The Hamilton Spectator
(May 8, 2009)
Birdwatchers want to know if bald eagles with a new nest in Cootes Paradise plan to raise a family this year or are just fooling around.
With their nest hidden nine or 10 storeys up in a white pine tree on the north shore of the Cootes marsh, no one has been able to confirm if there are eggs or not.
"It seems they're just playing house," said Jody Allair, a Bird Studies Canada biologist in Port Rowan.
That wouldn't be unusual, he said. "It might be a practice nest. It's common for a pair to give it a try, figure things out. Hopefully next year they will nest. If they're bonding and building a nest, that's all good. It looks great for next year."
But Ancaster birder Mike Street, a member of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, still has hopes for Cootes eaglets this year.
He says adult eagles were migrating north past Beamer's Conservation Area near Grimsby as recently as last weekend, and he figures some of them intend to mate and reproduce this season.
"What Jody says is true, but there are late starters. It could easily be that there will be eggs in the nest here."
Cootes is a nature sanctuary owned by the Royal Botanical Gardens, and nesting or not, RBG aquatic ecologist Tys Theysmeyer "is thrilled beyond thrilled beyond thrilled" that eagles are interested in setting up housekeeping in the wetland at the west end of Hamilton Harbour.
As many as nine bald eagles wintered there the last two years, and two stayed around last summer. That raised hopes they would try nesting this year, so the RBG built an artificial nest platform in a white pine in late March.
The next day, according to Theysmeyer, eagles were seen carrying branches -- but not to the pine with the platform.
"The eagles decided they had a better tree," he said, "one I had picked out as a nest site originally but rejected because it couldn't be seen as easily from viewing points along our trails.
"The place they've chosen you almost cannot see. When the surrounding trees leaf out, you won't be able to see it at all. We need a webcam; we'll stick one in next year."
The RBG had already closed trails in the area to protect potential nesting sites. Theysmeyer says the nest tree "is as far as you can get from any official trail. It's like they took a ruler out and found a place as far from people as they could get."
The Cootes nest might qualify as the first on the north shore of Lake Ontario in a half century or more, although Chris Risley of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said eagles have nested for some years on islands in eastern Lake Ontario.
The nearest nest to Hamilton in recent years has been on the Grand River in Caledonia, where chicks are reported again this year.
Allair reports 33 pairs nested in southern Ontario last year.