Willis and Aella, two bald eagles named by their rehabilitator Tommy White, did their regular workout Wednesday morning in White’s “ark,” a flight enclosure for large-winged birds measuring at 102 feet long, 22 feet wide and 17 feet high. But these birds weren’t flying. Instead, White hollered at them and the birds took off down the length of the enclosure, with Aella flapping her wings hard and Willis doing a hopping sprint somewhere past 10 miles an hour.
“Imagine having to chase him down in the woods,” White said.
The two bald eagles are among more than 100 birds that have been brought to Alton’s Keep Wildbird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Suffolk for rehabilitation, according to White, who co-founded the center with his wife, Robin Alton-White. Some of White’s recent visitors have been hawks, crows, yellow–crowned night–herons and a pair of egrets.
“What happens is this time of year they start to branch, which means they come out on the nest and walk on the branches but still can’t fly,” White said about egrets. “The juveniles will fall on the ground but you can pretty much walk up to them and pick them up when they’re that size.” White has had five bald eagle cases since he received a federal permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a state permit from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries earlier this year to rehab injured and orphaned bald eagles.
One of them was euthanized due to the severity of its injuries, and another was brought in for extreme emaciation but could not be saved, White said. He spent two days rescuing and rehabilitating a 10-pound juvenile that was found in Virginia Beach over Memorial Day, which had fortunately recovered and had been released back into the wild.
“It was its first flight from its nest in Virginia Beach and crows attacked it, then it had crashed into an oak tree,” he said. “It was hanging upside down from a limb while people were having a cookout in their backyard. They called, and I went out there to capture it.”
Willis, the 10-year-old male with the iconic white head and tail that bald eagles develop around age 5, was brought in on May 21, White said. He was found in a marsh and had to be chased down, then taken to a vet. His right wrist was dislocated and needed a wing wrap. He then lost all the secondary feathers in that right wing.
“He’s just going to be here to grow feathers,” White said. “He’ll be here for a couple of months, doing wind sprints to keep his stamina up.”
Aella came in on June 25 with a less serious wrist injury compared to the senior Willis. The problem is that the girl is just a fledgling, only a few months old but still about a pound heavier than Willis. White said it’s typical for female birds to be bigger than males.
Normally, a fledgling will soar from its nest to a perch and back, but Aella will have to learn to fly from the ground, where her wings feel that much heavier. That’s why White has been pushing her to run, flap her wings and get off the ground. He said her time in flight school has been going well so far.
“You have to come in here every day, twice a day, and run them until they mouth-breathe. Now I don’t do that to Willis, because he’s got to grow feathers, but I’ll run Aella until she mouth-breathes. This is only her third day in (flight school), and she’s already gotten a foot off the ground and flown 20 feet,” White said.
The prognosis is good for both of the bald eagles, and they should be able to return to the wild. It’s just a matter of time.
“It’s just going to take time to see Willis’s feathers grow back in. I can see by the way he runs and flaps his wings that as soon as he gets enough feathers on that right-hand side, he’s going to be flying. He’s a very wise bird,” he said.
At Alton’s Keep, White and his crew are nearly finished building a new, multi-purpose enclosure with a white-tipped bird in mind.
“Once that is finished, we’ll be able to get our letter of recommendation and start the permitting process through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to obtain an education, non-releasable bald eagle from somewhere in the country,” White said. “They’re everywhere, just looking to be placed.”
He said the tricky and complicated permitting process is going to be worth it for two reasons, the first being the need for another bald eagle rehab center in the region. The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro set a new record with 55 bald eagles admitted in 2017. The population has largely recovered since it nearly went extinct 40 years ago, but eagles still face constant dangers, such as lead poisoning from ingesting ammunition that hunters shoot at deer and other game animals.
Now that Alton’s Keep is permitted for eagles, White will be able to handle some of that load.
“I’ve been rescuing bald eagles for five years and I always took them to (The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.) I’ll take them to Waynesboro if there’s something critical — they have one of the best hospitals for bald eagles in the country — but for minor injuries like a sprained wing, they don’t have to be transported up there,” he said.
The other reason is to have a bald eagle for educational purposes. White has several other educational birds for local programs with kids.
“I want the kids to see something other than a picture in a book or a black dot in the sky,” White said. “You really see the look on the children’s faces when you’re talking about them. They get to look at them and really understand.”
In the enclosure on Wednesday morning, White worked Aella into another sprint and the bird spread her wings — about 5 feet wide — and quickly flew over a log and camo-patterned kiddie pool.
“She’ll learn pretty quickly. She’s got a wise old man to teach her,” White said as he looked at the huddled pair of birds.
Alton’s Keep is one of our partner organizations and frequently brings wild education birds to the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.
Lee always referred to himself as “The Tank Talker”, that is because he was always the Master of Ceremony at the Mid-Atlantic Wildfowl Festival’s floating competitions. He provided the colorful commentary while the judges took their time evaluating each bird entered into the floating competitions. He was a knowledgeable and skilled carver in his own right! He once won a blue ribbon in a decoy competition at the 1972 Ward World Championships in Ocean City, MD.
Lee is one of the original Charter Members of the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild, in fact, he was in the car with Fletcher Bryant on a return trip from Ocean City when they gave birth to the idea of producing a wildfowl festival in Virginia Beach. Can you even imagine how that conversation must have proceeded?
Lee was born in Neptune, New Jersey; but, spent his entire life in Princess Anne County and the City of Virginia Beach. He graduated in 1951 from Oceana High School where he lettered in three sports; Football, Basketball, and Baseball. Below right is his senior picture.
From June 1951 until June 1954, he served in the United States Marine Corps, first in recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and on to infantry training at Camp Pendleton, California. He was selected for service in First Amphibious Tractor Battalion Fleet Marine Force Pacific. In December 1951, Lee joined the 1st marine division in Korea.
After his military service commitment, Lee graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1958 where he played football. Later he earned a Master Degree in Education Administration from The College of William and Mary. In 1958, Lee entered service as a teacher in the old Princess Anne County School System. As
an educator, Lee taught at Aragona and Pembroke Elementary Schools, and served as principal of Pembroke Elementary (1964 to 1969), Virginia Beach Junior High (1969-1981), Lynnhaven Junior High (1981-1984), and the Career Development Center (CDC) (1984-1993) an at-risk high school in Virginia Beach. Lee had a deep respect and love for children.
Lee was an avid reader and especially enjoyed military history. He was interviewed numerous times for documentaries for local and state projects. Lee was also an avid hunter. He hunted the waters of Back Bay for many years and served as a guide for the last hunting party at False Cape Gunning Club.
Aside from his school duties, Lee participated in church and community service. Lee was an active member of Galilee Episcopal Church having joined the Episcopal Church as a choir boy at the age of ten. During the summers he worked for the Beach Life Saving Service and held the position of manager until the summer of 1962. He enjoyed his service on the “Chain Gang” at Princess Anne High School and First Colonial High School football games where Lee’s son, Sam, coached. His commitment to his community included service as a judge on the Virginia Beach Election Board (1953-1969), service on the Mayor’s Veterans Committee (for life), service on the Virginia Crab Commission, and representative on the Virginia Beach Dredge Commission (1964). He was a member of the Masonic Lodge and Khedive Shrine. Lee was an avid supporter of the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. His leadership and his sharp wit will be missed by all of us. Rest in peace my friend, well done.
Beginning on Monday, September 3o, the Atlantic Wildfowl Hertiage Museum will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays until Monday May 25, 2020.
The Lynnhaven River Now Fall Festival will be held on Saturday, October 12, 2019 from 11:00am until 3:00pm’ It will be held at the Mount Trashmore Park, 310 Edwin Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23462. We have rented space at this festival to demonstrate wood carving and other wildfowling arts. It is an opportunity to tell a couple of thousand people about the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.
If you or someone you know would like to demonstrate a wildfowling art or simply inform people about our museum, please contact the museum Director at (757) 437-8432 or email him at email@example.com.
Click here to see the Lynnhaven River Fall Festival Facebook Event.
PLEASE JOIN US September 12, 2019 from 3:00-5:00 PM.
Shore Gallery has come ashore in the heart of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. While SEASIDE GIFTS has been open since May, we would like to celebrate with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Located at 1113 Atlantic Avenue, inside the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and the Historic de Witt Cottage. Reception immediately following. See you at the Shore!!!!
Shore Gallery at the deWitt Cottage Seaside Gifts
Virginia Beach 757-437-8432
Happy Labor Day to everyone, I hope you all have had a great summer and are looking forward to some cooler weather as we all get back into our daily routines.
Speaking of Labor, I would like to recognize our deWitt Cottage Garden Club President, Jacky Richards. For the third year in a row now she and her very small band of helpers have won recognition from the Council of Garden Clubs in Virginia Beach and the Virginia Beach Beautification Commission as an “Award of Merit” Winner! Jacky is usually at the museum daily, as the sun comes up, tending to the museum gardens. Occasionally, her husband Tom, will stop by long enough to break something. Tom also serves on our Board of Directors. Jacky we are very grateful to you for your hard work and leadership in maintaining the most beautiful gardens on the oceanfront, Thank you!
I would also like to recognize our new Events Coordinator, Martha Davenport. Martha is the wife of our Treasurer, Larry Davenport. Martha is working hard to make the deWitt Cottage a prime location venue for weddings, reunions, parties, and any other type of celebration. As a retired accounts manager she brings much needed skills that will allow us, as a venue, to become much more self-sufficient. Martha has already booked two weddings for May of 2020. Thank you Martha!
On Thursday, September 12, 2019 from 3:00-5:00pm there will be an official Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting at the deWitt Cottage for the Shore Gallery Seaside Gift Shop. Rosemary Wilson, Virginia Beach City Council, will be on hand to assist in cutting the ribbon. Sean and Kathleen Rooney, gift shop owners invite you to attend the ribbon cutting. There will be a reception to follow the ribbon cutting.
Finally, Our Museum Membership Meeting will be held Tuesday, September 3, 2019. Our guest speaker will be Chad Boyce from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Chad’s work is primarily on impoundments in S.E. VA with a major focus on restoration of SAV’s (submerged aquatic vegetation) and the Large Mouth Bass fishing in Back Bay. Chad will share interesting info on historical salinity data and other aspects of this constantly changing ecosystem. Chad has been with VA DGIF for 16 yrs. and was previously with VMRC for four years. His work area extends from VA Beach to Emporia and includes the Eastern Shore. Social starts at 6:00pm and the program will start at 7:00pm