I can't remember if I blogged this already, but I'm fairly certain that the above is a photo of Golden Eagle 42 that I took last fall. Mark Martell posted updates on Audubon Minnesota's website weekly about this birds fall whereabouts, but kept almost daily track of the bird's movements. I told him that when the bird was close to the Twin Cities to send me as many updates as possible because I'd to see if I could get a photo of him--a sort of bird geocaching project. Imagine my surprise when he sent over a map and I recognized the area immediately: Golden Eagle 42 roosted less than a quarter mile from our bee yard! I went out and spent the day looking at every eagle near our bees and found one adult golden soaring in late afternoon. It was cloudy but I managed to get my digiscoping equipment on the it and got this photo. There's a fairly faint line behind the bird which looks suspiciously like the antennae on 42's transmitter. It's a crap photo and regardless if this is Golden Eagle 42 or not--it's exciting. Either it's our boy (which is totally cool to find a specific bird) or this is a separate golden eagle meaning a few might be spending the winter nearby!
The National Eagle Center has created a survey several winters ago to document the wintering population of golden eagles along the upper Mississippi River. I thought that since Golden Eagle 42 was hanging around the bee yard that I might make that area my survey route. We have bluffs not unlike where I saw golden eagles last winter near the Eagle Center. When I started in the morning, I did not see many eagles--saw tons of red-tailed hawks, but not eagle (not even very many bald eagles, but much of the water in this area is frozen so that is to be expected. I followed the bluffs north of my chosen area, figuring that most of the survey was south.
I got to this bluff and was enjoying the winter colors when I saw an adult bald eagle circling over my car. I scanned the skies and saw an immature bald eagle flying towards the bald. I made it a point to get every immature bald eagle in my binoculars or scope to ensure that I was seeing an immature bald eagle and not a golden.
It was a golden, my jaw dropped. I hustled to get my digiscoping equipment on the bird and this was the most identifiable photo I could get. I really wasn't expecting to get a golden eagle on the survey, I figured Golden Eagle 42 just happened to pass over our bee yard on migration but wow, here was one. I was a good 20 miles from the bee yard at this point but I was still excited to see this bird. Energized, I drove along to scan more of the bluffs.
Son of a gun, a little further north, I found a second one! I was stunned. As I watched this bird, I heard the cray of a red-tail and within seconds one was pumping its wings hard trying to catch up to the golden.
The red-tail flew above the golden and dove down on it several times, screaming. This hawk did not want this eagle in its territory. I've never seen a red-tail dive down like that at a bald eagle, but this bird was seriously driving the golden out of its portion of the sky.
I had a third sighting of a golden eagle, but looking at my craptacular photos, I'm sure it was the same bird i saw the first time, and I was in roughly the same area of the first observation.
I spent the rest of the survey navigating somewhat icy back country roads and avoiding deer. I realized as I went along that I have to change my thinking on all eagles I see in the air and not just dismiss them as bald eagles. How exciting that we have this wintering flock, that we don't know exactly how large that wintering population is or how wide the wintering territory is. Scott Mehus of the National Eagle Center sent out pointers on what to watch for. One thing he suggested was watching for panicked flocks of turkeys running from fields into the safety and cover of the woods. Goldens have been observed preying on turkeys--I wonder if the exploding turkey population has anything to do with this population of goldens? Here's a link to some pointers on watching for golden eagles. I think I'll be watching the bluffs and coulees around the Twin Cities a little harder for the remaining winter months.
I had to throw this in. While I was out searching for golden eagles, I came across what I think might be my dream house: an old silo with a gazebo on top. I wonder if I can talk Non Birding Bill into it?