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An Uncommon Experience

Posted on Apr 15, 2016

It’s amazing how time flies! As promised, I’ve got a bunch to catch you up on from this past winter. About a month ago, I took a drive down to Pennsylvania to join up with a couple of colleagues and friends to adventure into the national forest to check up on some “eagle cams.” It was a cool morning when we jumped into the truck and drove down a number of muddy forest roads to our first destination. As we drove down the road, the tree line dissipated as we neared a clearing. As we crept up to the opening, a sudden take-off of several large birds ensued. One of which I had never seen prior to this adventure. It’s not everyday that you have the opportunity to see one of North America’s largest bird of prey, especially here in the northeast. As I watched it propel itself forward trying to distance itself from us, I realized that it was in fact a Golden Eagle. As the golden eagle flew, so did several bald eagles that were nearby. Seeing them all fly at once, I could see the size difference and was amazed that there was something out there bigger than a bald eagle!


Pictured here is an adult golden eagle, along with two ravens. Can you see why they call them golden eagles? Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station

Once the eagles were out of sight, we parked the truck and jumped out. In this clearing there was a small tree near the back edge that had a trail camera attached to it’s trunk. Below the camera was a pile of deer carcasses, all of which had met their unfortunate end by a vehicle collision. We approached the camera and inspected the deer pile. This was what had been attracting these large birds of prey right in front of the camera’s sight. Now you’re probably thinking, why would anyone put a bunch of dead deer out to feed the eagles? Well, I learned that this process was being used to monitor predator activity, particularly to learn more about the wintering range and population status of the Golden Eagle. Interestingly, many individuals, organizations and agencies throughout the east are participating in what is often referred to as “camera trapping” in order to learn more about this large bird of prey, as well as bald eagles, hawks, fisher, and bobcats.


A bald eagle coming in for a landing. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.

Upon inspecting the camera and swapping out the filled photo card for a fresh one, we jumped back into the truck to check our second site. The other site was newly established and was untouched by any birds of prey. At the time we were checking the cameras there was a light coating of snow on the ground, so we checked for tracks of other predators as well. Again, no signs of activity.

Bobcats are another predator that is not often seen, due to their secretive nature. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.

Bobcats are another predator that is not often seen, due to their secretive nature. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.

After checking our second site, we got back into the truck and moved on to survey eagle nesting sites. Upon completing our work for the day, I counted up our sightings and concluded that we had seen six bald eagles and one golden eagle. The experience was amazing and I think a fairly uncommon one as I had never seen that many large birds of prey all in one day. Although I’m not that old, I remember when I was young that it was still rather unusual to see a single bald eagle at a time. Its encouraging to see that within my lifetime these birds have been steadily rebounding from the harsh days of DDT pesticides, unsafe electrical wires and outright killings due to fear and misunderstandings. I hope that trend continues throughout the rest of my lifetime for eagles as well as many other species!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician