick taken from the nest. He is distracted. My movements are slow and calculated. The chick barely responds as I move closer and gently place my hand on his back. I careful make sure to fold his wings to the side before I pick him up to put him in the bag. The bag is small, which is a good thing, but it takes some time to get him situated in the tight space. The chick’s feathers are still developing so I am careful not to damage them. A smaller bag is better because it limits the chick’s movement during the ride to the ground, thus limiting the chance of injury if he decides to flap around. I gently lower the bag to the biologist below. Patience. It’s my turn to wait while the others do their job.

I am alone on the nest…..but not really. A humming bird comes by for a visit. It seems very interested in my orange helmet. The view is amazing! Looking down the canyon I can see the NPS boat anchored in calm blue water. A jay calls from up the canyon near a pool of water at the base of an ephemeral waterfall. It quickly becomes obvious that the eagles are not the only residents of this nest. My skin is crawling with feather lice! The hungry critters are attracted to my warmth, but I know they will only stay on me for a few hours before they figure out that I don’t have feathers or the right body temperature. They provide only a minor discomfort as I enjoy the view. I take some quick measurements of the nest and a few more pictures. Patience….an hour passes.

It is time for the chick to be returned to the nest. I slowly pull the bag up from below. As I gently open the bag’s draw-string the eaglet’s sleepy eyes open and adjust to the light. He gets excited! I can see his new wing tags: baby blue with the number “49”. I hold him a moment to be sure he is calm and ready to be back. Number “49” lets me know when he is ready to be released. His breathing and heart rate calm. It is time for me to say my goodbyes. I wave to the camera and wonder if anyone is watching. Its time for me to go down. Just a few more kind words and thanks for bald eagle #49 before I descend.

What a magical day.

Jim C. Spickler
Senior Biologist
Eco-Ascension Research and Consulting
P.O. Box 202, Arcata, CA 95518

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Mr. Spickler, thank you so much for your detailed description of what you did. That was really something to read. And the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking to myself that you must be one of the luckiest men in the world to have such a meaningful, exciting, and heartwarming job. What you do to help these wonderful birds is beyond description. I cannot wait to see the photos you shot. Thank you so very much. p.s. I waved back to you when you waved to us on the camera. :)
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Thank you for the great care you gave our eaglet. It was an amazing video! ;)
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Thank you so much Jim for the wonderful description of your time with Little Bit. I know he was well taken care of in the way you handled him. and yes we were out here watching. Waving to you as you waved to us. The event was a breath taking thing. I can't imagine how awesome it was to be in that nest, even with the feather mites. You are one brave man B) to risk that just to give us the pleasure to see you and our baby up in the nest. I know that is your job, but you still have my appreciation for letting us all have a taste of what you do. Thanks again for the beautiful words and am looking forward to the pictures.
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One of the observations that amazed me was the strenth to the nest. When Jim was in the nest it did not seem to move at all. Is that true Jim? BTW JOB WELL DONE PEOPLE!!
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:lol: Wow! Thank you so much Jim for giving us your insight as you prepared for and completed the tagging of #49. I loved every single second and I so want to have your job! :D I have just fallen in love with this Santa Cruz eaglet! I know that you and your team will be tracking this amazing bird and I hope you find a way to keep all of his fans updated once he fledges and eventually leaves his nest for migration...if he will even need to do that of the coast of sunny CA.! B)
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There are now some photos of Jim's climb and tree top adventures on the website.

Tagging Event
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WOW ! That's how you got up there !!! I'm awestruck... It's amazing - great job Jim and crew. Once again thank you for sharing this exceptional adventure with all of us.

All of you are truly an amazing group of people....

Thank you,,,,, thank you,,, thank you....

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I join the others in thanking you, Jim, as well as all of those involved in the study and preservation of eagles and the other wild beings! Being privy to all of this "live" via the internet is something I could not have imagined when I was a child checking it all out with only my eyes, hands and feet! :rolleyes: Who knew that having health issues that keep one home could be such fun! :D Thanks, again!
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Enjoyed watching the actual banding video. Thanks Dr. Peter for doing that. :D

Also enjoyed reading Jim's very descriptive post re climbing the tree and seeing all the photographs of the approach to, and his time on top of the nest, and yes we held our breath too when the eaglet slipped at the edge of the nest.

To everyone who has made this event possible to watch via the eaglecam from Ninja Shirpa and his team's setting up the equipment to the biologists who are still answering our various questions a very big " thank you".

:D :D :D :D :D :D
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