Eagles Along The River

I went south of the Twin Cities on Wednesday to give a program and to watch some eagle with my friend Joan. I took a leisurely route down and gave myself plenty of time to stop where I found some good eagle watching. I pulled into Colville Park to take a quick scan. Some of the trees closest to the marina area are gone, I'm not sure if that was from a storm or if they were taken down, which was kind of a bummer because the eagles were a little further away.

While there, I had an interesting interaction. There were people around looking at eagles and walking through the park. I set up my scope right next to my car to take a quick scan. I found one bird that I thought would make an okay photo and turned around to my car door to grab my digiscoping equipment. As soon as I had turned around, a guy who had been walking nearby immediately stepped in front of my scope. I stood and waited to see how long he would look through it--a good two minutes. On the one hand, I don't blame him--I have a GREAT Swarovski spotting scope, I'd want to sneak a peak at an eagle through it if I didn't have one. On the other hand, I would never look through a stranger's scope if they stepped away without asking first and I certainly wouldn't stay there for more than one minute. The longer the guy stood there, the more irritated I got and I tried to figure out just what was bothering me--I lead trips and love to share my scope and when I'm out birding alone and meet up with other people, I'm happy to offer views from my scope--was my irritation simply that this guy assumed he could look through and take so long to do it? I have to admit, I'm getting more protective of it--especially when it comes to digiscoping. I like to let people experiment with the technique, but I'm not thrilled to have someone do it without an adapter and press their camera lens up against my scope's eye piece and scratch it up. I think what was really bothering me was that he was being a scope hog (without having been offered) and I wanted to try and get a photo. Again, I can't blame him, once you look through a Swarovski scope, it is hard to look away.

I also had a chance to stop by the new National Eagle Center in Wabasha--WOW! I knew Mary Beth, the founder when she worked at The Raptor Center and it's so cool to see how she took this idea of an eagle center that started in a small shop and is not a big building with fun displays, live birds and wild eagles soaring around outside the building. If you have cabin fever, this is a great day trip.

Here is Joan with one of the center's eagles...I think this is Angel. When I was asked to come down and speak, Joan offered to let me sleep in her guest room and if I would be interested in driving around the river bluffs looking for eagles (maybe even a golden eagle. Oh, and if I wanted, we could go to wear some of the chicken farms dump their dead birds and could see a bunch of eagles, if I wanted. Dead chickens and eagles?? Who could say no to that?

There were quite a few common mergansers (above) and even a few goldeneyes out on the open patches of water. I was surprised to see so many this time of year, but they were a welcome site.

When Joan took me out Thursday morning, the habitat on top of the river bluffs was just spectacular. Some light clouds would burst with snow and stick to the trees, frosting them white. We didn't see many birds, but the trees more than made up for it. We did see a couple of rough-legged haws and their plumage was the perfect accent to the bluffs.

Our main goal was to spot a golden eagle amidst all the hundreds of bald eagles. The spot in the above photo was in Wisconsin and reliable for finding goldens. A few winters ago, birders around Winona, MN and right across the river in Wisconsin were reporting golden eagles. At first, the reports were ignored as many assumed people were mistaking young bald eagles for golden eagles. Photos were taken, sightings were documented and a few more were seen the following winters. Now, there is even an organized count that happens every January and this year, they tallied 60 golden eagles--37 birds the day of the count and 23 seen during the week at different locations.! Where do they go in the go in the spring? Where are they breeding? Will the winter population continue to grow? So many questions.

Joan scanned the bluffs, and at the top of this bluff, she found a large dark lump in a tree. You could even make out the perched lump with the naked eye. We put or binoculars on it and could see it was an eagle, but we put the scope on it:

With the sixty power zoom, you could tell without a doubt it was a golden eagle--you could even see the golden hackle feathers. Mission accomplished!

We continued to drive around and found bald eagles all over. Here are a couple of adults working a deer carcass. This was someone's yard and there were a couple of deer carcasses for eagles and they were also full of starlings.

Joan took us out in search of fields spread with fresh chicken manure--they would be full of eagles of all ages. We found one field that had 35 bald eagles foraging! So, what's the interest in the manure?

The birds were eating something. This photo looks like the adult is eating from a pile of crap and the young eagle is looking down as if to say, "We seriously don't have to eat chicken poop to survive...do we?"

Here the adult eagle clearly has a chunk of something--there must be chicken carcasses mixed in with the manure. I can't imagine that just chicken excrement alone would be enough to feed an eagle.

Whatever is in the field, the eagles are diggin' it. So, if you're going along the river and you're not seeing eagles, find out where the chicken farms are located and check that out.

At the end of the day, I headed back towards the Twin Cities. It's fun to pass through the little towns on the river and still see the eagles hanging out over the roads and neighborhoods.

Speaking of river towns, doesn't this little shop sound interesting? Because when you think an appetizing sounding phrase of confectionery, coffee, and gift collectibles, you think Beef Slough.