After visiting the Nith River bald eagles a few times and not seeing the eagles at all I must agree with locals who say the pair have moved on following last month’s severe storm. 

This prompted me to turn my attention once more to the eagles that nest near Wilkes Dam in Brantford, Ontario. It’s on the Grand River and less than half an hour drive from my home. 

Years ago I spent countless hours watching the eagles fishing here. Across the river from the nest there is a beautiful trail frequented by anglers, cyclists, people walking their dogs, folks simply exercising and eagle watchers and so these eagles are quite used to people.

Indeed, I remember about six years ago sitting on the riverbank about ten metres from a fisherman who was standing in the water. Suddenly, the eagle I had been watching for hours flew down between us, grabbed a fish in its talons and immediately returned to the nest with its catch.  The two of us looked at each other totally in awe of the experience.

In the past fortnight I have been there four times and gathered some ‘intel’ on the eagles’ preferred fishing spots. After finding both adults perched in a tree one afternoon I settled by the river and began waiting for some action.  Three hours later one of them suddenly flew down to the river’s edge and, mercilessly, stole a fish from a great blue heron. The heron flew to my side of the river and stared at the thief. Another case of what biologists call kleptoparasitism.

More recently,  I found both adults perched in a tree next to the river and so I prepared for another long wait.

The sun was directly in my face making photography more challenging. Since it was descending behind the trees I hoped the eagles would wait a bit longer before fishing. After about three hours the male took off and flew towards the nest which is up river from this site. The female, noticeably larger than the male, remained and I stayed put hoping I might see her hunt.

An hour later the male returned and flew circles above the river. It was obvious he had spotted a fish. 

He missed on his first attack and gathered himself for another. 

Then something quite remarkable happened. The eagle slowly descended and landed in the water. In the ten or so years I have observed bald eagles I have never seen this before.

Eagles will normally wait patiently for the right moment then attack with their talons outstretched. Sometimes they miss and are forced to make a second or even third pass.  This one floated in the water like a duck and the current carried him past me. I guessed he had caught a fish and was checking his grip. Once satisfied he emerged from the river, flew around the line of trees and vanished.


It was yet another unique experience with these magnificent raptors. Again, patience was essential.

I never fail to be amazed by what I observe in nature. And, although it is raptors and mammals that most interest me the entire ecosystem is fragile and must be protected. 

If there is one thing I want to impart to readers it’s to enjoy the outdoors and make the time to observe our natural surroundings. By loving nature we can better understand how everything fits together.  That’s the first step to protecting it.



  1. Jerry Kooymans

    Great photos, Paul. I’ve never heard of a bald eagle floating on the water. That would have been interesting to see, not to mention the theft from the great blue heron. As you know, my brother lives not too far from this eagles’ nest and has a good view of their activity over the Grand River from his house. He saw one of the eagles swoop down and grab a fish just last week. I’ll have to go visit him more often.

    1. Paul E Gains

      It was an enlightening experience, for sure! As I have said, ad nauseam, nature never fails to surprise. You should visit your brother and take a walk along that trail. Enjoy!

    2. Riny Kooymans

      Beautiful pictures, Paul! I am fortunate to have such a vantage point for wildlife here on the Grand, just up from Wilkes Dam. My telescope is trained on the river and Brant Park. I have seen the eagles here for the past 5 years, and also saw one take a fish from a blue heron. We have a fox den in the back yard with 4 kits, very cute. Stop by anytime and give me pointers on how to take such amazing pictures!

      1. Paul E Gains

        Hey Riny, great to hear from you and thanks for your comment on my photos. I don’t doubt that you see some extraordinary scenes along the river. And you are lucky to have that fox den on your property. I am sure they provide some wonderful scenes. I will stay in touch and when I’m down there again I will get hold of you. Cheers!

  2. John Palmer

    As an Ayrite, I’m sad to learn that the local nesting pair have moved on. I wonder if their nest will ever be occupied again.
    You could start a revised kids game (Duck, duck, Eagle!)

    1. Paul E Gains

      Yes, it is sad they have apparently moved on. A few of your fellow Ayrites told me they had not seen the eagles since the big storm in May. There was also a story floating around that there were two chicks in the nest at one point but they succumbed to avian flu. I have no idea how that could be determined unless someone was able to observe symptoms or take blood samples. I did see the adults hanging around, near the nest, a couple of times. This was after I had heard the avian flu story. But on my last three visits I didn’t even see the adults.

  3. Brad Morley

    Another great piece, Paul: interesting, informative, and beautifully pictured. As for the day of the big wind, I’ve been following a 5 nest heronry here in Guelph and after that storm there was only one nest, a sad development indeed. The silver lining, though, is that I discovered this week there are 5 juveniles in that one nest, so all was not lost. Thanks again for your captivating “presentation.”

    1. Paul E Gains

      That severe storm in late May really had a disastrous effect on a lot of wildlife. I bumped into a photographer the other day who told me the eagle chicks at one nest wound up on the ground. That’s awesome that you saw 5 young herons in one nest. I have yet to see an actual blue heron nest. Keep it up!

  4. David Lee

    Hello Paul, great story and photos! I was lucky enough to watch a Bald Eagle hunting a Golden Eye last March in Richmond, BC early in the morning. After a few attempts, the BE grab the waterfowl and sat on the water for quite some time, just to make sure the waterfowl was drowned and then took off. It was horrific to watch.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hi David, You were fortunate to see a successful hunt – although it can be a little disturbing. It requires patience as the bald eagles like to conserve their energy when it comes to hunting. Glad you enjoyed my story and pics! Cheers!

  5. Dale

    Great photos and narrative.
    I’m wondering, have you seen any lately.
    I was at Wilkes Dam today, saw nothing.
    Glen Morris, nothing.
    Having lived in Brantford just over a year, I’m yet to find a great spot.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hi Dale, I have not been down to Wilkes Dam in several months. For much of the fall I was spending time with northern harriers and since December I turned my attention to snowy owls. A week ago I visited the bald eagle nest on the Nith River. There was a juvenile eagle perched in a tree near the nest. Folks tell me they have seen both adults there. I think this is the time when they will be strengthening the nests and preparing to breed again. A couple of times when I have been out looking for the snowy owls I have seen bald eagles up in the Elmira area. I am sure if you spend time at Wilkes Dam you will see that pair. Good luck!

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