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     ~ Blackwater NWR 2012

Norfolk Botanical Garden, VA

October 8, 2012

Last summer when Charlie and I were discussing our travel plans for 2012, we decided to add some vacation time to a business meeting I had in the fall in Virginia, and knowing that I'd be near two of the eagle cam nests I'd been watching online for years, I happily added the Norfolk Botanical Garden and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to the list of places to visit while we were in the area.

Then everything changed.

As this may be read by some of our friends who are not active on eagle forums, I need to provide a bit of history. In the spring of 2011, the female eagle from the Norfolk eagle cam nest died after being struck by an airplane landing at the airport next to the Botanical Gardens (no one on the plane was injured). The experts involved with the nest felt a single adult would not be able to both feed and protect the three rapidly growing eaglets, so the six-week-old chicks were removed from the nest and taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia where they were raised with minimal human contact and then released to the wild. While eagles don't think or feel the way humans do, I'm convinced they do mourn in their fashion, and seeing the male arrive at the empty nest with a fish to feed his chicks was one of the most heartbreaking things I've seen in my years of watching eagle cams.

However, as eagles do, the eagle many of us have nicknamed Dad or Pa Norfolk moved on. He was seen with a new female later that year - and in fact was courted by at least four females. He did not nest in 2012, but by the end of the summer he was being seen most often with a younger female, who still had some dark feathers on her head and tail, and those of us who watch the cam and follow the reports of the local observers were hoping they would nest in 2013.

Sadly, that is not to be. The USDA Wildlife Service had recommended that the nest be removed to reduce the likelihood of another collision between a plane and an eagle, and the City of Norfolk (which owns the 155 acres where the Garden is located) had the nest taken down on October 4th, and has authorized the use of "dispersal techniques" (sounds, lights, paint balls, etc.) to discourage the eagles from building a new nest. I understand why the City of Norfolk may have felt compelled to do this - but personally I don't think it will reduce the odds that an eagle will fly across a runway at some point in the future, and find it very sad that an eagle watched and loved by tens ot maybe hundreds of thousands of people is now an outcast, being driven from his home. But nests do fall down naturally from time to time, and eagles do move to new locations if there are too many disruptions - so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Dad Norfolk and his new lady will find a safe place to nest, out of the public eye. ♡

My, I do ramble on.... The relevant part for this report is that I didn't make a final decision on visiting the Garden until a few hours before we went there, so did not try to connect with any of the folks from the area.

former eagle nest tree

It was a drizzly, dismal day when we visited NBG (in fact, the person at the gate looked at us and said "you do realize it's all outdoors, don't you?"). After picking up our map, our first mission was to find the tree where the nest had been - and it was quite obvious once we were in the general area (thanks to those who provided directions!). It was a bit tricky to give the tree a hug on behalf of the members of the Maine Window on Wildlife discussion forum and the Hancock Wildlife Foundation forum, so I just held the tree for a couple of minutes and thanked it, and sent good thoughts from all of us who watch the cams to all the eagles who have called it home over the years.

A few more images - all the pictures here should click much bigger.

signs beside the tree signs on the tree the tree

eagle sculptureOur next discovery was one I hadn't known was there. My sandals were already soaked, so we strolled off through the Statuary Vista - and discovered that the statue at the end was an eagle! On further examination, we learned it had been donated to the Garden in 1963 - suggesting that there may have been eagles around in the area for quite some time.

egretWe also saw an egret watching for fish in the water beyond the sculpture - I do wonder how many species call this lovely 155-acre preserve with its trees and waterways home.



"Spilling the Wind" by David Turner

Our next stop was the Tribute Plaza built to honor the memory of "Mom Norfolk," who died in 2011. I've seen a number of pictures of David Turner's sculpture "Spilling the Wind" - and it's even more spectacular in person. I knew that seeing this would be emotional for me, but recent events have very much increased the impact.

eagle sculpture plaque me with Mom Norfolk

Bricks from the edge of the Plaza
bricks from the eagle tribute plaza

great blue heronCharlie heading outBird - or sculpture? It's always hard to tell with herons, and may be even harder in a magical place like the Norfolk Botanical Garden. As Charlie heads for one of the bridges over the canal that runs through the Garden, I feel compelled to end our report with a personal observation.

Charlie and I were both amazed by the size and complexity of the Garden, and by the amount of work and love that has gone into it over the years. It would be a real tragedy if NBG went down in history not for its stately Renaissance Court or the Rose Gardens that were blooming into the fall - but as the place that injured or killed a world-famous eagle with a poorly aimed paint ball.

October 4, 2012, was a sad day for all of us who have followed this eagle family over the years - and was no doubt even sadder for those who work at the Botanical Garden and know the eagles as a part of their daily lives. But it was a one-time occurrence with precedents in nature - I've known of several eagle nests that have fallen down, or trees that have blown over. It's a lot harder to come up with a natural equivalent to chasing Dad Norfolk and his new mate around with screeching noisemakers and pyrotechnics and paint balls and who knows what else, until they've been driven from the Garden. And it won't end there - once there is no resident pair of eagles to chase others away, I have no doubt that young pairs will appear, hoping to set up housekeeping in the beautiful trees near the lakes and inlets of Norfolk.

If my math is correct, next year will be the 75th anniversary of the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It would be wonderful if we could all celebrate by welcoming the eagles to a new home, protected by technology and devices designed to keep all birds away from the runways, and safe in the lush green acres of the Norfolk Botanical Garden. ❤