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January 09, 2008

ALONG THE WAY: Bald Eagles


bald eagleThis is David Bert with another stop along the way.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... We're going to head up North a couple of miles to a spot around Stewart Point where we saw quite a few eagles. OK, let's speed up a little bit.

In late January Kevin Hendricks and Mike Boyles of the National Park Service completed their annual bald eagle count at Lake Mead. Every winter finds this predator from the north migrating here, and for the last few years the section between Echo Bay and the Overton Wildlife Management area has been a favored hunting ground for these yearly visitors. Armed with that knowledge and the well-trained eyes of Kevin and Mike it didn't take long before we spotted the first of 8 eagles that we would see this morning.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... We're counting eagles throughout the whole arm here. Both immatures and matures, and Mike just saw one over here on the left.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... At least on adult, and maybe an immature.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... Oh, on that bluff over there. Oh yeah. Sitting right together.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... One adult and one immature?

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... Two immatures. Look down lower on the right. Not far from those two. Just down a little bit lower and to the right.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... Oh, OK.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... There's one sitting right there in that tree.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... Well, we hit the jackpot.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... I'm going to turn the engines off.

David Bert... Oh wow, my goodness, that's right there.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... (laughs)

David Bert... Now that's definitely an immature?

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... In the tree? Yes.

David Bert... It blended in so well...

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... OK, that mature bald just took off.

David Bert... Oh darn. Oh there I see him flying now.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... Even this far away the white head sticks out.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... And the tail. See the tail now?

David Bert... I didn't realize that they had such a white tail also. There, he's perched himself there.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... See how that white head shows up from here? It's just like a big reflector.

David Bert... As you troll along looking for Bald Eagles to count Kevin what is it you... how do you look?

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... It's taken me a few years to get the knack of it. We do it once a year, and mostly I just watch the skyline. The ridgelines. For the birds that are silhouetted, perching. They're pretty easy to pick up. Sometimes you'll get them confused with a real dense bush. And then we'll start looking at the other ridges that aren't silhouetted by the sky. We'll just try to look at all the good spots where an eagle would like to perch. You know, good high spots near the water.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... I think once you've seen a few you kind of develop a search image and it starts being easier to pick them out.

The key to finding bald eagles on Lake Mead is knowing where to look. And the answer to that lies in why the bald eagle migrates to Lake Mead for the winter months. Physiologically the bald eagle could winter in the northern climes with no trouble at all, but the problem comes when the lakes and rivers freeze over forcing thousands of eagles to migrate into the lower 48 in search of food. And Lake Mead provides perfect hunting conditions.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... This area I would imagine is nice because they've got a lot of perching areas and yet it's a nice open but calm area of the lake.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... Protected! And I think it's more productive here too right? I always see more waterfowl in through this area. So there may be more prey here for them.

Because of their substantial size it's fairly easy to differentiate between a bald eagle and other predatory birds at Lake Mead like the Red Tailed Hawk or the Osprey, but the difference between the Golden Eagle and an immature Bald Eagle is far more subtle.

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... Mike, how do you tell an immature Golden from an immature Bald? Can you really tell?

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... It's difficult when their sitting perched because the immature Bald Eagles don't have their white head and tail yet. But if you get a look at them in flight it's easier. An immature Bald Eagle has a lot of white streaky feathers on the underside of its wings and belly whereas the Golden Eagles have single distinct white patches under their wings.

But the mature Bald Eagle needs no description to be recognized. The first time you see it in the wild you know immediately what it is.

David Bert... There's one. In flight. Mature. Right there. Just going right behind...

Kevin Hendricks, National Park Service Ranger... Oh yeah.

Mike Boyles, National Park Service Ranger... See the tail and the head?

David Bert... Oh look at that. Look at the size of him.

Perhaps Alfred Tennyson said it best...

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.

David Bert, Mike Boyles, and Kevin Hendricks... Here he comes!

David Bert... Oh! Wow!

See discussion rules.


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