All Photos By Chris Takacs
Sometimes along life’s journey something very special happens to us, things that can’t always be explained and stay with us, become part of us and find a permanent place in our hearts forever. Things that we wish that someone might share the story in hopes it might be remembered.
These are the times that you go over in your mind while sitting alone in the backyard or just walking down the trail. The times that you think about when you want to know all is right in the world and hold dear forever to remind yourself that good things are worth standing up for and fighting for and, have a purpose. The special ones that in the end make life worth living. This is one of those times. Alice the Eagle is home again.
Many of you might remember the story of Alice the Eagle, who first nested with her mate Al on the Overpeck in Ridgefield Park back in 2011. What seemed like a miracle occurred on Overpeck Creek in Ridgefield Park. What was believed to be just about impossible and could have only happened in another time and place transpired right before our eyes: A pair of American Bald Eagles took up residence in one the most densely populated areas of the country.
These brave Bald Eagles would go on to defy the odds and thrive in an area that no one would have dared believe, or even thought conceivable, as a place that the species would make their homes. But just as these great symbols of our nation that came to be known as Alice and Al began their astounding comeback they immediately came under a serious threat.
Choosing to place their nest on private property that had been slated for a multi-million dollar development project led the powerful powers that be to begin seeking the proper permits to have the nest removed in the name of cleaning up a former dumping ground and in the never ending quest for so called progress. But as with all our Bald Eagles, Alice and Al returned from the brink of extinction and struggled and fought to survive. The people that grew to love them fought back with the very same energy and spirit as these great birds
School children wrote letters and folks organized. Good people of all ages of every political party held signs, made phone calls, signed petitions, and let it be known that these Eagles would stay and no big developer, government agency or anyone else was going to tell them otherwise.
Even after many people and groups said we were wasting our time and could never win we did succeed. And after a long hard struggle Alice and Al finally won. They were allowed to stay and over the years bring forth nine more Eagles into the world to the joy and amazement of all who came to love these two amazing raptors.
In what seemed like a never ending battle with many sleepless nights and long, stressful days people joined together to save something that they felt was bigger than themselves and had succeeded.
But as nature has always done and hopefully always will, the circle of life continued on even at this very special place. Life ends and is renewed and despite our best human wishes and desires one day Alice the Eagle did not return to her nest.
As everyone watched the skies in 2017 preparing for another nesting season and looked for the Eagle with the tracking device on her back and missing wing feather, sadly she did not return. Even as the vigil continued on and another Eagle took her place she would not be seen again gracing the skies of the Overpeck. Where had she gone? We in all likelihood thought we would never know.
Folks for years including myself still looked for Alice. We closely watched the skies hoping to get a glimpse of her so that we could report to everyone that there is no need to worry, that she is doing fine and still patrolling the skies over her ancestral home. There were reports of her. Well maybe, just rumors, never a real confirmation. I felt in my heart that no matter how much I wished I would never see Alice the Eagle again.
One of the last times I was blessed to see Alice the Eagle I was sitting at a picnic table near the Overpeck. I had just gotten off the phone with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. They gave me the news that Alice and Al’s nest would be protected. Later I thought she may have flown over just to say thank you before she left.
Then Came Feb. 8, 2021. “Don, we think we saw an adult Eagle along Valley Brook Avenue outside DeKorte Park,” Chris Takacs told me. “A female adult Eagle seen flying from Berry’s Creek. Eagle had a backpack and antenna. She was spotted eating a duck in DeKorte Park sitting on ice!”
Could this be? My heart raced. No, it must be another Eagle with a transmitter. It could not be Alice after all these years. I immediately contacted Kathy Clark at NJDEP. “No Don, we don’t know of any other eagle with a transmitter except Alice,” she said.
Then two days later another message from Chris: “Berry’s Creek, adult female eagle with backpack was seen flying! Wings outstretched, she has a feather missing from her left wing. It’s Alice from the Ridgefield Park nest!!! It’s her. She is home!”
Where had she been all this time? Where did she go? Was she trying to get home? Through February all eyes in the Meadowlands were on the skies looking for Alice. Then like a story out of children’s book there were two Eagles, both carrying sticks around DeKorte Park and Berry’s Creek. It looked like Alice had found a mate! And just like Alice who never did anything that the books or the experts said she would she decided to make her nest on an old osprey platform and just for good measure it would once again be on private property.
Then we began to scramble to alert everyone we could to be sure she was protected and safe: the NJDEP, the NJSEA and the landowner. Yes, Alice the Eagle was finally home and once again we would be sure we gave her the best chance we could to stay.
As any volunteer with the NJ Bald Eagle project will tell you nesting time is when about three months of nail biting begin. Threats from everything from weather to predators to human interference can cause an eagle nest to fail, Alice was about 17 years old now, well up there for a Bald Eagle, and of course, we were given the job of protecting Alice and her nest.
Yes, we were worried much like mother hens but like the great mom Alice had always been in March she had eggs and in April Alice and her mate brought two more Bald Eagles into the world.
Writing this story I still find it hard to believe; things like this are not supposed to happen. The fact that Alice survived this long is amazing in itself and then of all the places in the country she could have nested she came home. And not only did she come home but she made sure she brought two more Eagles into the world and to make it extra special she brought them to our Meadowlands.
I am sure if I searched hard enough I could find all the scientific reasons I want for the reasons Alice came home. But what I do know is that when I needed her most, when I thought I would never see her again she came home. Through the horrors of Covid to the fears of political unrest she came home. When we thought that there was nothing else to look forward to, when believing in the future or wondering if there would even be a future Alice came home.
Maybe she wanted to remind us that we should never give up, that there are things bigger than ourselves that there are still things still worth standing up and fighting for. Thank you Alice, and welcome home from all of us!