Wednesday, January 11, 2017

National Save The Eagles Day!

How many readers remember their first sight of a bald eagle? I saw my first bald eagle flying along the Mississippi river near Minneapolis, MN. This was back before cell phones and cameras, so I had to wait to get home to tell my husband and call my Mom. I was so excited!

My children don't remember when bald eagles were rare. Like children will, they sometimes roll their eyes or sigh when I get excited about eagles today. When my middle son counted bald eagles and crows on a peregrine survey last March, he counted many more eagles than crows. They soared over Lake Pepin, perched on trees, sat on rapidly melting ice, and kettled over bluffs, driving the local peregrine falcons crazy. I pointed out how fortunate we were to watch one formerly endangered species duking it out with another on a sunny spring day: a moment that very nearly didn't happen since both species were perched on the brink of extinction just fifty years ago.

Persecution, habitat loss, and the pesticide DDT nearly wiped eagles and falcons out. From a population of hundreds of thousands, bald eagles were whittled down to 412 breeding pairs by the 1950s. The peregrine falcon declined even more precipitously. By 1970, the peregrine was extinct east of the Mississippi and there were only 39 breeding pairs left in the lower 48 states, period. What was going on? Researchers found that the widely used pesticide DDT was causing bald eagles and peregrine falcons to lay eggs so thin that they cracked under the weight of incubating parents.

While eagles were already protected by the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treat Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act (read about them here), it was clear that more was needed to save the eagle from extinction. The newly created Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972 (read more about that here) and Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The Act was signed into law by President Nixon on December 28, 1973. I was seven years old and had never seen a wild bald eagle or peregrine falcon despite living and vacationing in what was once prime territory for both of them. I can't stress this enough: they were gone.

As Trip Van Noppen points out in his article on the subject, "Because of the act, today’s children are able to experience not only bald eagles but also orcas, alligators, condors, grizzly bears and myriad other creatures as living, breathing parts of our natural heritage — not as dusty museum specimens." While my children don't always appreciate bald eagles, they live in a world where eagles and falcons are a common sight. This wasn't the result of luck or accident, but rather the result of hard work, determination, and a great deal of personal courage on the part of people like Rachel Carson and Joseph Hickey. We celebrate bald eagles as a symbol of our national freedom, but they also symbolize the commitment we made back in 1973 to preserve wild life and wild lands.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A trip down memory lane: Favorites from 2016, Decorah edition!

It is time for a look back at 2016! We asked the mods for their five (or more) favorite moments of 2016 from Decorah and Decorah North. We will feature favorites from Decorah today.

Several mods mentioned ‘firsts’: first pip, first hatch, and first feeding. A few favorite firsts from 2016.

  • First feeding for D24: Mom Feeds D24 Sweetest Thing: https://youtu.be/hOdii7wjh_s
    It is reassuring and sweet to see an eaglet’s first feeding.
  • First pip for D25: D24 & D25 pip with beak moving - super close macro zoom: https://youtu.be/lPjOHCLa4hA. A feeding for D24, one of our first glimpses of D25, cute vocalizations (I can’t help but think of baby talk), and birdsong everywhere.
  • First glimpse of D25’s face: https://youtu.be/N49xo52cPOU. Does this video also show D24’s first PS? Wonderful if brief views of D25’s tiny talons and face, down still wet from hatching, and D24 gobbling down sucker roe!

Poopshoots remain a perennial favorite among mods and watchers alike. Two poopshoot moments really stood out for a few moderators…


There were a lot of miscellaneous favorites – cute, interesting, or fun glimpses of daily life at N2B!


We all missed D24 and D25 after they left N2B. But the cameras at N1 and Robin Brumm’s videos gave us a glimpse of their post-fledgling lives.


All of the mods mentioned followers, classrooms, and/or people at After the Fledge. They loved the chance to interact with classrooms, our guest moderators from teamcarnes’ class, the daily chats with followers, meeting and hanging out with eagle friends and family at ATF, and getting a chance to see Ambassador in Training Decorah (widely believed to be D20 from 2014): https://youtu.be/NZELDqr4OfQ

Judging from readership of blogs, your primary Decorah-related concerns in 2016 were:

Have a very happy new year and thanks for watching with us in 2016!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nesting Chronologies

We were asked about the nesting chronologies of bald eagles. While nest timing can very from region to region (Florida, for example, is quite different from Iowa), mark your calendars as follows!
  • In the nests we watch in Iowa and Colorado, bonding and copulating behaviors become more pronounced and frequent after the winter solstice. Female eagles begin laying eggs 5-10 days after productive copulation begins. This usually happens in mid-February at the Decorah and Fort St. Vrain nests. The Norths have a slightly later chronology and probably won't lay eggs until mid-March.
  • Each egg is laid about 3-5 days apart, and incubation starts with the laying of the first egg.
  • Eagle eggs begin hatching roughly 35 to 37 days after they are laid. This usually begins in late March in Decorah and Fort St. Vrain, and mid-April at the North nest. Hatch can take more than 24 hours for any given egg.
  • Eaglets spend 75-80 days in the nest before fledging. This usually happens in mid to late June at the Decorah and Fort St. Vrain nests, and early to mid-July at Decorah North.
More on the subject! 
Eagles have been observed mating ten months out of the year, but they only produce eggs and sperm for a very brief period of time after the winter solstice (see this blog for more on that topic, or this blog for a graph of daylight length rate changes). Between solstice and egg-laying, watch for female eagles to foot and nibble males, vocalize at them, rub against them, and even mount them to indicate receptivity. Males will increase the amount of material they bring into the nest, work on the area that will underlie the nest cup, and vocalize at and with females as both sexes become more vocal. Listen for the unique and wonderful sound of the eagles vocalizing together!

A quick primer on egg fertilization in birds. Sperm needs to encounter an ovum at the infundibulum, or site of fertilization.  If sperm are too early, they will die prior to the arrival of an ovum. If sperm are too late, they can't penetrate the eggshell layers that form around the ovum in the female's oviduct. So how do birds assure fertilized eggs? They:
  • Copulate regularly. Regular copulation helps assure a good supply of sperm - especially important in an animal that regularly clears its cloaca when eliminating waste!
  • Store sperm. Sperm storage tubules maintain sperm viability, prevent stored sperm from being ejected, and continuously release sperm to the infundibulum.
  • Concentrate sperm at the infundibulum. Released sperm are passively carried to the infundibulum. Their continuous release and relatively slow drift help ensure that sperm are present when an ovum arrives.
Incubation starts immediately after egg laying begins in mid-February to early March. Eggs shouldn’t get too cold, but they also can’t get too hot, or the embryos will die. Adults sit on the eggs when they need heat and get off them when they need to be cooled. Both parents have a brood patch, a natural thinning of the abdomen feathers caused by hormonal changes, where their skin is in direct contact with the eggs to transfer warmth. Since incubation starts from the time the first egg is laid, eggs will hatch about 3 days apart in the order they were laid. Both the male and female take turns incubating, but the female, being larger, takes the longer incubation periods overnight. It is believed that her larger body weight makes her a little more tolerant to cold - important during a long inactive spell!

Once eggs start hatching in late March to mid-April, it can take longer than 24 hours for any given eaglet to complete hatch, although it doesn't tend to take that long in the nests we watch. We will announce hip or Hatch In Progress watch on Facebook, Twitter (@RaptorResource), and our website (www.raptorresource.org).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Helping birds in winter!

After one of the nicest falls I can remember, winter has finally arrived. While the eagles are more than capable of handling snow and cold, I like to help (and watch!) smaller birds like chickadees, nuthatches, finches, redpolls, pine siskins, and other visitors to my yard. Here are a few tips to make winter a little easier for the birds and more enjoyable for you!

Like IHOP for birds. Looks like I need to fill the feeders again! 
  • Feed the birds! Winter is a great time to feed high-fat, high energy foods like suet and sunflower seeds. I have five feeders right now - two finch feeders (which include sunflower chips, thistle, and millet), a platform feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, a square box feeder with 'cardinal food' (black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower kernels, safflower seed, and peanuts, which also bring in blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers), and a suet feeder. With different styles of feeder and different food choices, everyone can find something they like!  Remember, it is important to feed regularly once you have started. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, little birds like chickadees can lose 25% of their body weight on a cold night. If birds come to rely on you for a constant supply of food that isn't available when storms hit or the cold really starts to bite, they might not survive.

    I had roughly 61 birds at my feeders this very cold morning, including a male cardinal, juncos, gold finches, chickadees, a sparrow, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and a white-breasted nuthatch. A quick tip: more perches can mean more birds. If you can't set up feeders near trees, you can install additional perches near your feeders. And you can also...
  • Plant and landscape for birds! We are fortunate to have a lot of trees in our yard. The feeders are set up near two cedars, which provide nice, thick cover; two elms, which provide a lot of branches for perching; and an oak woodlot. We left part of the woodlot unmowed this fall, which means plenty of vegetation for perching and additional seeds for small foragers. If you can, plant native shrubs and bushes and leave some tall vegetation standing to provide cover, food, and perches for wintering birds.
  • Install roost boxes. Another suggestion from Cornell. Roost boxes will help protect any birds that nest in boxes or cavities, including bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers. A good roost box keeps the birds' body heat contained, has interior perches, and can be placed on a metal pole or wooden post. They are available in stores, or you can make your own. Follow this link for roost box-building instructions. Note: I haven't tried this since we have trees, brush piles, and outbuildings. But I plan to build one over Christmas break - it looks like a great idea and I would love to monitor one during cold weather!
  • Water birds. Let's get something straight: It is not true that heated bird baths kill birds. I don't know how many times I have been told not to water birds because they will get water on their feet or feathers and freeze to perches or become encased in ice. Not true! Flowing water is a valuable commodity in winter and heated bird baths will help birds while attracting more of them to your yard. Make sure to keep them cleaned and filled if you commit to watering.
Here's to a very happy and well-fed holiday to all of the birds! Looking for a holiday craft activity for children? My kids and I used to make these easy and inexpensive bird treats: http://www.education.com/activity/article/christmas-cookies-birds/. A little warning - this craft is fun, but be prepared for clean-up!



Did you know? Another bonus to feeding birds - you can join Cornell's Backyard Bird Count! Learn more about it here: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/. I plan on counting birds and watching for eggs in Decorah!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Report on the Unhatched Eagle Egg from N2B

Unhatched egg, N2B
We received the results on the unhatched egg from N2B. As watchers might recall, one of the eggs failed to hatch. We thought the embryo might have died early in formation, but according to tests run by Iowa State University, the egg was never fertile. How could that be?

A quick primer on egg fertilization in birds. Sperm needs to encounter an ovum at the infundibulum, or site of fertilization.  If sperm are too early, they will die prior to the arrival of an ovum. If sperm are too late, they can't penetrate the eggshell layers that form around the ovum in the female's oviduct. So how do birds assure fertilized eggs? They:
  • Copulate regularly. Regular copulation helps assure a good supply of sperm - especially important in an animal that regularly clears its cloaca when eliminating waste!
  • Store sperm. Sperm storage tubules maintain sperm viability, prevent stored sperm from being ejected, and continuously release sperm to the infundibulum.
  • Concentrate sperm at the infundibulum. Released sperm are passively carried to the infundibulum. Their continuous release and relatively slow drift help ensure that sperm are present when an ovum arrives. 
After removal from N2B
It is good to know that egg number one didn't contain an embryo, but why wasn't it fertilized? Three suggestions based on a simple idea: sperm wasn't present at the infundibulum when the first ovum arrived. 
  • While eagles have been observed copulating ten months out of the year, males don't produce sperm year round and they don't store it very long once production is underway. Perhaps Dad wasn't producing sperm in time for Mom's first egg. Sperm production is not required for pair bonding.
  • Mom may not have had enough sperm stored to concentrate sperm at the infundibulum in time for ovum #1.  
  • Age might be impacting reproductive success in either Mom or Dad. While free-living animals don't tend to have 'menopause' - a long stretch of time in which they do not bear young - age does impact fertility.
Some watchers have expressed concern that age might be a factor in the failure of egg number one. It isn't especially likely in Mom based on what we know. In general, a female bird that produces a healthy, intact egg is most likely fertile. Reduced fertility in our 'elderly' female peregrine falcons tends to be accompanied by changes in the amount of eggs laid, egg color, shape, and condition. Eggs might be unusually colored, pitted, or shaped - all things we saw at Xcel Energy's Sherco facility in 2014 and 2015. While we don't have a lot of data about senescence and egg production in bald eagles, wild eagles are generally assumed to live for 20-30 years. Given that Mom is just fourteen years old, age-related fertility impairment seems unlikely. 

So how about Dad? We believe he is at least 19 years old, although we don't know exactly how old he is. Senescence and sperm production in birds is a little complicated. Research indicates that aging impacts sperm quantity, quality, and motility in birds, and eggs fertilized by older males hatch at reduced rates when compared to those fertilized by younger males. But even with reduced motility, the sperm of older males tends to perform better than the sperm of younger males in a female bird's body. In short, older birds have less sperm than younger birds, and the sperm they have is less motile and of lower quality. But studies have found that older birds are more likely to fertilize eggs than their younger counterparts, even if those eggs are less likely to hatch.

Why are older male birds more successful at fertilizing eggs? The study Senescent sperm performance in old male birds found that obstacles to sperm movement in a female bird's reproductive tract affected older males less than younger males. I would love to see research on the role that skill and pair bonds play in sperm retention (I am defining 'skill' as actions taken by the male to assure a high degree of receptivity in his partner). We know that at least some female birds are able to preferentially reject the sperm of less desirable males, that female birds who mate with familiar males often produce more fertilized eggs with more egg mass than those who mate with novel males, and that the success of novel mating is highly dependent on male behavior. Reproduction is clearly much more complicated than we used to think, and it is obviously past time to drop the pejorative term bird-brained!

Having said that, we are back to the question of Dad's fertility. One infertile egg doesn't really give us enough data to come to any conclusions, but it is very helpful to know why the egg didn't hatch. We will be documenting whether or not nest production continues to decline at N2B. Thanks to John Howe, Kike Arnal, Pat Schlarbaum, Dr. Ensley, and Iowa State University for giving us more insight into the lives of the birds we follow. We are hoping for the best for our beloved Mom and Dad!



Did you know?
  • Sperm competition can result in speedier sperm among animals that have multiple mates while ovulating. Female mice, for example, take multiple mates and can't reject or store sperm long, so speed is important! http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/04/scienceshot-how-make-speedy-sperm
  • Why didn't the egg explode? A decomposing embryo rapidly produces gasses that can explode an egg, but this egg didn't contain anything except (presumably) Mom's blastodisc. It was also kept relatively cool and protected from direct sunlight by grass and nest detritus. John really had to dig for it! He told us that he dug through roughly a 5-gallon peregrine gravel pail worth of stuff to find the egg, including a squirrel's skull!
  • Would a receptive female in a long-term pair be likely to produce more eggs? I had very little time to follow up on the question, but here is one study that touches on it:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2817173/
Things that helped me learn about this topic
So does this mean it is clearly the magic in Dad's many, many sticks? ;) All jokes aside, Dad spends a great deal of time working on the nest and providing food, although Mom is more than capable of building and hunting on her own. We tend to define the reproductive season as starting at the beginning of active copulation or egg-laying. But today's daily activities help cement the bond between Mom and Dad and may result in increased productivity months from now: more fertilized eggs with higher egg mass, more hatched eggs, and heavier weights in nestling eaglets during critical stages of growth. We are learning that eagle reproductive success depends on far more than the brief period of time they spend engaging in productive copulation.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2016 by the Numbers!

To help kick-off Giving Tuesday on Tuesday, November 29, we wanted to talk about what got done in 2016. Here are the things your donations helped us get done! Please donate to the Raptor Resource Project to help us continue our work in 2017 and beyond! 

Online Interaction and Education
Since January 1, 2016, we have:
  • Provided 1,785 hours of chat on the Decorah eagles channel, including 449 hours of dedicated educational chat. Our Decorah North group provided 576 hours of moderated chat, including special coverage following the deaths of DN3 and DN2. 
  • Posted 364 times on Facebook. Topics and photos included the Decorah Eagles, the Decorah North Eagles, the GSB Peregrine falcons, the Fort St. Vrain eagles, tracking D24 and D25, Robin Brumm's trips to Decorah, peregrine falcon banding, nest box work, and many other topics related to our nests and birds. Posts were shared from Neil Rettig Productions, SOAR, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Jim Brandenberg's 365 Nature project. 
  • Wrote 31 blogs. We addressed questions about the eagles, the nests (Is N2B big enough?), nest intruders, eaglet growth and development, the proposed 30-year take of eagles, and the deaths of DN2 and DN3, and much more!
  • Expanded our online offerings to explore.org. This ads-free site is presently one of two that streams the Decorah Eagles North channel.
I need to give a shoutout to our amazing volunteer moderators. I have said it before and I will say it again - our volunteers make our pages the best on the web and we could not provide our online educational program without their help!

Monitoring, Banding, Trapping, Recovery, and Nestbox Maintenance
Since January 1, 2016, we have:
  • Monitored over 50 peregrine falcon and bald eagle nest sites and potential territories in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Colorado.
  • Banded 76 falcons at 25 sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois between May 20 and June 16 - a record for us! Our northernmost territory was in Cohasset, Minnesota and our southernmost territory was in Peoria, Illinois. As always, we reported all banding and follow up data to the Bird Banding Lab and the Midwest Peregrine Society.
  • Installed 2 tracking platforms on D24 and D25 in July. Thanks to the platforms, we know that D25 was killed in a collision with a car in September, but D24 is still going strong! 
  • Retrieved DN2's body from Decorah North in May, and the unhatched eagle egg from N2B in September. DN2's autopsy can be found here. We are waiting for a report on the egg. 
  • Changed gravel at 3 peregrine nest boxes in October and November. The US Bank box in La Crosse also got a new top and we fixed the private camera at the Greysolon box in Duluth.
Thanks to our utility, industrial, and landowner partners for all of their help and support! A huge thanks to Brett Mandernack for including 'our' eagles in his studies and for sharing all of the data about their whereabouts and fates. Thanks also to David and Ann Lynch for their help with the transmitter project. We couldn't do it without all of you!

Camera Research and Installation
We focus on camera installation and nest box maintenance in September and October. Bald eagle cam work ends on October 1st, which is considered the start of the active season in our area. Peregrine falcon work can be done later since we don't tend to see much of them again until late February or early March. Even territorial falcons are less defensive of their nest sites this time of the year.
  • John Howe, Kike Arnal, David Kester, David Lynch, Ann Lynch, John Dingley, Amy Ries, Bill Heston (Xcel Energy), and Pat Donahue (also from Xcel Energy) installed a total of six cameras and four microphones at N1, N2B, Decorah North, Fort St. Vrain, and GSB between September 17 and October 16. We also provided technical support for the Seneca Nation of Indians (a bald eagle cam) and the Marshy Point Nature Center (Marshy Point ospreys). The installations took roughly 900 hours total. 
  • John Howe put in hundreds of hours researching, ordering, and testing cameras this year. While the majority of our installs are done in September and October, camera and streaming research take place year-round. In 2016, we began to move towards 4K at Decorah North and GSB - a big jump for us - and improved the audio at Decorah and Decorah North.
Other Stuff
  • We threw our annual After The Fledge party between July 14th and July 16th. Almost 100 eagle fans and volunteers had a blast celebrating the Decorah eagles and Decorah itself!
  • We provided ongoing technical support to followers who experienced problems watching our eagles, viewing Facebook, and participating in chat. Over 800 followers received support via our website, and an unknown number received support via our Facebook and Twitter.
  • We partnered with Ustream to provide temporary ads-free viewing to 347 teachers and their students.
  • John trained 4 volunteers to operate our cameras remotely - a new and very welcome step for us and our followers. 
Thank you for all of your support and for your donations. They make a difference and we couldn't continue to do it without them! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Reflection and a Thanksgiving

I found myself in an unusually reflective mood earlier this week. Today, November 23rd, was Bob Anderson's birthday. It seems like a good time to take stock of where the Raptor Resource Project has been, where it plans on going, and what I have to be thankful for.

Bob and Dave Hecht banding at Lansing in 2010
For those of you who don't know, Bob founded the Raptor Resource Project to propagate and release peregrine falcons. He was the first person to successfully breed peregrine falcons in Minnesota. MF-1, one of the first falcons he produced and released, became the first returned falcon to breed in the mid-continent following the species' extirpation in the mid-1960's. It took an incredible amount of work to keep the peregrine falcon from joining the long list of species that will be mourned on the remembrance day for lost species. I am thankful that the peregrine falcon is still with us. Where we have a will, we have a way.

I am thankful to have met Bob. He responded to an ad my little writing business was running back in 1994. I began by writing grants, but very quickly moved into field work. Did I want to attend a banding and take pictures? Yes! Did I want to hold falcons? Yes! Did I want to rappel? Yes yes yes! The writer William Least Heat Moon said in the Wonsevu chapter of the book PrairyErth that "I'm not sure what to make of it, but I think a dream can set you on another path." Bob's dream of restoring the peregrine falcon set many people's lives on another path.

Banding at Xcel's Allen S King plant in 2005
Believe it or not, we moved into internet cameras almost accidentally. Bob set up several local monitors so that power plant employees and visitors could watch peregrine falcons. If I remember correctly, Mike Miser from the Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, suggested putting their camera online. 'Mae's Internest' hatched in 1998, making Xcel Energy's corporate website the busiest in the world for the first quarter of 1998. It uploaded a still image of Mae's nestbox every two minutes...a technical triumph at the time! That year, we also began a three-year study of heavy metals in utility falcons with the Electric Power Research Institute, Xcel Energy, and Dairyland Power. We worked with Dan Orr and Ken Mueller at Xcel Energy and John Thiel at Dairyland Power. All three men have since retired, but the paper can be found here: https://www.raptorresource.org/about-us/annual-reports-and-papers/. I am thankful to have worked with the fine men and women employed at America's power plants. The utility-peregrine program is an example of the ways in which humans can support wildlife even in the unlikeliest of areas. You guys are awesome...and great fun, too!

Bob was also working on his cliff release project. Back in 1994, he began to believe that nest-site imprinting was preventing the crossover of peregrines from power plants to cliffs. The Iowa DNR was very interested in working with Bob, so he picked up lock, stock, and barrel to move down to Bluffton, Iowa in 1996. He did a successful pilot release on the Upper Iowa river in 1997 and released a total of 19 falcons from Hanging Rock at Effigy Mounds National Monument in 1998 and 1999. The Upper Iowa hackbox can still be seen from the river, although the Effigy Mounds hackboxes are long gone. In 2000, our cliff-released falcons became the first falcons to return to the cliffs of the Mississippi. I remember going to see them quite well, since I was very pregnant with my last son. I did a lot of crazy things for and with Bob, but the only time I remember him being really worried about me was just after I huffed and puffed my way up the back of Queen's Bluff. Pat Schlarbaum's story about peregrine recovery includes information about our cliff releases. It can be read here: http://www.gladysblackeagle.org/project-ideas/longwings-return. I am thankful to have played a small piece in this story, and very grateful to the men and women of the Iowa DNR who supported Bob's work.

In 2006 and 2007, Bob was working with Neil Rettig on the movie American Bald Eagle. After the two wrapped up, Bob said "Wouldn't it be fun to put this nest on the internet?" We made Bob's dream a reality in 2009, when the Decorah Eagle Cam uploaded an image to Xcel Energy's website every two minutes. In 2010, Luther College hosted a live feed. In 2011, we moved to Ustream and the Decorah eagles became a worldwide sensation. While we celebrated the eagles, Bob also mourned the loss of his dear friend and fellow falconer Rob MacIntyre, the 'mad scientist' who was featured so prominently in the movie RaptorForce. Rob did a lot of the work on our earlier cam systems, and his death was a real blow both personally and professionally. I am thankful to have known him and his wonderful wife Jan. They brightened every room they entered.

John also likes to rappel!
While Bob never lost his drive to recover birds of prey, he suddenly had a new focus. He was deeply engaged in using our bird cams to reach learners and provide a palliative window to the outside for ill, injured, and bedridden people. Online education became a major focus, but cameras still needed to be researched and purchased, and HD was increasingly looking like the next step. Enter John Howe! John began working with Bob to research cameras and camera technologies, including solar/wireless technologies (Rob installed our first solar/wireless system back in 2003) and HD. The longer Bob worked with John, the more he was impressed. Shortly before Bob's death, he let us all know that John was to follow him as Director of the Raptor Resource Project.

This brings us up to the present. In the year since Bob's death, John has worked diligently to keep up with camera and streaming technology, deploy cameras, expand our online educational offerings, honor Bob's legacy, and secure funding (an organization doesn't run very long without money). He has more than proven himself as a director and a leader. I am thankful for John Howe and only wish that Bob was here to see the positive change that John has brought to the Raptor Resource Project.

So where do we go from here? We are sustained by our mission: to preserve and strengthen raptor populations, expand participation in raptor preservation, and help foster the next generation of preservationists. We follow our vision: to deepen the connection between people and the natural world, bringing benefits to both.
  • Education: We are looking at ways to improve and increase our educational offerings. In addition to the online interaction we already offer through our unparalleled team of moderators, we are looking at curriculum, educational videos, Skype, short movies, and other ways to reach out to learners of all age and circumstances.
  • Preserving and Strengthening Raptor Populations: We will continue to monitor our nests, band falcons, consult on nestboxes and habitat for a variety of species, provide input on conservation issues, and work with federal and state wildlife agencies to benefit of birds of prey. We are also looking at ways to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones. How can we connect our passionate followers with organizations looking for volunteers? How can we work closer with our utility and industry partners on providing or improving habitat for the many birds that nest on or use utility land and water in other ways? How can we advocate for birds of prey? We have done a lot, but we can do more. We stand on the shoulders of giants!
  • Fostering the Next Generation of Preservationists: In addition to our online educational program, we are looking at an educational endowment in Bob Anderson's name. We will have more information about that early next year. An educational endowment seems like an appropriate way to honor Bob's legacy.
  • Connecting People with the Natural World: Researching and deploying cameras is a lot of work. Fortunately, we have a director who truly enjoys it! We will continue to do our best to connect watchers with the natural world using up-to-date, unobtrusive technology. A challenge for me: how do we develop quantifiable data from the thousands of hours of footage and anecdotes we've collected? Our knowledge has already changed since we first began watching the eagles (remember eagles are always monogamous?), but there is so much more to learn! 
So what else am I thankful for? 
  • I am thankful for fans of the Decorah eagles and our other birds. Please, keep emailing and mailing your stories and art. You have deepened our lives an immeasurable amount.
  • I am thankful for our amazing volunteers. In addition to your incredible work, my life is better for having known you. I've said it before and I'll say it again...your work makes us the best site on the web!
  • I am thankful to our Board for providing direction and guidance. 
  • I am thankful for an unexpected and unlooked for gift: the honor to be part of the Raptor Resource Project's work. My 1994 self - I was 28 years old! - had no way of knowing what saying 'Yes' to Bob's first request would lead to. Bob, we will remember and celebrate you until we join you.
Thank you, everyone. I'm going to close with a link to a favorite blog I did on Bob back in 2012: Watching Bald Eagles. The Raptor Resource Project wishes you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!