For the Birds: Bald eagles and the Endangered Species Act

Photo by Chris Bosak
A bald eagle at Bashakill NWMA, summer 2019.

Here is the latest For the Birds column …

There is something magical about seeing bald eagles. Thankfully, that magic is being felt more and more lately as the eagle population has rebounded dramatically over the last few decades.

Not long ago, bald eagles were rare sightings. You pretty much had to visit a place where you knew they were nesting or overwintering to see them. Now, bald eagle sightings — especially flyovers — can come from almost anywhere. Last winter, I saw a young bald eagle perched on a snag within a few hundred yards of a busy shopping mall in New England.

A few weeks ago, I took a canoe ride at the Bashakill National Wildlife Refuge in New York and saw two adult bald eagles. I spoke with a man in the parking lot after the ride and he said the pair had fledged two young eagles that year. Scenarios like that becoming more and more common, which is terrific news.

The bald eagle rebound may not be as striking as the osprey recovery, but it’s very impressive nonetheless. According to the American Eagle Foundation, the species was nearly extirpated from the lower 48 states and only a handful of pairs nested in 1963. From 1963 to the early 2000s, the bald eagle population rose gradually, but steadily. The last five years, however, have seen steep climbs in the eagle population to the point where there are now nearly 15,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48. Alaska, for the record, has more than 30,000 nesting pairs.

New Hampshire has seen a similarly dramatic increase in recent years. I remember canoeing on Lake Umbagog not that many moons ago and seeing the state’s only known nesting pair. A few years later I met up with Meade Cadot of the Harris Center and others to inspect a new eagle nest on Nubanusit Lake. It was an exciting time.

As of 2017, according to N.H. Fish and Game, there were 59 territorial pairs in the state and 38 of those were successful in fledging young that year. Since 1988, 427 bald eagle chicks have fledged from nests in the state.

In somewhat recent memory, New Hampshire has gone from one nesting pair to 59. That’s dramatic and those involved with the recovery on the federal, state and local levels deserve a lot of credit. Because of the impressive recovery, bald eagles were removed from the state’s threatened and endangered lists in 2017.

Similarly, the bald eagle has been delisted from protective acts on the national level. In 1995, the bald eagle status changed from endangered to threatened. In 2007, it was removed from the Endangered Species list.

Which brings us to the news that broke last week about the changing of the Endangered Species Act, an important piece of legislation that has been protecting animals in peril since 1973. The changes essentially put a price tag on the habitat needed to save certain species. If land needed for an endangered turtle, for example, was deemed to be extremely valuable as a drilling or logging site, then the land could potentially be used as such. 

I don’t like putting a price tag on animal species and I don’t like politics being involved with decisions on whether or not to protect an endangered species. I can foresee money winning out and crooked politicians getting rich in the majority of these cases, even as the announcement made last week said decisions will be made solely on the “best scientific and commercial information regarding a species’ status.”

I do, however, understand the need for upgraded and additional infrastructure as the U.S. population grows. I can also see how Washington would want to take a look at the Endangered Species Act and make modifications to match today’s needs, but the changes announced last week reek of fraud potential. Money talks, after all. 

The Endangered Species Act has helped to save many animals, some of which were on the brink of extinction. The majestic bald eagle is among them. I’m not against opening up the books to make modifications to the Act, but I hope any changes truly reflect the words of U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, who said: “The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species.”

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Bald eagles steal the show

Photo by Chris Bosak A bald eagle at Bashakill NWMA, summer 2019.

Savanna and I decided to venture outside the friendly confines of New England and take a short drive to the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. It’s a beautiful area teeming with wildlife, great scenery and surprises around every bend as you paddle along the narrow serpentine river. It is a New York state Bird Conservation Area and located between the Shawangunk (“Gunks”) and Catskills mountains.

I discovered this gem of a place when I worked for a short time in Middletown, N.Y. about 20 years ago. I’ve returned now and then ever since, but it had been quite some time since my last visit. So one day last weekend we strapped the canoe on the car the night before, rose before dawn and headed west.

Other than my usual access road being closed due to construction, everything was as I remembered it. The water channel was a bit more narrow than usual, but that’s because it was August and it hadn’t rained in quite some time.

Wood ducks, as usual, were the dominant species. There must be thousands there and we must have seen a few hundred of them. Red-winged blackbirds and a lone kingfisher were other usual sightings. At one point we saw a bush in the distance in the swamp that was literally bursting with swallows. The swallow migration has begun and this bush looked like a Christmas tree covered with live ornaments.

But the most memorable sightings were of the resident adult bald eagles. We saw the male first and then the female. As with most birds of prey, female bald eagles are larger than males. A man we met in the parking lot later — who identified himself as the “local eagle guy ” — who said there were two young eagles that year, too, but they like to stay hidden in the woods away from the open swamp. It was good to hear that the adults continue to have breeding success there.

Bald eagles are making a strong comeback throughout the U.S. and New England and nearby N.Y. are no exception. Just like the tremendous comeback of the osprey over the last few decades, it’s nice to witness another iconic species on the rebound. Now, let’s just keep it that way.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A bald eagle at Bashakill NWMA, summer 2019.

Bald eagle sightings on the rise

Photo by Chris Bosak
A bald eagle perches in a tree overhanging Lake Lillinonah in Brookfield, CT, March 2019.

It’s not quite on par with the great osprey rebound, but the recovery of the bald eagle has been fascinating and fun to watch.

Ospreys, once nearly extirpated from New England, have greatly increased their population over the last few decades. They are now common sightings along New England coastlines. Inland bodies of water are also seeing more ospreys but the increase is not as dramatic as along the coast.

Bald eagles are also becoming a more common sighting. I took a canoe ride on an inland lake in Connecticut yesterday and saw two bald eagles — one immature and one adult. (It takes four or five years for an eagle to get its trademark white head and tail.) Later in the day I drove past Danbury Fair, the state’s second-largest shopping mall, and saw an immature bald eagle perched in a snag in a nearby marsh.

I can’t remember the last time I saw three bald eagles in one day. Now that the weather is getting warmer (kind of) and days longer, eagles will be heading north soon. Many eagles, however, will remain in New England to return to nest sites or start new ones. In recent memory, there were no bald eagle nests where I am in southern Connecticut. Now there are several.

Here’s what All About Birds, a website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says about the bald eagle population: “The Bald Eagle’s recovery is a spectacular conservation success story, and numbers have increased between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 250,000, with 88 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 31 percent in Canada, and 8 percent in Mexico. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, but are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship Species. Once abundant in North America, the species became rare in the mid-to-late 1900s—the victim of trapping, shooting, and poisoning as well as pesticide-caused reproductive failures. In 1978 the bird was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1980, gentler treatment by humans along with the banning of DDT (the bird’s main pesticide threat) have led to a dramatic resurgence. By the late 1990s, breeding populations of Bald Eagles could be found throughout most of North America. In June 2007, the bird’s recovery prompted its removal from the Endangered Species list.”

It’s always good to hear those types of stories.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A young bald eagle perches on a dead tree near Danbury Fair mall in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

Bald Eagle visits pond

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eaglea fies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Bald Eagle flies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

I live on Merganser Lake (real name Lake Waubeeka). A short walk away, down a trail that starts at my backyard, is Little Merganser Lake (really the Beaver Pond.) I like Little Merganser Lake because it is completely undeveloped and isolated. A wide variety of wildlife, mostly birds, can be seen at the lake and pond, but the pond is more productive because of its relative remoteness.

I’ve seen some pretty good ducks and herons down there, but today I saw a Bald Eagle there for the first time. I heard it calling and then it soared overhead. It was impossible to miss. Bald Eagles are becoming more and more popular and nest on nearby lakes such as Candlewood and Lillinonah. So to see one here is not overly surprising, but as I said, it was first time seeing one, so of course I have to post about it.

The photos, admittedly, are not the best because of the gray, drizzly conditions, but you get the picture …

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle flies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Bald Eagle flies over Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., Sept. 2016.

Did the Norwalk eagles have babies yet?

Hour photo/Chris Bosak Rick Potvin, manager of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR, holds a sign before it was posted on Chimon Island on Wednesday. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were on the island to mark off areas to protect a bald eagle nest.

Hour photo/Chris Bosak
Rick Potvin, manager of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR, holds a sign before it was posted on Chimon Island on Wednesday. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were on the island to mark off areas to protect a bald eagle nest.

The answer is a definite “probably.”

I wrote my latest For the Birds column in The Hour newspaper (Norwalk, Conn.) about the topic.

Here’s the start of the column:

Now for the answer to the burning question in the Norwalk birding world: Most likely.

The question, of course, is: Did the Bald Eagles have babies yet?

Again, the answer is “most likely.” Without climbing the tree or somehow hovering above the tree on Chimon Island where the nest is located, it’s hard to tell with all certainty. Since no one is going to climb the tree or otherwise hover above it, it’s basically a waiting game.

The eagles are still out there and one is sitting on the nest at all times. You could see that from Calf Pasture Beach with a spotting scope or good pair of binoculars. In talking with Norwalk’s Larry Flynn, the eagles have been sitting on the nest long enough that eggs would have been laid and hatched by now. Flynn is monitoring the birds for the state DEEP.

The vantage point from Calf Pasture and, indeed, even closer from Long Island Sound, is such that only the adult eagle’s head and maybe part of its body is visible. There is no way to tell what, if anything, it is sitting on.

If there are actually eaglets in the nest, it will be several weeks until they are large enough to be seen in the nest. So we play the waiting the game. Hopefully our patience will pay off and eventually we’ll all get to see fledgings flying about Long

Click here for the rest.

Yes, there are eagles out there

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle preches in a tree on Chimon Island off the coast of Norwalk, Conn., March 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Bald Eagle preches in a tree on Chimon Island off the coast of Norwalk, Conn., March 2015.

I tagged along with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials and staff this week to confirm an active Bald Eagles’ nest on Chimon Island off the coast of Norwalk, Conn. The nest is visible from the coast with binoculars or a spotting scope, so we were all fairly certain of

Hour photo/Chris Bosak Rick Potvin, manager of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR, holds a sign before it was posted on Chimon Island on Wednesday. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were on the island to mark off areas to protect a bald eagle nest.

Hour photo/Chris Bosak
Rick Potvin, manager of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR, holds a sign before it was posted on Chimon Island on Wednesday. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were on the island to mark off areas to protect a bald eagle nest.

what we’d see anyway, but the confirmation has officially been made. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife staff posted more signage on the island and placed additional barriers to protect the eagles, which are safeguarded by state and federal laws.

Chimon Island is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

The laws, of course, do not protect the eagles against annoyed

Ospreys, so a battle may be pending. The eagles have taken over a nest that has been used by an Osprey pair for the last four years. The osprey haven’t returned from South America yet, so it could get interested when they do.

The photos aren’t great, I know, but they are indeed the eagles off the coast of Norwalk.

Here are links to some stories I wrote for The Hour newspaper regarding the eagles.

Bald Eagles may be nesting on Norwalk Island

For the Birds: Have the eagles landed?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirms eagle nest on Chimon Island

A few more northern New England photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014. This loon is transitioning between summer and winter plumage.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014. This loon is transitioning between summer and winter plumage.

Here are a few more shots from my recent trip to northern New England. I’m already looking forward to getting up there again.

I call this one “The one that got away.” I was canoeing on a pond in New Hampshire and focusing so heavily on the loon pictured above that I wasn’t aware of the rest of my surroundings. Suddenly I noticed a Bald Eagle flying away from scene. It had been perched on the top of a pine tree and I completely missed it — well, almost completely. I managed this quick shot of it flying away.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle flies across the autumn scene in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Bald Eagle flies across the autumn scene in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Finally, here’s an American River Otter. There were two of them and it was the first time in years I’ve seen otters while I was canoeing. Unfortunately, this particular morning was very dark and gray, hence the not-so-good quality of the photo.

Photo by Chris Bosak A River Otter looks around a small pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A River Otter looks around a small pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.