Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Gathering of Eagles

The American Bald Eagle was nearing extinction 35 years ago. Now they have recovered to the point where they are being removed from the Threatened list. Just as people caused their decline, people then promoted their reintroduction in appropriate areas for their well-being. Education about these marvelous birds among ordinary people also contributed to their recovery.
We just returned home from our third Kentucky State Parks Eagles Weekend, this year at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park on Kentucky Lake. A naturalist from Land Between the Lakes described Kentucky Lake as "Eagles' Paradise", with over 300 miles of relatively undisturbed wooded coastline along the lake. There is a resident breeding population, as well as the visitors who come from up north to winter in the mild unfrozen waters of the lake. In less than 48 hours, we saw about 73 Eagles! Since we saw many other kinds of birds too, I will break this trip into three separate blog entries: Eagles, Ballard WMA, and other birds and waterfowl. As always, click any picture to get a larger view of it.
The Parks do a great job offering different alternatives for viewing the eagles. My favorite is the CQ Princess, an enclosed boat that travels up and down the lake shore at speeds favorable to finding and viewing the Bald Eagles as they perch in trees along the water's edge. It helps that a knowledgable naturalist is onboard with stories and guidance on finding the birds. Since the trees are dark and the eagles are dark brown, it takes some practice to spot them, even when someone else is standing there giving directions. "See the cliff, and the white sycamore tree? Look just to the right and about 3/4 of the way to the top of the tallest tree." A good pair of binoculars are a must, and this is where you learn to use them. One guide said look for a football shape with white on the top, and that's a pretty good summary of what they look like. The juvenile eagles are all brown, and more difficult to find. Cloudy weather also affects their visibility, but when they fly it just takes your breath away! There is a nest on the park property, with a pair fondly known as Elvis and Priscilla. Although we found the nest, we weren't lucky enough to see Elvis and Priscilla cleaning house.
Van trips go to Land Between the Lakes led by experts from Ky. Fish and Wildlife or Naturalists from LBL. Having done that trip for two years, we decided to drive to some of the coves on our own this year. At Smith Bay, we found an eagle on a nest. The vans from the official trip were there too, and the drivers agreed that this was a new nest, smaller than the ones usually found. With the bare eye, all you see is a white spot, but the spotting scope was great to watch her with. Last year at Duncan Lake, the eagles gathered in late afternoon, and called back and forth as they bedded down for the evening. This year, we were there in the morning, and saw at least 8 mature eagles flying in courting behavior! Sometimes we would see one adult and a juvenile in the same tree, a mother and child from last season the experts say. Someday, I may have to break down and spend about $3,500 on a camera and really good long lens for situations like this. But for now, I'm fairly pleased with what I got. After a while, I remembered that the camera can also take QuickTime movies, and got Eagles in flight as a movie.
On Friday evening a speaker talks about Eagles and briefs any newcomers in the audience on what they should expect. On Saturday, a live raptor program traditionally comes with birds that have been injured or are in some other way unable to be released to the wild. These birds have certainly caught my interest every year. When I retire, I hope to work with the Kentucky Raptor Rehab program in just this way. It's great to watch the kids in the audience waving their arms to answer questions about the birds. This year David Haggard from Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee brought his Bald Eagle (the picture at the top), and it was really an adventure. This Eagle kept staring intently at the bald head of the guy in the front row! I wonder what it was thinking about.... Dave says that most raptors can make you cry if they injure you, while an Eagle can put you in the hospital. His bird got a little excited, and put a claw through the Kevlar glove right into Dave's finger. He was fine by this morning though. (Dave that is, don't know about the bird!)
My next entries will talk about our trip to Ballard Wildlife Management Area with both Eagles and Snow Geese in abundance.

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