Chasing Golden Eagle 42

WARNING: some of the photos in this post are of animal parts. If you are squeamish, this might freak you out. I don't think this is as gross as previous photos in this blog, but Non Birding Bill frequently points out that I have a very different of definition of gross than most.

Golden Eagle 42 has been on the move. Since I have last posted about the bird, he has already gone down to his presumed wintering grounds near Wabasha, MN, but then headed a bit north again. Now we have more questions. How wide is his winter territory and if it's really wide...are there way more golden eagles than the 80 or so that have been documented about Wabasha, MN?

Mark Martell and I were supposed to have a lunch meeting today, but he called early this morning while I was having a little breakfast and working on the previous blog post to ask if I would mind heading out to see if we could find Golden Eagle 42 who was about 60 miles away and had been hanging out in one spot for a week. How could I say no to tracking a golden eagle with a satellite transmitter by using the gps coordinates sent out that morning--it's like bird geocaching! I met Mark and we headed out.


It was a blast following the directions and then trying to match the roads on Google Earth to the terrain and figuring out the roosting location of this eagle. We figured out where the bird was and presumed that since it's deer season and this is a rural area, the eagle was most likely feeding on a deer carcass. We found a dirt road that matched what was on the Google Map and drove around to speak with landowners to get permission to walk out and check the bird's location. One man was just about to head out with his daughter for some deer hunting. Mark showed him the map and explained about the golden eagle. The man was excited and then pointed to the trees behind us to an eagle perched near it's nest--right at the end of his yard! We got an okay and headed out. The road ended we faced the above corn field--everything matched the map. You can't see it in the above photo, but there was a deer stand behind the tree line on the left. The deer stand was close to where the eagle had been hanging out and added credence to the idea that there would be a deer carcass nearby.


We carefully made our way down between the rows of corn. I always feel weird because I can't see over the corn and feel like something going to come out and grab me. We could hear crows going bonkers ahead of us...could they be excitedly dining on a deer carcass? Or better yet mobbing a golden eagle??


We got to a break in the corn. According to the data of the transmitter, Golden Eagle 42 was hanging out in the stand of trees ahead, about in the direction Mark if facing above. The woods were chock full of crows. Mark suggested that I stay out in the field as he approached. If he flushed birds, I would have a better view of them with my scope and he might miss it being closer. It was a plan.


Sure enough, as Mark carefully approached, a large eagle like bird took off! I did a Fred Sanford, clutched my chest, "It's the big one, Elizabeth!!" I trained my scope on it and just slammed my finger onto my Nikon D40 and took photo after photo, hoping against hope we had flushed our boy.


Alas, the eagle banked and quickly revealed this was an immature bald eagle. DANG! But still cool to see an eagle. Mark motioned for me to join him and we headed to the wooded edge.


We found a trail and figured this must be used by the hunters who use the deer stand. One the right it was flat and on the left was a ravine that went down to the creek, we could hear dozens of crows off to our left and a red-tail screaming above our heads.


At the base of the trail we found lots of poop. Mark and I wondered if this was crow poop, red-tailed poop, or possibly eagle poop. We both wondered aloud how close a carcass would be and then we looked ten feet to our left on the edge of the ravine...


There they were, a pile of deer parts and they looked pretty picked clean. The crows, foxes, coyotes, bald eagles and mostly likely Golden Eagle 42 had been taking advantage of this ample food source. I presume this pile was the result of hunting leftovers, but this could also be a pile from road kill. When I worked at the bird store, the county would drop of road kill deer in the marsh behind the store. I was kicking myself for not bringing my WingScapes Cam to see what comes to the carcasses...I may come back it in a few days. Who knows, maybe there will be fresh deer on the pile?


The carcass still had plenty of food to offer birds like the above downy woodpecker flying in. She landed on the rib cage and carefully peeled off scraps of meat and fat--as did several black-capped chickadees. They were all taking advantage of the original suet feeder.

We did not find Golden Eagle 42 but we had one heck of an adventure. Mark would like to trap a few more golden eagles and put transmitters on them to find out more about their breeding grounds. We're learning some interesting things about Golden Eagle 42, but one bird does not speak for a whole wintering population. Mark got that bird from The Raptor Center, he was found caught in a leg hold trap last winter (that eagle has a thing for scavenging). Mark has tried to trap goldens but with no success. He mentioned that last Spring they tracked Golden Eagle 42 to a carcass in this same county. The carcass was in the woods like this pile, not out in the open. Mark had tried baiting golden eagles out in the open and now wonders if he should try doing it in a wooded area like this carcass.

I love bird banding and all the cool stuff we learn from it. Can't wait to see what else happens with this projects.