Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fly Like an Eagle

Back when the Bald Eagle was chosen as our national symbol over the Wild Turkey, there were over 100,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. By 1905, there wasn't a single nesting pair in the state of Iowa and perhaps only 4000 bald eagles left in existence.  The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940 to help turn those numbers around and in 1978 the Endangered Species Act also included the Bald Eagle.

It was 1977 when Iowa finally hosted the first nesting pair of Bald Eagles in almost 70 years. So when I tell you that in my youth, seeing eagles was almost so rare that when you finally saw your first one, you remembered that experience. My first time happened along the Mississippi river when my parents loaded us up in the car in the very early 1980's and drove all that way to spend the day eagle watching. I saw two or three bald eagles that day a long ways away and through a telescope.

Since that time, Bald Eagles have been a tremendous success story and now if I want to see one, I just have to go down to the river a mile from my house and look up in the trees. There are so many that I can even get quite close to them and get some decent pictures. Such was the case two weeks ago when one of those rare warm sunny days in mid-January occurred and we like so many other people decided to get out of the house for awhile and go for a walk. Along the river trail we came across this family of eagles. There was two adult bald eagles and two immature bald eagles whose white head feathers were just starting to show themselves. I should also mention that the river trail we walked on was right below a dam which keeps the river open year round while the rest of it downstream is frozen over.

I tried to get them all in one picture but one of the immature eagles refused to sit on the same side of the tree as the others and the only lens I had was a telephoto lens. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but because I was so close to the eagles, my field of view just wasn't big enough with it. It was a nice problem to have. I also spent some time trying to catch a good eagle in flight picture but the best I could come up with is the slightly blurry one below. The rest were really blurry or didn't show the spread wing look I was trying to capture. The ultimate shot I had hoped to get was of one catching a fish and although they flew around looking quite a bit, I never saw one catch a fish while I was there.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading in the National Geographic that the railways did sterling work putting nesting platforms atop poles and posts they had along the lines. And in a later edition I remember the photos of the bird zapped by high tension electric wires. So the power companies were drawn in and started putting reflectors and whatnot on the wires but more important nest platforms above the huge masts but way of public relations. Again from what I remember reading in those mags. One of the main reasons for the success was the very abundance of carrion since agriculture over the previous 150 years had rid the place of all higher tier flesh eaters leaving only fly and maggot to remove the natural predation by-in-large.
We are on a major reintroduction of Eagles from Scandinavia and eastern Europe in general. But some fools have taken the stance of 'not on my land' and put out bait.

Ron said...

Nice photos... mighty birds!

We saw one not too long ago, less than a mile down the road, perched in a tree. It was startling to see a bird of prey that big on the side of the road.

Friends were raising sheep, and had one build a nest right by the pen. Raising prey animals in a "natural" environment, and encouraging the proliferation of predators are not real compatible objectives... people would better appreciate both sides of the issue if they suffered losses.

Ed said...

Vince - I think stopping using DDT which killed off the eagles in the first place was largely responsible for their successful increase in numbers here in the states. We still have lots of upper tier predators around for competition but we mostly see the eagles around bodies of water where they fish for their food.

Ron - Yikes. I wouldn't like an eagle nest right near my lambing pen. One of the things I have noticed with the proliferation of 'eagle cams' is that they rarely go for something that big. Mostly I see them catch fish, snakes and small rodents.