Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 18, 2007

Big League Farm Clubs

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:50 pm

Part I : The Eagles

  Several years ago I had the opportunity to bear witness to a miraculous event. A pair of Bald Eagles had successfully produced the first chick born in Wayne County in nearly a century (the site is extremely close to the Monroe County boundary). That nest was located on the property of Lake Erie Metropark on the north bank of the Huron River at Lake Erie.  This Centennial Eaglet, dubbed “Jennifer,” was tolerant, but not too happy about her introduction to the human world.

  A team, led by Biologist Dave Best of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ventured into the Cottonwood lot to document the bird. I was there to assist, but didn’t do much but gawk. A climber deftly scaled the tall tree to the brim of the nest some 50 feet up and plucked the young bird out. The eaglet was placed in a backpack and carefully lowered down to the ground via a rope.

  Jenny took all of this with a quiet, but defiant look in her eyes. She was probably 50 days old at the time, so her body size was close to adult. Her massive talons were well proportioned and ready to inflict injury, so these were tightly held by her captors. Most of the downy feathers were gone at this stage and she was clad in the chocolate brown feathers of a first year bird.

 Once brought to ground, she was quickly fitted with a colored band on one leg and an aluminum band on the other. After a blood sample was taken and a few pictures snapped, Jennifer was raised back into her nest. During all this activity, the attending adult bird didn’t attempt to attack the climber, as is typical with this species.  It simply circled nervously overhead and twittered. Should Bald Eagles ever get into their minds to attack, the whole banding scene would change dramatically. Suffice it to say, however, that the climber wore a hard hat just in case.

  Over the intervening years, this same Huron River pair has produced a number of young.  The local eagle population, as a matter of fact, has performed admirably to nurture the next generation of eaglets.  There are about a dozen nests within the immediate area of Monroe & Wayne County and the near Canadian shore. Eagles are now a regular sight at all seasons.

  This year I wasn’t able to accompany the team to the Huron River nest. The original nest was blown down a few years ago, but the pair re-built in the same woodlot. An initial flyover conducted by the Michigan DNR, indicated the possibility of two young, but were unsure. On Wednesday, May 16, Dave and his crew returned to the nest to assess the situation from the ground. “We got one big black bird (at this stage of growth, the eaglet is termed a “black juvenile” because is has lost the fluffy gray down feathers and is covered with dark feathers), she was very healthy and about 54 days old,” according to Mr. Best. “She was a little big, so there was a bit of a struggle, but it was banded, samples were taken and it was put back. Things went well.” 

  The banding crew has been very busy lately as they try to reach as many regional eagle nests as possible before the young leave the nest.  Thanks to the success of the Bald Eagle farm clubs, like our Huron River pair, future players for the national league are guaranteed.

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