Sea-EagleCam – Update April 2016

Who are we?

Sea-EagleCAM is a research project run by volunteers from BirdLife Australia Southern NSW, with research approvals from Sydney Olympic Park Authority and National Parks & Wildlife.  The project was established  on recommendations following the sudden death of two nesting WBSE in 2004, to monitor environmental impact of breeding in this urban setting.

The research team at Sea-EagleCAM have been observing resident nesting White-bellied Sea-Eagles (WBSE) on the Parramatta River and nearby Newington Nature Reserve since the 1990’s.   In 2008, our first CCTV camera was installed in the reserve to monitor the new resident pair.   Currently we have three HD cameras and broadcast live on ustream all year round.  Mid-way through the 2008 breeding season, the male went missing (presumed dead) and the female (known as “mum”) found a new partner in November (known as “dad”).  Over their seven nesting seasons together, Mum and Dad built three nests and raised an average of one young each year to fledging (first flight). We estimate their age to be approx. 13-14 years.

Losing mum WBSE

Mid-December 2015, we noticed that mum had lost her vocals.  We continued to monitor her through late December and January where she showed some signs of a suspected respiratory illness.  Without examination we were unable to determine what was wrong with her.  Throughout early February she appeared well.  She was observed hunting, eating, completing many round trips to Burns Bay (8km away), however she still appeared to be unable to call.  Mum was last seen on the 21st of February at their river roost location on Parramatta River.   Despite exhaustive searches of the surrounding areas, river banks, reserve etc.  we have not located any remains.

Mum (front) & Dad – Last time on nest together, 10th Feb, 2016

Mum (front) & Dad – Last time on nest together, 10th Feb, 2016

What dad WBSE did next

What does a single male WBSE with prime urban real estate do now?  Does he mourn the loss of his partner?   Perhaps that’s a question for another day.  In the early days after mum went missing, dad’s behaviour didn’t appear to differ from previous “non-nesting” seasons, the exception being his reduced visits to the nesting area.  He spent the majority of his time at the river roost or flying up to Burns Bay and back.  Was he looking for his partner?  As a couple they would often be heard (if not seen) leaving the reserve each morning and returning at night.  On the nights when he did return to the reserve, he did not visit the nests.   He was also noticeably quiet.   Only the occasional short honk when he was being pestered by a currawong.

On the last week of March there was a marked change in behaviour.  Several nest visits, stick rearranging and some overnight visits; roosting directly behind and next to the nest.  He started to call again.  What does one call a half of a duet?  A solo?   Ground observers in the area and at Burns Bay were in daily contact keeping us up to date with dad’s whereabouts.  Excitement was building, would dad find a suitable partner before nesting season?

Dad, just prior to flying to his night roost location, behind the current nest.

Dad, just prior to flying to his night roost location, behind the current nest.

Two WBSE soaring

Then finally one the 5th of April, the news we’d been hoping for.  Lydia (ground obs. at Burns Bay) saw two WBSE soaring together, mid-afternoon.   They were observed flying close together and then separating (early courting).  Another sighting after 5pm that same day.  In between soaring, dad was seen in his “regular” roost spot at Burns Bay, this confirmed he was in the area.

The first sighting, taken near Figtree Bridge/Burns Bay by Lydia/Angelinacat on Tue, 5th April.

The first sighting, taken near Figtree Bridge/Burns Bay by Lydia/Angelinacat on Tue, 5th April.

The very next day in an area we hardly ever see other WBSE, we had a sub-adult WBSE take up residence on one of the disused nests for 6 hours (it also spent the night nearby!).  Additionally there was a first year juvie WBSE hunting at the river and two sub-adults flying along the river.   It seems there are “floaters” (unattached adults and juveniles) about at this time of year, looking for territory or a mate.

Sub-adult flying in to nest 2.

Sub-adult flying in to nest 2.

 

Come and have a look at my real estate

On Thursday the 7th of April Dad and his new “friend” were finally sighted on home territory.

Courtship in full swing. Soaring and mirroring. Photos courtesy of Cathy Cook

Courtship in full swing. Soaring and mirroring. Photos courtesy of Cathy Cook

Friday 8th of April   Soaring and duetting together and roosting on adjacent branches at river roost.   It appeared that dad was ready to take the relationship to the next level.  Maybe she wasn’t ready!   He made several attempts to mount her – perhaps she hasn’t done this before?

Courtesy of Geoff Hutchinson

Courtesy of Geoff Hutchinson

Last Saturday, in the reserve we heard them duet, followed by what appeared to be an “inspection” of both nests by the female (the third nest hasn’t been used since 2011).

First, nest 3 where she moves a couple of sticks

First, nest 3 where she moves a couple of sticks

Then to nest 2, where she also moved some sticks.

Then to nest 2, where she also moved some sticks.

Moving In

By last Sunday, they spent the day at nest 3 (which was used last season).   Time to begin renovations.

We decided to call her Lady (for the time being) Lady checks out the nest camera.

We decided to call her Lady (for the time being) Lady checks out the nest camera.

Dad on left, Lady on right.

Dad on left, Lady on right.

She seems to like nibbling dad – term of endearment?

She seems to like nibbling dad – term of endearment?

Duet.

Duet.

On the 13th of April they were seen locking talons and spiralling over Meadowbank

15th April – Working together to renovate the nest.  Dad seems to bring most of the sticks, but he’s not getting placement his own way.  Several tussles over sticks.

WBSE-13-600px

Mating 15th April.

Mating 15th April.

While we are sad over the loss of mum, we are looking forward with interest to the future.  New couple, new things to learn.  We’ll be watching!

In previous seasons, eggs are laid in late June or early July.

 

Link to our website and cameras.

http://sea-eaglecam.org/video.html

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4 Comments

  1. peg mc donald April 20, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Terrific story accompanied by beautiful images – thanks to the Sea-EagleCAM team for sharing with us all

  2. Lark Diamond April 20, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

    Thank you for posting the full story. Although I am missing Mom, I welcome Lady and truly look forward to watching the new “couple!”

  3. mary knowlden April 20, 2016 at 11:22 pm #

    Thank you so much for the update. I had no idea about all the drama. I knew one of the eaglet’s last year had been rescued but ultimately could not be saved. We also lost our Ozzie at SWFL nest with Harriet in the States so have mourned the loss of a mated pair but thankful to see life goes on as it should. Embracing your new Lady and wishing this nest a healthy happy 2016!

    • peg mc donald April 21, 2016 at 5:31 am #

      Hi Mary – we would love any news from your neck of the woods to share too – particularly with regards to satellite tracking if you have any experience? sorry not to know but who are SWFL?

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