Photo courtesy Friends of Big Bear Valley, copyright 2020
I never knew my peace of mind could end up depending on two wild birds 200 miles away from me. But there you go. It happened.
At the top of 2021 I, along with the rest of the world, happily kissed 2020 goodbye with a “Good Riddance” and began this new year with guardedly high hopes. And indeed, it started out very well for me at least. I got a call for a possible gig, while also receiving payment for some work in the prior year I’d not been expecting yet but gladly accepted.
Starting out with abundance in the form of finances and potential work was definitely a good sign. I got new walking and hiking shoes over the holidays and made use of them right away, hiking daily and climbing up to the top of nearby trails to watch the sunsets with my husband. Healthy habits here I come!
I made plans with some friends to begin a Zoom meditation group together, just us supporting each other and encouraging one another as we join our hearts and minds into peace. Mindfulness is mine, baby. We had a solid five days of it all looking pretty good.
…and then January 6th came along. And it felt like 2021 came into a full stop crash.
I, along with the rest of the world, was left numb, shocked, in pain, angry, upset, and just generally shaken to the core. I had to find something to help bring me back into a place of balance. Back into a place of peace. Back into a place of hope. By the end of that day, I wasn’t sure if that was possible. So I had to find something to distract me until I could feel it was possible once more.
That’s when I turned to the Eagles.
At the end of 2020 I’d discovered the Friends of Big Bear Valley Bald Eagle Cam on YouTube and Facebook. I quickly became enamored with it, enjoying this window into a wild world where I could feel as if I’m literally in the tree observing life while it unfolds before me.
With Big Bear Lake and the mountains filled with a pine tree forest spread out in the background behind the nest, it’s also an incredibly peaceful view. I’d put it on the side of my desktop while I worked just to enjoy seeing the snow falling on the scenery, or the beautiful sunsets filled with hues of pinks, purples and blues that reflected like liquid light into the lake below.
But the best part was when the Bald Eagles themselves, Jackie and Shadow, would come into the nest for what the moderators called “Duskapalooza” at the end of the day to sit in their nest as the sun set behind them. I’d drop what I was doing to watch them eat their evening meal, work on the nest, give birdie kisses to each other and canoodle, or just stand majestically on the edge watching over their domain.
As I’ve been observing them, they became not just a distraction from the drama going on in the world around us right now, they have shown me several life lessons that have helped me to deal with these troubled times. They’ve given me the gift of an Eagle-eyed perspective, as it were.
Eagle-Eyed Observation One:
Even at the darkest hour a miracle can occur.
That night of the 6th, to distract myself from how stunned I still was, I opened up “The Jackie & Shadow Show” and dully began to watch, not really interested but just needing something to focus on besides the news. But my lack of enthusiasm quickly transformed into real interest as I saw Jackie doing something I’d never witnessed before. She was making an odd “teakettle” noise and sitting all puffed up over the nest. She kept shifting back and forth and hunching over, her high pitched squeals getting louder and more frequent. She kept ruffling her feathers and fluffing her wings. What was going on?
Glancing at the moderators’ comments, I was shocked to discover that Jackie was actually having her very first egg of the season right then!
I’d never seen any kind of raptor laying an egg before, and to see it now Live blew me away. After the day we’d just experienced, having such a miraculous and beautiful thing happen in that moment just… healed me. I believe it healed a lot of us. We so needed it just then. It was a gift.
The Live chat went wild with people saying how much this meant to them, how excited everyone was, how this was lifting their spirits and giving them hope after such a traumatic day.
After a few minutes, she raised herself up and there below her was a perfect, white egg. She turned and gently nudged it with her beak, moving it about a bit before resettling herself over it to incubate. She grabbed one of the branches on the side of the nest with her beak as she wiggled herself down over the egg and got comfortable for the night, tucking it in under her safe and protected. It was beautiful.
Seeing that new egg and big birdie momma settle over it helped me get to sleep that night. There was something so comforting about it. It’s like she was settling over all of us. And as I fell asleep I had one thought:
Everything was going to be OK. Life goes on.
Despite falling asleep with that promise, I woke the next day after a restless night with a heaviness in me, as most of us did. I was processing the many dark and troubled thoughts and emotions that the day before had wrung up within me, and it seemed too hard to get out of bed.
And then I remembered the Eagles.
And I jumped out of bed and onto the camera. I opened it up with anticipation, expecting to see a momma Eagle quietly and peacefully laying there, her egg gently and fiercely protected. But I was surprised to find an egg, all alone, exposed. What was happening?
Bald Eagle Fact
Bald Eagles can weigh as much as 17 pounds and their nests can weigh up to 2000 pounds!
Eagle-Eyed Observation Two:
Learn to be OK with the cycle of life.
It turned out that Shadow, Jackie’s mate, who is a young and somewhat inexperienced Eagle, had never returned from hunting the night before, and so hadn’t seen or known about the egg. Since he didn’t know about the egg, he wasn’t there to bring Jackie a fish or step in for her to incubate it so she could get up and stretch her wings and hunt on her own.
This is only his third year of breeding, and in the past two years they’ve had one fledgling make it. But Jackie had another mate before him with whom she was successful, so everyone had high hopes for this year’s clutch, knowing she’s a great mom and Shadow has been swiftly learning the ropes as a good dad, as evidenced by their last fledgling who left the nest strong and healthy. Shadow was an attentive father to him.
However, Jackie couldn’t do it alone, and she waited from dawn for Shadow to arrive so she could get sustenance. But by late morning, hungry and tired after laying the egg and then incubating on the nest all night, she finally flew off to hunt.
She wasn’t gone long. But it didn’t take long for danger to arrive either.
Awhile after she left, Ravens could be heard in the area. Closer and closer calls and croaks came to the nest, but no Jackie or Shadow.
One flew onto a branch far out on the edge of the tree – still no Eagle parent showed. A second one landed on the edge of the nest itself, hopping nervously from one stick to another, on the lookout. But no Eagle came.
Finally, the two of them boldly hopped into the bowl of the nest, and with a single sharp peck, egg #1 was taken.
I had to look away for a moment, devastated.
Ravenously and quickly after that first test peck they tore it apart, eating even the shell. Within a minute or two it was devoured. At least it went fast.
Suddenly they flew off, and within about twenty seconds of their departure, Jackie finally arrived, panting hard, obviously racing to get there – but too late.
She poked at the now empty nest, perhaps searching in vain for the egg. She screamed at the Ravens. She called for Shadow, who still didn’t come. And finally, with nothing else to do, she left once more to finish her hunt for food.
I couldn’t believe it. Yet somehow it seemed to fit into the energies currently coursing through the day and my brain. The drama. The danger. The astonishment at something so terrible happening so quickly and cruelly. It seemed like a repeat on a smaller scale of what had happened the prior day.
I went for a hike in a canyon to clear my mind and spirit.
As we began hiking the first thing we were greeted with was a Hawk, lazily soaring high above. Then another Hawk, slowly making circles in the sky near it. I thought of the Eagles, soaring over their lake, looking for food.
And then I saw Ravens, two of them, chase after the pair Hawks, fiercely battling them. Even with our binoculars we couldn’t quite confirm if one Hawk being targeted had anything, but it seemed to us there was something in it’s talons, and the Ravens were trying to get it.
They chased and did dive-bombs and hit the Hawk a couple of times. They were working hard to dislodge whatever it was from the Hawk’s claws. But finally at one point, after one last-ditch effort, both Ravens turned and flew back towards a tree together, letting the Hawk fly on with whatever it’s bounty had been.
And I thought of how the cycle and circle of life works.
I thought of those Hawks most likely making off with a Raven’s egg or chick. I thought about another Eagle video YouTube suggested to me whose description was of an Eagle taking and eating a Hawk chick from the nest. And of the Ravens who came to our Eagle’s nest that afternoon.
How for every Raven that takes an Eagle’s egg, there is a Hawk that takes a Raven’s. And for every Hawk that takes a Raven’s progeny, there is an Eagle taking the Hawk’s.
And how ultimately Eagle, Raven and Hawk all turn around and continue on with their lives, even after having lost something precious. Hopefully with more wisdom and guidance on how to guard their nests in the future.
Every creature that lives on this planet is involved in this cycle of life, and has to learn how to navigate it, and be OK with that.
Somehow, it calmed me.
Over the next few days I’d check in on Jackie and Shadow. Shadow finally returned, large sticks for the nest in claw, and when he did I found it interesting that at first Jackie simply worked on the nest with him, as if nothing had happened. There wasn’t the canoodling they usually did, but they were there working together.
And then, out of the blue, as Jackie pushed around the fluff on the bottom of the nest bowl where the egg had lain, she suddenly turned to Shadow and began to give him what for. She was up in his face, beak to beak, shouting at him.
He looked a bit shocked, but he took it. This went on for several seconds, and then Jackie calmed down, and went back to nest building, moving so that Shadow had to take over where she had just been. And that was that. It was over.
Everything was forgiven. And life goes on.
Bald Eagle Fact
Bald Eagles can live 20 – 30 years in the wild and can fly as high as 10,000 feet!
After a few minutes, they canoodled again, touching beaks. They groomed each other. And they flew off once more together that night.
There was some retribution. There was some anger or frustration or grief or whatever it is an Eagle may feel in that situation that came out. Jackie let herself have a voice, have her say, and shout about it. But once it was over, it was over. And they both moved on.
Then, a couple of days later, Jackie had a second egg.
Eagle-Eyed Observation Three:
No matter what happens, you can deal with it.
At first things seemed normal with this egg, with Jackie and Shadow getting into a “routine” of spelling each other to incubate and hunt. Except neither of them appeared to be incubating it much, other than Jackie overnight.
This was a concern. There was a lot of speculation – was the egg not viable? Was Shadow still too young to really parent, despite having raised a fledgling already? Was it just too early in the year? Were there too many Ravens or other intruders? Another Eagle, another Hawk? Was it too cold, too hot, too windy, too sunny?
The list went on and on. Nobody really knew the answers, and the moderators with experience and knowledge kept having to remind us newbies to “TTE: Trust The Eagles.” To allow them to just be what they are – wild animals with instincts we may not always understand. To allow them to live their lives as they choose.
We were, after all, only seeing through one tiny window into their world. Beyond that window was a huge place with all sorts of possibilities that we couldn’t even imagine. This was their natural place to be, and only they could know what was best for them to do within it. Nature does as nature will do.
They are truly free, and we had to recognize that, and honor it. And that required trusting them and not judging them from our limited perspective.
However, after what had happened to the first egg, the anxiety over this second egg being left alone for so many long periods of time was at such a high the moderators had their hands full keeping up with it. Like me, many people had found that their peace of mind had gotten caught up in a pair of nesting Eagles and their lone egg. Perhaps they were trying to distract themselves from outside events as I was.
For three days this went on, the egg left alone in apparent delayed incubation preparing for yet another egg, yet Jackie had never had a third egg before. So it seemed highly unlikely this was the case. What could be happening? There was some hope, but a lot of negativity as well. The moderators did their best to allay the fears.
That third day Jackie was gone for hours. Every time we heard a Raven croak nearby the chat boards went crazy. Nobody wanted a repeat of egg #1.
At the end of the day, we waited nervously for “Duskapalooza” and the return of Jackie and Shadow. The sun got lower and lower in the sky – but no Eagles. The sunset turned the lake and clouds into soft pinks and blues, still no Eagles. Finally, it got dark enough the infrared light came on in the camera, and that was it. Everyone was convinced they’d abandoned the egg.
And then… another miracle.
Suddenly Jackie came swooping in from way off the lake, breathing hard as she made a perfect landing into the nest. She checked the egg, turned it, and seemed to settle in for the night. A collective sigh of relief went up from the 5000-plus people watching by this point. She’d obviously been far away and had rushed to get back to the nest before dark was complete.
But she wasn’t done yet. After about half an hour, Jackie stood up, her feathers ruffled. And the teakettle sound began.
A third egg was on the way.
The group went crazy. We were celebrating. We were crying in joy. We were ecstatic. We watched biting our nails as the labor went on and on. We could hear her as she pushed, trying to get that egg out. We were “pushing” with her – or at least I know I was, I could feel myself straining along with her as if that would help. But the teakettle sound got louder, and the laying took longer, and an egg was not appearing. That’s about when we realized something was wrong.
It wasn’t coming. She was getting exhausted, but no egg. Birds can get what is known as “eggbound” where the egg will stay stuck in the ovum and ultimately kill them. Was this happening now to Jackie? The tension heightened.
Finally, she stood up and, screaming (I had no idea an Eagle could scream that way) she had one large push and we saw a white egg plop down… excitement! Rejoicing! Relief so large I was jumping up and down in joy! Everyone was beyond themselves.
…until we realized it was only the bottom half of the egg.
And suddenly the miracle was overcome by tragedy.
The third egg, this miracle, transformed into a tragedy as quickly as it had originally become a miracle. The third egg came out broken. And our hearts were broken with it.
Still pushing, she managed to get the top half out. I cried as I watched Jackie just stand there for a long time afterward, not turning around to even look at the egg as she’d done with the others, checking them and nosing them immediately. She remained still, quiet, far away, looking out from the nest gazing over her domain exhausted, and every feather on her looked defeated and sad.
Everything was dramatic and uncertain. But life goes on.
After quite awhile, she slowly turned around. Still not looking at the broken third egg, she nudged the still intact second egg under her alongside the broken shells, and began to incubate it again, going to sleep. She woke a couple of times during the night, rearranging to a more comfortable position, then sleeping again.
At last at one point she woke up and as she rearranged herself in the nest, she finally raised up full and looked at the broken eggshells, cocking her head to the side. She picked them up in her beak, pushing them to the side of the nest, before settling once more onto the intact egg again. And this time, she went back to sleep for a long time, soundly.
And so did I, exhausted emotionally by the events of the day, and yet – calm now. I was finally able to let go and let the Eagles just be Eagles.
I was beginning to get the messages they had for me.
Anxiety is turned around by a miracle, which is immediately and shockingly upended by a tragedy. Yet, you deal with it.
You take a moment to process it. To grieve it. To let yourself recover from it. To finally get some rest before dealing with it. Then you settle down with what you have left and sleep so you can heal.
Whatever it is that hits you – the highest of joys or the lowest of pains – you deal with it because that is what helps you to rest, and ultimately that is what makes it get better.
Eagle-Eyed Observation Four:
Sometimes you just gotta let it go, and trust.
The next day I woke feeling hopeful that now both Jackie and Shadow would be super attentive to the remaining egg, knowing there was no longer a reason for delayed incubation. The chances of Jackie having a 4th egg were small to none, only about 4% of Bald Eagles ever have a fourth. So instinctively there should be no reason to delay incubation any longer.
But when I went on the site, there I saw it – an egg all alone in the nest. And I knew.
I felt then that the two of them had decided to let go of this clutch. They still had time to have another this season, you see, and so it makes sense for them to simply start over. Perhaps if the third egg hadn’t broken it would have been a different story.
But with 78% or more of Bald Eagles having a second clutch if the first one is lost early, and that second clutch being more likely to allow them to have at least two eggs to nurture, this was probably their best option for ultimate success this season.
AFFIRMATION: Circle of Kindness
All day the moderators fielded questions and comments by the thousands who were now watching the drama of the nest unfold.
Jackie stopped by only once that day, and then only for one minute, as if to check to see if the egg was still there before moving on without incubating it. There was evidence both she and Shadow were nearby, just not on the nest.
By now the possibility this was just delayed incubation was pretty much gone, the egg had been left un-incubated too many times for too long of a time. And by the middle of the day even the moderators said that more than likely, this egg was no longer viable.
After several hours of the egg left alone and unattended, the Ravens finally came again.
This time, however, they took their time, watching for the Eagles for quite awhile, but none came. Then, when they poked a hole, rather than devouring it quickly, they tasted it, and hopped away, as if not liking it. And it made me wonder if possibly something hadn’t been wrong with that egg all along.
Ultimately the Ravens cracked it open and ate it – but when they did, I saw nothing there, no chick had begun to form, it looked like an egg you’d buy at the store. They didn’t seem to want all of it as they had with the first egg, leaving some of this one behind including a lot of shell, bolstering my suspicion something more was wrong with this egg than we understood. Though I could be wrong.
There was a lot of sadness on the chat, and rage at the Ravens, but to my surprise, I felt not just calm, but accepting.
They let it go. And now we had to also.
When Jackie finally returned to the nest hours later, once again after sunset, and found the remaining pieces of shell from this egg, she honestly didn’t seem bothered.
She barely looked at them before settling herself onto the nest to sleep. To me it felt as if she were relieved, though I know I’m anthropomorphizing this situation. But I got the distinct feeling the Ravens had done the job she’d wanted them to do, even though she probably would have chased them away had they been nearby when she arrived.
Everything was lost. Yet life goes on.
Bald Eagle Fact
The scientific name for the Bald Eagle is Haliaeetus Ieucocephalus. They represent sacredness for Native peoples and have been the symbol for the United States since 1782.
Last year in 2020, Jackie and Shadow had incubated two eggs for over 60 days before finally abandoning them and allowing the Ravens to get to them. Bald Eagle eggs hatch within 35-40 days of laying, so it was obvious these eggs were never going to be viable by about day 42, but she and Shadow hung in there, doing their best.
But they finally had to admit defeat, and began to leave the eggs alone until at last the Ravens made a meal of them. That’s when Jackie and Shadow were finally released from nesting duty, and able to fly freely once again, preparing for another season.
I thought about that second egg and how the two of them exhibited the same behavior as to those other non-viable eggs last year. I wondered if they hadn’t learned a thing or two from that experience, and decided to cut their losses earlier.
How often are we holding onto our own egg with great anxiety and fear, protecting it fiercely as the world turns around us, when it contains nothing for us?
It can be something we took a lot of time to create, something we put a lot of effort into, something we cared for and were intending on having develop and ultimately fly as soon as we got another one or two in our basket.
Yet unknown to us, that thing may not have been developing correctly. Or those other ones were never destined to come along. Life happens, and everything seems to fall apart, and the next thing we know, we don’t even have that one, lone egg anymore.
But rather than seeing that as the time in which we lost everything, perhaps we need to turn that around and look at it as the time in which we gained our freedom.
Perhaps we are being given the opportunity to create something new, a whole new clutch of eggs that may end up being stronger and better than the first ones. Who knows? But we were just freed.
As of the writing of this month’s Mimosa, Jackie has spent a couple of nights on the nest even after the last egg was lost. The Ravens returned the next day to seek out the remains of those eggshells and any other scraps they could find, and made a mess of the nest in doing so. But again, nature was at work as they were the “housekeeping,” coming along to get rid of anything that might decay.
Jackie and Shadow have both been back to the nest since the Ravens did some remodeling on it, the two of them fixing it back up a bit. There is great hope that by February or March a second clutch will come along.
In the meantime – I once again have it up in the background on my desktop as I work right now, enjoying the sweet sunset view of Big Bear Lake and the mountains. The two Eagles just flew in for a “Duskapalooza” and cuddled each other a bit before Shadow flew to his roosting tree and Jackie settled in to roost right here on the nest again tonight. All is well.
They are showing me, right now, as I write this… there is always hope.
I have no idea if, by the time this is published, even more crap will have gone down in the world around me. Or if we all will be dealing with more drama personally or collectively than we already have had to navigate in our lives.
But I am hoping greatly that as you are reading this, we will all be feeling far more stable, that things will have quieted, and that we will be in a better place and state of being. And I am choosing to take the lessons learned from these Eagles and apply them to myself, and my life.
Because the biggest lesson they’ve taught me is the first one I recognized that night of January 6th…
Everything will ultimately be OK. And life will go on.
Thanks Jackie and Shadow for lending me your Eagle-eyed perspective.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Eagles, Bald or otherwise, and these observations are my own and in no way represent the moderators of the Friends of Big Bear Valley Bald Eagle Cam or any other Eagle site, though I did try to represent the facts and information about Bald Eagles accurately.
To learn more about Bald Eagles and this nest, visit here – thank you.
Happy Mind. Happy Planet. Happy Headlines for Good Living!
Happy Headlines for good living! Mind. Body. Soul. Earth. It’s all connected & taking care of each leads to a happier, healthier life & planet.
By JEANETTE DUBOIS
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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