Editor’s note: Chris Johnson is a local photographer with a passion for wildlife. He’s written and shown off his work in this space before. We hope to have a semi-regular series from him through the spring documenting the bird scene on the James in Richmond. Stay tuned! (Oh, and BTW, some of his best work is for sale in the RichmondOutside.com store.)
I’ve been excited to see as much bald eagle activity as I have so far this winter. I’m on the river with my camera pretty often, and I’d say I see at least one of the eagle pair at Pony Pasture (Williams Island) about 75 percent of the time. They really seem to like the tallest tree of a cluster that makes up a small island on the south bank of the Huguenot Flatwater area. There’s also a tree on the south bank of Williams Island almost in line with the Z-dam where they like to perch.
A few days ago I was at Pony Pasture, and I saw both of them at various times, which wasn’t all that surprising. I had been watching a flock of seagulls that suddenly seemed to fly around frantically, and when I looked up I was not expecting to see a juvenile bald eagle! It couldn’t have been more than a few hundred yards from the nest of Virginia and James. Given how territorial bald eagles are, I expected to see a tussle but never did. The juvenile stayed a while, taking a few laps around Williams Island and perching on a tree right at the emergency parking area for Pony Pasture. It’s amazing what you see in this urban wilderness if you just sit and wait.
I’ve also been curious if the pair on Cooper’s Island (just upstream of Nickel Bridge) would be active again this year given their success at fledging one eagle last spring. With the gloomy skies today, I thought a trip to the CSX A-line bridge and the Pumphouse would make for some great shots. I didn’t lug my big telephoto zoom lens with me and had my 18-month old son in a backpack on my back, so I wasn’t all that prepared when I looked up and saw white tail feathers and the white head of one of the bald eagles flying up the canal and then breaking left back towards Cooper’s Island.
When I finally made it down to the James, I was able to spot two white heads moving around in the nest area before one of them took off and flew toward the Nickel Bridge. I’d say that’s a good sign that they’re trying to get the nest ready again. This is certainly the time of year for that in Central Virginia. I guess we’ll find out in a few months how things turn out. Last spring the eaglet hatched in the middle of March. With an average incubation period of 35 days, there could be eggs in the nest in the very near future.
I never had a chance to explore the area around the third pair that nested over by Stony Point last year, but it will be exciting if we have three (or more) pairs nesting in the city again this season.