Tig Tillinghast - Thetford, VT
You may remember my lament in my 2015-01-13 posting, “Eagle Scouting,” that several hours in the field dedicated specifically to find bald eagles produced no sightings of our “national bird.” But as Willie Nelson once crooned, “What a difference a day makes.” Over the last two weeks there have been a number of bald eagle sighting more than making up for January’s disappointment.
First, how about the results of this past January’s mid-winter bald eagle survey? NH Audubon Senior Biologist and Raptor Specialist Chris Martin posted the following. “The 2015 count results are truly remarkable! We shattered last year’s Count Day total and posted a new state record high for number of Bald Eagles seen. ……. Overall, a record 102 volunteer observers participated in the 2015 Count Day, and located 90 individual eagles on Count Day alone, surpassing 2014’s previous high of 67 birds by an astonishing 34%.” The 2015 total was triple the 30 counted in 2001.
My first post-bald eagle count encounter was at Lyme's Post Pond. I was leaving a friend's on Post Pond Lane when a juvenile suddenly appeared from behind the treeline swooping low over an open field in front of my truck. A fellow Conservation Commission member had told me of recent bald eagle sightings at the pond, but those reports were of an adult. This juvenile meant there were two different birds in the area.
The next bald eagle sighting came a couple of days later in Orford when two adults were observed at a site that has been home to a nesting pair for the last several seasons running. In 2014 no bald eagles were fledged there. The incubation was not successful. Seeing these two adults raises hopes that there will be another attempt in this year. A birding colleague has seen the pair several times since further heightening expectations.
The next sighting was not so out of the ordinary but gratifying just the same. As often happens when I am in that area, I swung by the Wilder Dam to try my luck. After about ten minutes I located a solitary adult in a tree on the right bank about 100 yards downstream from the dam. Were the six common mergansers fishing the water just in front of the dam aware they were not alone?
A bald eagle bonanza occurred last week thanks to a tip from a Thetford birder who posted observing and photographing two immature bald eagles scavenging a winter kill on the banks of the Ompompanoosuc River where it parallels Campbell Flats Rd. in Norwich. I headed over and after some searching located the birds, or should I say they located me? It was their flight up and away from the water’s edge that tipped me off to their location. Obviously, they’d seen me first. They disappeared into nearby white pines, and I scanned the spot. There on a birch branch above the kill site was what appeared to be a third bird. I say “appeared to be a third bird,” because I did not feel absolutely certain I had seen two birds fly from the site, my vision being somewhat obscured by branches. Later, inspecting the photos that had been posted, I could see the two eagles in the photos did not have the same markings as the bird I saw on the branch. Almost certainly there had been three birds. The next day the photographer returned and indeed confirmed a third bird.
Over the weekend, my bald eagle tipster discovered a fourth bald eagle, an adult, feeding on a carcass near the overpass that carries I-91 over VT Rt. 132. I couldn’t get over to see, but his photograph perfectly captured the moment.
These recent sightings and the great success of this year’s mid-winter survey gives evidence that the bald eagle really has re-established itself in the Upper Valley. Sightings of bald eagles may become commonplace, but for me that will make it no less thrilling to watch one circle lazily on a thermal or beat its way purposefully up the Connecticut River.