Rickubis Bird Page #2: Hawks and Eagles!  
This page was born 09/17/2006.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 01/18/2018
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2018 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction             Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1------------------------------------------- Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Birds-Waders-Anhingas & Comorants ------------------------------Lizards!--Turtles!
 Grebes  Misc Birds-Herons  Bitterns  Pelicans
Vultures    Owls & Falcons

Welcome to Brazos Bend State Park. That's me on the trail. One of the most popular reasons for people to visit BBSP is to see the birds. Although *I* started going to the park mainly for the alligators, one cannot be there for long without learning to enjoy the birds. Over the years, I've captured a few pictures and video clips of them, and here they are. I've collected all my shots of raptors onto this page.

01/07/2018. One of those days, at Brazos Bend State Park. On Saturday, January 6, volunteer Chuck D. showed me that he'd gotten some great pictures of a juvenile Bald Eagle at 40 Acre Lake.
On Sunday morning the next day (01\07) , I was out at 40 Acre Lake (where I usually start anyway).  I was near the Observation Tower, and watching the sky, and also looking and listening for
signs of disturbance from the many wading birds and waterfowl in the area. American Coots occasionally bickered out in the water and chased each other. Once, the coots sounded a bit different,
so I looked to my left (North) until I saw movement in the water near the coots. I wasted a second or two as I went through what normally moves out  there. Anhinga? No. Cormorant? No. Diving
Coot? No. Grebe? No. Otter!?  YES!!  It was an OTTER!! I quickly brought the camera up and started shooting video. I tried not to move as the otter came closer. It swam to the edge of the floating hyacinth, then it dove.
It was about 10 yards from me when it went under. The pictures below are frame grabs from the video. And the video is here.

It seemed to me that it might want to cross the trail (probably close to the concrete around the culverts). So, following my own advice, I backed away from the tower about ten steps. This was to allow
room for the otter to cross. And...nothing else happened. I looked all around for a sign that the otter was moving. I looked behind me in case the otter passed me. I looked down and to the right (South)
in case the otter crossed and went into the lake leaving a wake. I spent a few more minutes looking back and forth. I didn't see the otter again. It might have crossed in front of me after that. But I could
have missed it; because I was distracted.
Because...when I was waiting for a sign of the otter I happened to look right again (South), but this time I looked *up*.
And the juvenile Bald Eagle was circling in the air above the lake. I caught some video of the eagle as it circled around (it was near the Southeast corner of the lake) and it made an aborted talon-strike at
the surface of the water, then landed in a tree. So, while I was watching that, the otter could have crossed to the East. What a choice!  Should I watch for the otter to reappear...or for the eagle to move?  I watched
the eagle, and it took off again, but moved away from me, then looped around and went West.
The images below are frame grabs from the video. The video does look a bit better. And that video is here.
Those of us who have been able to see otters are often confounded by their ability to move quickly and with stealth.  I found some information in this document:
North American River Otter Husbandry Notebook, 3rd Edition
Edited by Janice Reed-Smith 2008
link is here.   
The aerobic dive limit for an otter (how long it can stay under holding its breath) is 50 seconds.   (Page 27) But average dive time is 21 seconds ( page 28). Top speed of an
otter in water is 7 miles per hour.  (That's about 10 feet per second)  (page 28) If we cut that in half (considering we usually see otters relatively at ease) that's 5 feet per second.
In a 21 second dive, at 5 feet per second, an otter could move 105 feet (35 yards) or maybe as far as 210 feet (70 yards) if it's in a hurry. 
There are some good online sources for collected information about otters. Some day I'll be able to examine all that's there. Here are two: 
river otter alliance
otter specialist group 

As for the young eagle. Sources on the TPWD website say that Bald Eagles lay eggs in December, and eggs incubate about 35 days, to hatch sometime in January. The chicks leave the nest in about 12 weeks,
but the parents still feed the young for another 4 to 6 weeks while they learn to hunt. So eagles hatched this season should still be in the nest (not flying around).  The feather markings change as the young
eagle ages, with the prominent white head and tail and dark body appearing only in mature adults (about 5 years old). This one might be close to 2 years old. I'm guessing by comparing with my
Sibley's field guide and my National Geographic field guide--which show more white patches on the wings during 2nd year. I'm sure the birders out there can correct me.

07/08/2017    Russ Pitman park is a small park in Bellaire, Texas. It covers 4 acres. I had just walked in, and  I saw a Cooper's hawk about 20 feet away, on a branch about
8 feet above the ground. It flew past me, and landed on the small waterfall near the new "wetland" area. This was only about 20 yards away, so I stopped moving, and watched
the hawk as it moved on the waterfall. After a few minutes, it was joined by another hawk. and they took turns bathing in the water. After about 10 minutes, one of the hawks
flew towards me, and landed on a branch. Then it took off and flew right past me (about 10 feet from me!). Meanwhile, the other hawk remained in the water. 5 minutes later,
if also flew towards me, and landed on the same branch. I stood and watched it for about 20 minutes-waiting for it to take off. It finally did, and I could move along the trail.
It was wonderful to be so close to the hawks for 30 minutes.
The images below are photos that I took during this bath.


Not long after, I found two Cooper's hawks higher in a tree...along with 2 *more* hawks. So, I walked around the trails, to see how they've been improved and watched the
4 hawks from different angles. I also heard them calling to each other. I was able to enjoy the presence of the hawks for about about an hour and a half. I thought it was great.
The two images below are two more photos taken around this time. The image below right shows 3 of the hawks in a group. One of them had just flown down to the "pocket prairie" area. An intern at
the park told me that 2 of the immature Cooper's hawks had grown from a nest in the park: while 2 more immature hawks apparently came from somewhere else and settled in
the park.


The images below are framegrabs from the video clip that can be seen here. The video clip is about 5 minutes long and shows the Cooper's hawks bathing, and then
one flying out of the pool, the off a branch later. The last two events were recorded as high-speed video.


03/25/2017  After the morning rain, the sun brightened the day, so I visited Fiorenza Park (the Phase 2 section). The park looked great, and I hadn't been there very long when a Bald Eagle landed in a tree about 50 yards above me!
While it stood on a branch and preened itself, I shot a number of pictures and a a few video clips. Even though the eagle didn't "cooperate" by standing clear of all obstructive branches, I was still very happy to see it. I stood ready
to film the eagle's take off, and even so, I missed the launch. The eagle flew into the trees, then back out and over to the cormorant nest island.
I saw the eagle apparently land behind the trees on the island. I waited and kept watching the island, since I'd hoped that the eagle had descended to catch something. Meanwhile, I watched the various cormorants, grebes, spoonbills and other birds.
Then I noticed a mixed flock of birds fly left--out of the trees on the island. Amongst the pink of the airborne spoonbills and the black of the flapping cormorants I saw the eagle!  It flew free of the other birds and landed on a far bank. It had been
carrying something, but I couldn't tell what it was. The three images below are from a burst I filmed as it flew.
I watched anyway through binoculars and camera as the eagle ate, then seemed to wade into the water and either drink or wash its beak. Finally, the eagle took off and I lost sight of it as it flew behind the trees of the cormorant island again. I've edited some of the video clips together. That video can be found by following this link.  The two images below are of one of the flocks of Roseate Spoonbills that flew by. I think it's great that this wonderful park is only 15 miles from midtown Houston!

10/05/2016  While walking Piper today, I heard a squawk sound above and behind me. I thought it sounded like a hawk, so I turned around.I saw a hawk land on the grass in front of one of the apartment
buildings. It squatted against the grass with flattened spread wings, and was about 25 yards from me. I didn't want to scare it (especially since I had Piper on a leash with me), so I tried to take a couple
pictures with my cellphone without moving any closer. We walked to the end of the street, and then crossed and came back. When I was across the street from the hawk, I stopped and watched. I still
couldn't tell what it was up to. Someone else with a dog came down the opposite sidewalk and when they got close to the hawk, it flew straight up into a tree. After a briefbit of movement, it flew to another
tree. When it did, I could see something hanging from the hawk. It looked like it could be a squirrel's tail.
I continued back to my apartment, where I fed Piper.  Then I grabbed my camera and walked back to the tree where I'd last seen the hawk. (about 300 steps from my apartment)  I found the hawk!  I had to
focus through the leaves and branches to get pictures of the hawk as it ate. It was hard to focus during the photos and larger-frame video. Only a few of those photos were clear. Some of them
are shown directly below. This appears to be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (accipiter cooperii).


I found that the smaller resolution (640 x 480)/higher frame-rate (120fps) video worked better, so I shot mostly in that configuration. I got some interesting video.  I've edited various clips together (including
a few from my cell phone) in the video right here. The video does show the deceased squirrel a few times, but is not as "graphic" as it could have been. I've included most of the high speed footage because I
think it's a great view of the hawk.
 The images below are frame grabs from some of the clips.  While I was filming the hawk, I could hear a nearby squirrel calling. I think the sound is an "alarm" call.
As the hawk worked on the carcass, a squirrel began working its away among the branches. It was moving towards the hawk!  The hawk noticed the squirrel, but continued eating. Finally, the
squirrel made its way to the same large branch the hawk was standing on. I decided to try to film the squirrel, and while I was trying to focus on it, the hawk flew away. I couldn't tell which
direction the hawk flew off to, and so I lost it. I also couldn't tell if it had carried off the carcass. So that was the end of my observation.


Because of the clarity of the video, I could see the hawk swallowing a few small portions of meat. I tried to find some descriptionof the cutting mechanics of prey processing in Cooper's hawks,
but didn't find anything specific. However, I found these two articles:
1)"Predatory Functional Morphology in Raptors: Interdigital Variation in Talon Size Is Related to Prey Restraint and
Immobilisation Technique" by Denver W. Fowler, Elizabeth A. Freedman, John B. Scannella (link ); and
2) "In vivo bite and grip forces, morphology and prey-killing behavior of North American accipiters (Accipitridae) and falcons (Falconidae)" by Diego Sustaita,and Fritz Hertel. (link)
From these two articles I learned the following:
Birds of prey (raptors) have been classified into different groups: Accipitridae (hawks, kites and eagles); Falconidae (Falcons);Pandionidae (Osprey) and Strigiformes (Owls).  There are different
features that help identify these groups. The studies focus on how the talons are different between the groups of raptors, and how these differences reflect the different ways the talons are used; and the
measured differences in forces generated by the beaks and talons of falcons and hawks.
Generally, falcons strike their prey in the air at high speed, and then further disable or kill it by using their beak to do major damage to spinal nerves.  Hawks, on the other hand, usually ambush from closer
cover and therefore hit their prey at lower velocity. Hawks then use their feet to immobilize or kill their prey. If the prey is small enough, it is killed by suffocation caused by the hawk squeezing hard enough
--with its feet(or a foot)--to prevent the lungs from working. If the prey is too large for this, then it is held tightly by the talons, and either suffocated by the bird pressing down on it or-if the prey is
immobilized enough-the hawk will start eating while the prey is still alive, and the resulting trauma causes death. Neither of these studies mentioned piercing internal organs with the talons. These two
studies seem to indicate that the configuration of the talons ofthe various types of raptors has a strong relationship to the way their prey is subdued. For example osprey and bald eagles both have diets with a
high proportion of fish. Their talons (and they are in different groups) are nearly the same length on all their toes; and are heavily curved...wonderful for keeping a grip on fish snatched from the water.
Osprey have a further advantage (that eagles do not) in  that they can rotate their 4th toe backwards, so that ospreys can hold prey with 2 talons on each side of the prey.  Compared to these two groups, owls
have relatively short, less-curved talons. But the talons are of equal length on all toes; which are  proportionately shorter than the other raptors. Owls can also rotate their 4th toe to face the rear. 
This, and the
shorter toes, allow for greater leverage--which allows owls to kill their prey by crushing with their feet, possibly stabbing internal organs with the straighter talons, crushing key bones  or biting with their beak. 
Hawks have strong toes with long talons, but the talons on the 1st and 2nd toes are much longer than the third and 4th. The two pictures below show the talons of a stuffed hawk on display at the Nature Center in
Brazos Bend State Park. I believe that speciman is a Red Tail Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), but it still shows the difference in talon length. The talons on toes 1 and 2 are much longer!

Their grip is also powerful, as mentioned above. Hawks will also hold secure prey by holding it down with the 2nd toes of both feet--using the other 6 toes to steady themselves against the surface they are standing on. By comparison, falcons have smaller talons, and even lesser-developed toes, but they have stronger bites, and some even have features on their beak that they can use to sever spinal cords, or do similar damage.After reading the articles, I think that when I first saw the Cooper's hawk, it had just caught the squirrel--and was holding it down until it stopped moving. That explained why the hawk at risk on the grass for so long (long enough for me to go to the end of the street, and come back down the other side.) 

7/02/2016 and 7/04/2016 Since BBSP has been closed I thought I'd be visiting other places...but some issues came up which prevented such thing. When I finally got some free weekend time, I visited Russ Pitman Discovery Center a few times. I usually go there to watch the Anoles. Both Brown (or Cuban) Anoles (A. sagrei) and Green (or Carolina) Anoles live there. While I was there, I was told that Cooper's Hawks had nested on the property, and I might be able to see the young ones flying around.
And...I did. I enjoyed watching the hawks so much, I went back a few days later, to look for them (and for Anoles).  While the Cooper's Hawks were active, it was hard to watch them for very long, since they moved among the leaves and branches until
briefly showing in the air to get among other leaves and branches. But I did get some pictures.  I caught sight of one as it rested on a branch over the path. While I watched, it seemed to lie down so its breast was against the bark of the tree. I don't
know if it was resting, or trying to cool. For other pictures, I had to try to shoot pictures through gaps in the leaves.

              Posing in the open                                  Lying down on the branch?                              Among the branches                                      Still among the branches
Young Cooper's Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) and Sharpshinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) are very similar. Staff at Russ Pitman told me these were Coooper's Hawks. According to my
copy of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds (1st edition), page 97)) Juvenile Cooper's Hawks have thin dark streaks on their breast while juvenile Sharpshinned Hawks have coarse brown
streaks...and many other attributes that can be recognized by experienced birders.  I am not one of those.
While I watched, one of the hawks flew down to stalk close to the ground. As I slowly and quietly tried to move to where I could see it, I noticed another hawk higher in a tree--watching
the hawk near the ground. I could only watch and wonder what would happen next.  But...nothing happened before other park workers came by and distracted the hawks.

              Under cover again.
When I returned on July 4th, the Cooper's Hawks were still busy, but hardly ever rested where I could get a good picture. One of them seemed to be harassing-or hunting-a Bluejay. The Bluejay was
not calling, but seemed to be hiding and fleeing.  As it jumped or made short flights to covered branches; the pursuing hawk would appear, following nearly the same course--plunging into the leaves and
climbing among them. I finally lost sight of the chase, so I didn't see what happened next.

03/20/2016 I was interpreting baby alligators at Creekfield Lake for some visitors when I became aware of the sounds of disturbed birds behind me. I turned around and saw Whistling Ducks and other birds flocking and making short, panicked flights
in the center of the lake. Then I looked a bit higher...and saw a Bald Eagle above them!

It circled and attempted to dive at the ducks. I shouted to the group around me and pointed out the Eagle as it circled and tried again. I brought my camera up and tried to track the eagle
and shoot pictures. I'd been focused on the gator babies, and couldn't change settings on the camera without losing the eagle...so I shot what I could. It moved too quickly to
easily focus, and all the while I kept repeating "LOOK! Look at the EAGLE!!"-and describing the action to the crowd of visitors. Waterfowl in the area were flying around, and a crow harassed the
eagle. The pictures above are frame grabs from the short video I got. That video can be seen here.The eagle flew to one of the large trees on the West side of the lake...where black vultures were
perched. The vultures all took off, and then the air around us was filled with ducks, coots,at least one crow, and vultures. There was the panicky flapping and calling of the various waterfowl all around;
while the vultures quietly flew in multiple paths above them,showing their discomfiture in a self-possessed manner. It was an amazing sight! I called the eagle a"T. Rex in the sky, on the hunt."
The sky eventually cleared, and the Eagle took off from the tree,but it flew North, and didn't go over the lake again. While talking to the visitors, I guessed that the eagle we saw might have been
an inexperienced juvenile, possiblyfrom the nest at Oyster Creek. Although it was chilly and windy, it turned out to be an outstanding day!

March 09, 2014  I'd missed the previous weekend at the park because I moved to a new apartment. This was the first weekend in almost 2 months that I was able to relax (no more packing/unpacking/moving), and BBSP gave me a couple of treats.
I was walking on the North side of the 40 Acre Lake Trail at about 8:45, when I noticed a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks in a tree over the trail. I noticed them just before they took off (this happens to me often). But, they only flew a few yards, and landed on the trail, near a pile of dark material that was in the center of the path. I moved slowly towards the pile, and the Hawks. One took off, and flew past me on my left, and went West. The other one flew up into a tree near the trail, and stayed there. I got a little closer, when,  the Hawk flew back down *towards me* and landed on the trial near the pile. By then, I could see that it was a pile of water hyacinth. I took one more step, then watched the hawk through the camera. The hawked hopped into the grass, where it stared intently at something there. I started shooting high-speed video. The hawk seemed to be grabbing at something with its talon. Finally, it grabbed, then took off and landed in a tree directly above the trail. There, it started eating whatever it had caught. I shot through the camera, hoping to be able to identify the prey. The hawk finally took off and flew West at about 8:54, going the same way that the other hawk had. Some of the attached images are screengrabs from the video. Review of the video revealed that the hawk had pulled a live crawfish from the grass!
The pictures below are all screengrabs from the video clips I shot. Since I was using full digital zoom for the Eagle, the still images are very "fuzzy". But the video isn't bad.
I've edited the clips into a single file, in two formats. They are: 

The edited video is here:  wmv format    mp4 format 


I continued walking on the North side of the 40 Acre Lake trail, heading East, towards the Observation Tower. At about 8:57am (just a few minutes after the hawk had flown away), I noticed a large bird on top of a broken tree near the Observation Tower.  The tree was on the East side of the Trail, South of the tower. I was about 200 yards away from the bird in the tree. When I looked through my binoculars, I could see that it was a Bald Eagle! I quickly changed the settings on my camera, and used full zoom to look closer at the Eagle. I started shooting video. The Eagle was eating...something, but there was no way I could tell what it was. I stopped filming, and walked about 20 steps down the trail, hoping that I'd get be able to eventually get closer. When I filmed again, the Eagle had stopped eating, but I shot some video anyway--along with a zoom shot to give some sense of how far away I was.


I took a few more steps, and the Eagle took off--still over 100 yards away. However, it looked like it flew further East on the Spillway Trail, so I hurried over to the Observation Tower. When I got there, I could see that the Eagle had landed in a tree about 100 yards East of the tower, right near the trail.
So I quietly climbed to the top of the tower, and watched the Eagle. It was just below the top of the tree, so my view of it was partially obscured by branches, but I took some pictures and video clips anyway. During time that I watched, crows (or maybe the same crow) made some half-hearted attempts to harass the eagle-but it was only one crow at a time.  At about 9:30, the Eagle took off, and I tried, but failed, to get good shots of it as it flew. The Eagle flew West into the misty air until it flew out of sight.

January 13, 2013 Today was rainy and cold. While some people in Houston were running around in this nasty weather doing a marathon, or half of one; other people were walking around the trails at Brazos Bend State Park in this nasty weather hoping to see a River Otter or a Bald Eagle.  Both predators have appeared at this time of year, especially during cold weather and Otters have often shown themselves during or after rain.
Ok...maybe not "other people". Maybe  it was just *me* out there. And there were a couple fishermen at 40 Acre Lake. Anyway, after a couple hours walking, at about 10 o'clock AM I was on the Elm Lake Trail between piers 2 and 3.  I'd noticed that some of the groups of American Coots were clumping on the banks. I'd seen a large hawk watching over some of them,  but that was at about 9 on the other end of the lake. Vultures were kettling in small groups, circling over head here and there.  I was facing North, when I looked up and towards the East at one of the large circling birds. It had caught my eye.  Flat wing profile. A quick look through binoculars--EAGLE!! But it was circling high. I was able to snap two shots at full optical zoom--having to focus between shots. Then it was over the trees, circling West.  I think I only had a few seconds of viewing time.
But, I was able to crop the pictures, and it was a Bald Eagle. This little entry is not because the pictures are great--but they do show that it was a Bald Eagle.
And that's good enough for me

January 28, 2012--Eagle Update!!  I went out to Baytown again, this time with a different camera, and high hopes.  When I got there, there was one person already watching the nest, and he told me that he'd seen an Eagle fly off earlier. I didn't wait too long (it was great weather, anyway), but I saw an Eagle circling towards us. It circled closer, and closer...and CLOSER. I shot a few photos as it passed overhead, but only one came out well. That's the image below left.  I figured that the Eagle would land on the nest, so I focused on the nest.--just in time. I started shooting high-speed video (120fps) and caught the Eagle landing above the nest. Then, to my great suprise, another Eagle landed next to it!!  The edited video clip is here (8.2 mb). Then, I shot a few more pictures, changing setting on the camera and trying again, and was able to get a few good images. The two below middle and right are a couple of these.  Then, one Eagle took off (which I missed), and then the other one took off. I left, too.
December 27, 2011; January 1,2, 14 2012  Ending one year and beginning the next with Bald Eagles.
I had some extra time off over the holidays, so I went to Baytown to see if I could see the Bald Eagles around the nest I can find there. I got there around 9:00 am. At about 11:00, I heard the cry of an Eagle, and an answer from the nest. And then, an Eagle appeared and landed on the nest.  I watched for some time, alternating through my camera and my binoculars, hoping that the Eagle would take off and fly my way. It finally did! And, of course, my camera got hopelessly entangled, and I couldn't catch the Eagle when it first left. But, it came around and circled above me, so I filmed it then.  The middle image below is from the video clip, which is here.
I went back the next day, but had no luck.
On January 1, 2012, I was at Brazos Bend State Park. While I was near the tower, looking for Otters and Eagles, and whatever else, Chuck pointed across the lake, and there was an Eagle! I was able to shoot a few pictures (altough far off) before it dropped down into the rice. I watched for a long time, and it finally reappeared, but flew off into the west. The image above right is that Eagle. As I said, it was pretty far off.  One of these days I'll get a good photo or video of an Eagle at BBSP.
On the next day, January 2nd, I went out to the Baytown nest again. And I got to see an Eagle, but it stayed on the nest. The image below left is of the Eagle that day.
Finally, I went out to Baytown again on January 14, and got to see an Eagle again. This time, it finally flew from then nest while I could film it. It was  pretty far off, but at least I got to try to shoot video of it flying. The image above right is a frame from the video clip, which is here.
Here are some Eagle facts, according to the the Texas Parks and Wildlife web page. Here is the link; and another link to a TPWD pdf with a bit more information.
The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) males are 3 feet long, head to tail, weigh 7-10 lb, and have a wingspan of 6-7 feet. Females can be 14 lb with a wingspan up to 8 feet.
Bald Eagles will eat whatever is available. They eat fish, waterfowl and other birds, small mammals, and turtles. They will also eat carrion.
In Texas, Bald Eagles nest from October to July. Peak egg-laying happens in December, with most hatching in January.  Females can lay 1-3 eggs, but usually 2. A second batch may be laid if the first batch is lost. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid, and lasts 34 - 36 days. The young fly from the nest in 11 - 12 weeks, but the adults will feed them for another 4 -6 weeks while they learn how to hunt. When they finally fly off on their own, young Eagles migrate north out of Texas, but return by September or October.
In Texas, the Bald Eagle population is split into 2 types--breeding birds and non-breeding (wintering) birds. Breeding populations are usually found in the Eastern half of Texas and along coastal counties. Non-breeding populations can be found in the Panhandle, Centraland East Texas and other suitable habitats throughout the state.
A bit more detail can be found in this study: PREY  OF  NESTING  BALD  EAGLES  IN  TEXAS  1995, David W. Mabie; M. Todd Merendino and David H. Reid. ( Document pdf can be found here. ) Here are some notes from that study:
From February through May of 1985 - 1991, food remains were collected from within and under nests representing 27 territories in Texas. 661 prey items representing 46 species of vertebrates were found. The types of prey were split almost evenly into 3 types--Birds (33.7%), reptiles (30.7%) and fish (30.1%). Mammals made up the last 5.5%.
Bird prey remains were found in 92% of the nests. American Coots were by far the most common (132) followed by Snow Geese (26) then Northern Shovelers (12) and Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks (10); followed by much smaller numbers of other birds including Cattle Egrets (7) American Bitterns (2), White Ibis (1) and Northern Harrier (1).
Reptile traces were found in 41% of the nests. Surprising (to me) is that these were all turtles. Most common were Softshell Turtles (182), followed by MIssissippi Map turtles (6) and Razorback Musk turtles (6), Red-Eared sliders (6), Common Musk turtles (3) and finally (1) Ornate Box turtle. Turtles were consistently found in nests associated with the Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity rivers.
Fish Prey was found in 83% of the nests. Various species of catfish were the most common (129), followed by Carp (40), Crappie (16), Largemouth Bass (6), Gar (3), Gizzard shad (3) and Striped bass (1). It has been mentioned that bottom-feeding fish are more vulnerable to attack from above because their attention is focused below, and that conditions that make these fish (such as catfish) accessible to surface attack (like shallow water over sandbars) would make them more likely to being attacked by eagles. Similar conditions that would allow for shallow water or basking surfaces might make for more availability of basking turtles (like Softshell turtles) in some areas.
Mammal remains were found in 33% if the nests with Eastern Cottontails and swamp rabbits the most common (23), followed by Eastern Fox Squirrels (3); Opossums (3), Nine-banded Armadillos (2), and (1) each Striped Skunk, Plains Pocket Gopher, Feral Hog, Hispid cotton rat, and Black-tailed jackrabbit.
That's quite an interesting array of food items. I was surprised by the number of turtles. I also notice that there were no nutria, alligators, or snakes found.
I'd hoped to get a hint of what to watch for while the Eagles visit Brazos Bend State Park, but most of the prey items listed in this study can be found at the park--many during nesting season. As I write this (January) American Coots are the most common noticeable birds in the park (huge groups of them), but there are ducks many other birds as well. When the winter weather is mild, many of the turtles come out to bask. Swamp rabbits, cottontails, squirrels, armadillos also live there.
I once heard a park visitor say the Bald Eagles live in the park. This isn't exactly the case. Eagles *forage* in the park. Or, Bald Eagles live in the park like you or I "live" in a supermarket. Judging from that study, Brazos Bend State Park is a supermarket for Eagles. 

May 23, 2010. I had signed up to do the Creekfield hike this morning, so I was heading back to the 40 Acre Parking lot on my bike. At about 9:30, I stopped my bike to look for some Yellow-Crowned Night Herons hunting crawfish. I was looking towards 40 Acre Lake when movement behind me (to my right--towards Pilant Slough) caught my attention. I turned, and looked directly into the eyes of a Red-Shouldered Hawk that was about 20 yards from me. It appeared to be awkwardly standing on a branch, and one of its wings was bent at an odd angle. I thought that it might be wounded (partly since it was so close). Then, it moved, and I saw that it had caught a bird. I thought at first that the prey was a Moorhen. I was still standing astride my bike, so I slowly brought up my camera and shot a few pictures. I knew I had to get back for the hike so I couldn't stay long, but I couldn't pass up this sight. As I watched, the Hawk tried to adjust its position, but seemed to be caught or entangled. Since I didn't want to scare it, I didn't try to look through binoculars. The Hawk called, and another answered. I kept my eyes on "my" Hawk, and it sounded like the other Hawk passed overhead.  I shot some video at high framerate; hoping to catch the Hawk flying away with the dead bird.
As I watched, a couple park visitors came up behind me on bikes. I slowly motioned for them first to stop; and then for them to come towards me slowly. But, they didn't have to. They could also see the Hawk with its prize. Finally, the Hawk flew off. I missed catching that moment as the camera wrote my previous clip to memory. It didn't go far, but I had to get back for the hike. So, I left it to breakfast.  Still...I did get a little video of it wrestling with its prey. In the video, it appears that the prey is a Purple Gallinule (it appears to have a greenish tint across the back). The video also shows a very odd position for the Gallinule's feet--and part of the reason the Hawk had such difficulty.
So, once again, my signing up for the hike has led to this mixed blessing. I say this because even though I had to leave the Hawk to cover the hike I'd signed up for--the *only* reason I saw it was because I was returning to lead the hike. Pretty wonderful sight! I hope you enjoy the video clip. Below are two images. One is a resized photo, the other is a frame from one of the video clips. The clips are edited and uploaded. Sound isn't captured while filming in high speed. The video clip is here (ll.6 mb).


11/29--11/30/2008-- Eagle, Osprey, and Ibis. On 11/29/2008, I decided to drive to the Northwest part of the Houston area, near Waller, Texas. I wanted to try out a new camera, and I was hoping to find some Crested Caracaras. As I drove around, somewhat aimlessly, I found myself near the highway again. I looked across a field, and a small pond, and I noticed a car parked on the feeder road, and people near the car looking down into the field. I made drove until I got near where the car had been. I stopped and got out of the car. And there, down on the grass near the water, was a Bald Eagle! It was apparently eating something, but was too far away to see what it was. I took some pictures (and there were also a couple of Caracaras in the field, too) and then reached into my car for the video camera. I saw the eagle flying away. A truck had pulled in behind me, and that probably chased off the eagle. I was still lucky to see it.  The images below are two views of the same photo, just cropped for clarity. I also shot a short video clip of the eagle, which you can see here (wmv 2.6 mb).

On the next day, 11/30/2008, I was at Brazos Bend State park. I hadn't been there very long before I met Chuck, another of the park Volunteers. He told me that I'd just missed an Bald Eagle flying over by about 5 minutes. Just a few minutes later, I noticed an Osprey over by the islands on 40 Acre Lake. We watched the Osprey hunting for quite a while. I snapped pictures, and shot some video clips. At one point, the Osprey dove into the water, and we thought that it caught a fish.
On examining the photos, however, it was found that the "fish" appeared to be a stick or piece of bark. What happened? Why did the Osprey "capture" it, and then afterwards, why did the Osprey continue carrying it? Today's RICKUBISCAM shot is one of the photos of the Osprey flying off with the piece of wood.
Below are two more pictures of the Osprey flying with the stick.

                     OSPREY AND STICK 1                                             OSPREY AND STICK   2                                                     FRAMEGRAB 01                          

-- -
                          FRAMEGRAB 02                                                               FRAMEGRAB 03                                                    RICKUBISCAM SHOT

This camera can shoot photos at an incredibly fast rate, and also can capture video clips at high framerates.  During one of the Osprey's passes above me, I decided to film it flying by at 210 frames per second (FPS).   A few frames from the video clip can be seen as captured frames above. The video video clip of
this Osprey flying by can be seen here (wmv 8.5 mb).

February 5, 12, 19, 26 and,  March 5, 2006--

This is how it started for me. On the morning of February 5, I walked down the 40 Acre Lake trail at BBSP. I passed Hoot's Hollow and continued towards the observation tower.  On the way I met the Bird Hike group where I spoke with David Heinicke and John Bradford.  David and John and the bird hikers got to see a Bald Eagle from 40-acre lake pier. They were telling me about it--still during their hike--when the eagle made another appearance, and we all got to watch it hovering at height of the rice, and scaring the bejabbers out of various waterfowl. I was able to film a little of this, but it was pretty far away. Still, I was excited about seeing the eagle. You can see this short clip (wmv 3850kb) of the eagle in the morning.  The image below is a frame from that clip.
                                                                            EAGLE 02/20/06
The birders went on, and I moved to the tower, where Greg, a photographer who frequently visits the park,  came up. Then, for no particular reason, Greg and I talked and just looked out over Pilant Lake and the general area of the Observation tower. We stayed there for about 5 hours. There was no need to go anywhere else, since a lot of things happened right there.
During the day, the eagle came back, about 5 or 6 times. I actually lost count. It seemed to always appear from the direction of the far treeline on Pilant Lake (North of the our position), and would fly up towards the Mile Stretch (South).  HOW COOL IS THAT? Throughout the day, Northern Harriers could be seen skimming above the tips of the rice fields. Twice, we got to watch as one, then another of the Great Blue Herons picked up a large siren and ate it.
On one of the eagle flybys, another raptor,  an Osprey, began to harrass the eagle, flying above it and dropping down at the eagle.
Finally, the eagle had enough, and flew up towards the Harrier. They finally went out of sight to the North over the far treeline.  A King Rail sauntered by.
At another time (remember this is ALL DURING THE SAME DAY), some park visitors were talking to us, and one of them expressed disappointment at not seeing an American Bittern. Not long after this comment (maybe 5 minutes??) Greg looked to the left, and an American Bittern was doing the "ninja step" across the trail, going from 40 Acre Lake to Pilant Lake, and not more than 20 yards away. So, the no-longer disappointed visitors rushed over to see it.
On another one of the eagle flyovers,  it passed over us, quite high, and then when it was over the corner of 40 Acre Lake, it turned back towards us and began diving towards the lake, looking like it might be targeting something in the water just a little south west of the wooden bridge. This put the eagle right where I was almost  looking into the sun--so a camera was useless. Still, I could see its talons extended as it briefly descended. But, it broke off, still far above the highest tree, and flew up  and continued south.
Finally, I guess around 3 o'clock, Greg decided to go look at Horseshoe Lake, and I decided to head back to the VC. I saw him stop at the culvert (yes, the one right by the tower)and squat down and start shooting (turns out he was trying to get a snipe), and I decided to try to shoot photos of the Bittern that had passed by before.  I found the Bittern, and as I was moving around a tree to get a better angle, I had a feeling, and I looked up. The Eagle was making another pass, and was flying straight towards me; but still out at the edge of the clearing in the rice. I wanted to move back, and looked down to be sure of my footing. I looked up, and I'd lost sight of the eagle. I got back up on the trail quickly, and looked just in time to see the eagle flying over the trail on just the other side of the Observation Tower. I watched it go by, let my eyes track down, and there was Greg pointing his camera up.  He GOT it!
What a cool day!  You can see some of Greg's pictures from that day here.
There are 7 pictures on that page. I'm pretty sure the first 6 were taken Feb. 5.  There's a flock of waterfowl panicked by the approach of the eagle from the above background; 2 shots of the Osprey and Eagle; and 3 shots of the eagle on that last approach as it flew over Greg.

That day was just the start.  On EVERY weekend (that's 4 Sundays in a row) since then I've been able to see the Bald Eagle at least once. I've also been able to watch Northern Harriers fying by.  The two images below (HARRIER BELOW, HARRIER ABOVE) are two frames from this video clip (wmv 2152 kb) that I shot on February 12.
                                             HARRIER BELOW                                                                                 HARRIER ABOVE
A little later that same day (that's Feb. 12) I was able to see a Red-Shouldered Hawk eating a frog. The images below are frames from video that I shot of this hawk eating. I've made three shorter clips from this video. The first image below (HAWK PICNIC) is from clip one (wmv 2433kb).
-------                                       HAWK PICNIC                                               FROG BETWEEN MY TOES                                             DINING UPSTAIRS                                                          ABOUT TO FLY
The next image (FROG BETWEEN) is from clip two (wmv 2785kb). The last two images above (DINING UPSTAIRS, and ABOUT TO FLY) are from
clip three (wmv 7059kb). I've also been able to see other Red-Shouldered Hawks hunting.  And finally, I was able to see an Osprey hunting,
and even got a far view of a successful dive and capture. The image below left (HAWK SENTINAL) is a picture of a Red Shouldered Hawk that I photographed on February 19.  Next  (HAWK FLYING) is a picture taken as it flew off.  These were taken right next to the Observation Tower.

                            HAWK SENTINEL                                                                  HAWK FLYING

Earlier on Feb. 19th, I was treated to a long sighting of a Bald Eagle hunting. I didn't see a successful hunt, but watching the eagle work in the cold and windy solitude of the park was a wonderful experience. The four images below are taken from this video clip. (wmv 20 mb). I haven't broken up the clip, so it's about 3 minutes long, and pretty big. But I love watching the Eagle for those 3 minutes or so; and I think you will, too.
-------                    EAGLE SLOW SWOOP                                                      EAGLE HOVER                                                          EAGLE DROP                                                           EAGLE PASSES BY

Added 03/07/06: I mentioned seeing an Osprey above. On Feb. 26, I was able to watch an Osprey hunting over 40 Acre Lake. It usually didn't get very close, but the 25x optical zoom on the camcorder brings it close enough to see.
The image below (OSPREY PASSING) is a frame from this short video clip (wmv 5676kb) of the Osprey. This new digital camcorder captures "interleaved" video frames, which makes taking single frames from the video very difficult.

                        OSPREY PASSING BY                                                RED SHOULDERED HAWK                                                IT SEES ME
We were able to watch the Osprey for a while, and it would do the "hover" maneuver shown in the clip from time to time. The Osprey appears to be watching
intently while hovering. We did see the Osprey dive, but it was on the other side of the island. It came up with a fish, and ate it on a treetop.
On March 5th, I didn't get to see the Eagle (OK, maybe not "the" Eagle, but perhaps one of the Eagles), but I saw a number of Red-Shouldered Hawks before I went inside to present a program. I got a few good photos of one of them. The pictures above (RED SHOULDERED, and IT SEES ME) are cropped from the best one.
I'm not a "birder", that is, a person with a strong interest in birds. I believe I've stated that here before. But, like many people, I'm awed by the
beauty, majesty and power of the raptors. Where; ANYWHERE; can one go to see so many types of wild raptors actively hunting in their natural home?
It's been terrific!

January 23, 2005  Today's RICKUBISCAM shows a Red-Shouldered Hawk in flight. An event like this is difficult to catch on film, so the image is blurry. I hope that you will find the pictures below a bit more satisfying. I was driving down the "Mile Stretch" at Brazos Bend State park, when my attention was captured--for some reason--by the top of a dead tree. I saw this (see WHAT'S UP THE TREE?, below).  As I drove by, I saw that it was a hawk! I drove a bit further, then turned around, and drove past the tree again. The hawk remained in place, so I turned around again, and slowly moved across from the tree. Much to my pleasant surprise, the hawk didn't move, and I shot more pictures.  Look how the top plumage matches the bark pattern. I almost missed this!  These were shot with an Olympus C-750 (10x optical zoom).
               WHAT'S UP THE TREE?                                                        LOOKING BACK                                                   LOOKING BACK-CLOSE               

                        VIGILANT BEAUTY                                                 VIGILANT--CLOSE
Although I often encounter these hawks in the park, they are usually too far away for me to see (or catch with a camera). I've mentioned before that I am not a "birder". That is, I don't spend a lot of time watching and identifying birds. But, there is something about the sight of a bird of prey (hawk, eagle, owl, kestrel, even a shrike) that stops me dead in my tracks. It was an fantastic treat to be just below this bird as it surveyed the area with those piercing black eyes.  After tolerating my presence for about 10 minutes or so, the hawk took off, and the RICKUBISCAM picture resulted from my attempt to catch it in flight. What a magnificent sight! But, I always say that, don't I? 

January 04, 2004  Today's weather was not bad for a winter's day. Although overcast, it was near 70 degrees. After arriving at the park, I was invited to join a short expedition (a few hours). The objective was to view a Bald Eagle's nest, hopefully with adult eagles in or near it.  After arriving at the site, we looked around (I'd never seen a nest before). With my binoculars, I saw, off in a tree (hundreds of yards away), a dark spot with a white spot over it. How I was able to pick this out is a mystery. Anyway, the spotting scope was brought over, and we took turns looking though it.

Let me tell you how it felt when I peered into the eyepiece. There, up near a break in the tree, was a Bald Eagle. Seeing this great bird through the glass, as it surveyed the field, was quite moving. Actually, most raptors have this effect on me. Their keen scrutiny, the strength and beauty of their forms...these things always make me pause. Once, at Brazos Bend State Park, I stood there gaping like an idiot as a Red-Tailed Hawk (I think) flew down parallel to the islands, and moving up the pier numbers, came right towards me (at the water station), and then turned over my head and flew down the Spillway Trail.
Watching this eagle at rest, though vigilant, was a fine experience.   Why? Maybe because we rarely see that which we hold in awe acting like *we* might. "Taking it easy", so to speak. Also, I was fairly sure that it could see us from all those hundreds of yards away.
In any case, I took my turns looking through the spotting scope, and watched this silent hunter as the wind ruffled its feathers from time to time. The nest, by the way, was about 3 trees over from this one. The image below (FARAWAY EAGLE) was the best I could do for a photo. I borrowed Dylan's telephoto attachment and got this (thanks, Dylan!). Unfortunately, "digiscoping" is still beyond my abilities with my camera.
After returning to the park, I was able to get out on the trails for a while. Alligators were out basking, although there was no sun, and some of them seemed to be exactly where I saw them last week.
Nice way to start a year!

                                                                            FARAWAY EAGLE

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.

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