Raise your hand if you have seen more bald eagles in the past couple years than you have in your entire life before that. My hand is definitely up.
The bald eagle didn’t make it to my life list until 1998 when I was living in the Upper Midwest. Bald eagles migrate along the Mississippi River and overwinter in Red Wing (of work boot fame), Minn., where apparently there is a nice fishing spot in Colville Park. We made a trek to Red Wing in late spring and — check — I made a tick beside “bald eagle” in my Peterson’s. Around eight eagles were perched in trees like forgotten ornaments left on after the holidays.
For years on my list of places I want to go has been Juneau, Alaska; various cruises bring tourists to the Chilkat River where eagles gather in the fall in (according to the cruise lines!) the largest eagle congregation in the world to feed on salmon. But perhaps I can cross the Juneau cruise off my list.
My local bald eagle count starts with seeing one a couple years ago at the Maine/New Hampshire border sitting on the branch of a tree overlooking the Salmon Falls River.
My next sighting was when my husband and I were cruising around Lake Winnipesaukee and spotted a nest in a giant white pine on one of the many points on the Big Lake. Through binoculars we could see that a big white head was popping up over the edge of the nest. We checked in on the nest a few times over the summer and, if it was calm enough and the binoculars didn’t bob up and down, were able to see the babies. That was a real treat.
Last summer as I was walking my emptied wheelbarrow back up to the barn I noticed a large bird flying toward me on my right. I didn’t have to wonder very long if it was a bald eagle — it flew right over my head. It was hard to determine how far above me the eagle flew, but it was close enough for me to see its eagle eye. For the first time, I felt lucky to have gained a few pounds and even with this impressive size the bird seemed to think I was too large for dinner.Just this year so far I have seen three bald eagles. While chatting with a woman at her horse farm along the Merrimack River outside Concord a bald eagle flew overhead toward the river. “Oh my goodness, there’s a bald eagle!” I apologized for interrupting her and her response was, “Don’t worry, a bald eagle is always worthy of interrupting someone.” This seems like a good mantra for any birder. The Merrimack River Valley seems to be home a healthy bald eagle population since a couple weeks later I saw another along the Merrimack in Boscawen — although of course it certainly could be the same one. My most recent bald eagle sighting happened while driving along Route 28 at one the many commuting spots where I look for wildlife. As I drove by and scanned a Barnstead swamp, as I always do, my peek that morning was rewarded with a perfectly clear view of a bald eagle sitting atop a dead tree. I was chatting on the phone (through my built-in Bluetooth system, officer) with a friend when once again I interrupted a conversation to say, “Oh my god, I just saw a bald eagle.” I found it ironic that I was talking to someone in Philadelphia, the home of Ben Franklin who allegedly suggested that the turkey be the national bird.
A visit to the bald eagle in the raptor mews at the NH Audubon site in Concord (a great way to see a bald eagle up close and personal since this injured ambassador has lived there since 1999) seems to confirm my suspicions. “Since 1988, when bald eagles first started nesting again in New Hampshire,” an interpretive plaque says, “a total of 123 young eagles have fledged from nests in the state. Nearly 60 percent of those (73 eaglets) have been raised in the last four years alone.”
According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the bald eagle’s decline was from “habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT.”
And even though we as a nation and as a state seem to have learned a lesson that is benefitting the bald eagle (and us in turn), I think I might still like to go on a Chilkat River cruise in Juneau during bald eagle migration. Seeing one bald eagle intermittently is awesome, but seeing hundreds all at once would be just amazing.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.