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Posted In: Birding

Osprey, eagle battle over downtown Richmond

Chris Johnson

April 22, 2014 10:34pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Johnson has been a longtime friend of RichmondOutside.com. We’ve featured his photos here since we revamped and re-launched back in the fall. A local physician and Collegiate School grad, he spends a lot of time outdoors photographing Richmond’s natural beauty. Earlier this week he took his camera to the Floodwall and came back with this report. This is the third in an occasional series.

An osprey in downtown RVA doing what it does best. Credit: Chris Johnson

An osprey in downtown RVA doing what it does best. Credit: Chris Johnson

Over the weekend my wife Lynn and I took our almost-3-year-old son to the Floodwall. I think it’s a great place for kids since there’s no immediate threat to fall in the water — We had taken him to the Pipeline a few days prior, which was a little nerve wracking — and there’s plenty to see that’s exciting: the river, the birds, the trains, the big buildings of the city and any airplanes or helicopters that happen to fly over.

I had literally just told Lynn that bald eagles are pretty common along the James River, but that I had never seen one in person when not more than a minute later I saw two bald eagles perched on a dead tree on Shad Island. Since it was a family outing, I hadn’t brought my camera gear. Instead I took numerous really bad iPhone photos, knowing that the quality would be very poor.

I’ve been back every day since and have seen eagles each time (as many as three). The most exciting was yesterday when I witnessed a bald eagle fly over to an osprey with a fish in its talons. The eagle harassed the osprey so much that it finally dropped the fish. The eagle then did a nosedive as fast as it could towards the fish and tried to grab it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to get it and the fish fell back into the James. No winners in this fight — dead fish and no food for either the osprey or the eagle.

The eagle harasses the osprey until it drops the shad. Credit: Chris Johnson

The eagle harasses the osprey until it drops the shad. Credit: Chris Johnson

I had read about this behavior online as well as on the sign at the Floodwall lookout (see photo below), and I’d even seen a video on YouTube but had never witnessed it in person. The more amazing part to me was that it was happening right in downtown Richmond with the city skyline as the backdrop. I don’t know how many other places are fortunate enough to have such wildlife in middle of downtown, but I bet it’s a rarity.

The eagles had been perched on their tree for well over an hour with the osprey catching numerous fish. I don’t know what it was about this particular osprey or fish that made the eagle leave the tree, but within a matter of seconds the eagle had covered good ground and snuck up on the osprey.
I’ve photographed a fair amount of nature and wildlife over the years, but one thing that struck me yesterday morning occurred while I was driving on the Downtown Expressway to the Manchester Bridge: I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a location that involved going into a city alongside morning commuters. We’re fortunate to live in such a unique river town.
The eagle goes after the shad in mid-air. Credit: Chris Johnson

The eagle goes after the shad in mid-air. Credit: Chris Johnson

About Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is a Richmond native and local physician who spends much of his free time photographing the area's natural beauty. Find him on Instagram at @vintage_RVA