Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Golden Day

Life Bird: Golden Eagle!!
Yesterday was one of those unforgettable days. I set out in the sub-zero morning, my car loaded with birding gear, extra boots, hats, mittens and gloves. My destination was the National Eagle Center about 100 miles south in Wabasha, Minnesota. I was meeting my birding friend Ruthie. We were attending a class on Golden Eagle identification followed by a field trip into the bluffs area nearby to scout for Golden Eagles.

On January 15, Scott Mehus, the Education Director for the National Eagle Center will be coordinating the Seventh Annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey. Last year 140+ observers counted nearly 100 Golden Eagles in the survey area!

Ruthie and I took notes during the seminar, quickly memorizing the field marks differentiating Golden Eagles form Bald Eagles. We were fortunate to snag a ride with Scott for the field trip so we could get extra information and a narrative during our ride through the bluffs.

A few miles across the river into Wisconsin Scott pulled over to point out an area where he knew a pair of Goldens had an established territory. He had explained that unlike Bald Eagles, which like to choose perches near the tops of trees or out on the edges of clear areas, Goldens more often were found within the tree canopy. We scanned the bluffs for dark shapes and spotted a pair, far off in the distance.

A lone Golden Eagle


Back in the van we headed off to another pair's territory. Again, they were quite a way off and appeared as lumps to me.

Our last stop was another pair's territory. We were positioned between two bluffs and Scott told us that the pair routinely would fly from the bluff on the left to the east, across the road and up to a bluff on the west to roost for the night. He said it would be our best chance to see Goldens in flight. Within minutes of his explanation he shouted "Here comes the male!" I left my camera in the van and simply watched with binoculars, in awe of the magnificent bird overhead. Just as the male crossed over to the other bluff, the female came out from behind the tree line to to east. She was gorgeous! Again, I purposely left my camera in the case so I could just watch. As both eagles disappeared behind the trees in the west, Scott mentioned that they might come back and roost in a visible spot. Sure enough, the female did. Finally, I took out my camera and grabbed a shot of her silhouette in the far distance. After a few moments, we started back to the van to head back when someone shouted that one of the eagles was back up in the air.

It was the male flying back over our heads. The male went on to fly back and forth across the sun exposed face of the bluff to our left. He was actively hunting! We learned that the majority of the Golden Eagle's prey in this area is squirrels and Wild Turkeys. I grabbed my camera (without mittens) and took photo after photo. It was so cold my fingers went numb and my camera couldn't process the photos as fast as I was taking them. Auto focus started to get sluggish and I had to quit.

But I had enough.

Life bird!

I smiled the whole way home.


Note to self: Buy hand warmers to keep in the car.




Anyone within driving distance to the National Eagle Center should consider attending one of Scott's seminars. There is another coming up this Saturday, January 8 at 1pm. They are always looking for volunteers for the Wintering Golden Eagle Survey, always on the third Saturday of January. If you can't visit this year, think about next year. I would like to go to the seminar again next year. It's terrific information and I would like to try to see an immature Golden Eagle.

19 comments:

Grizz………… said...

Well, that's sure one terrific way to start off the new year's birding! Great shots!

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Contests on this fabulous lifer.
This is a spe tabular bird.one I have been fortunate to see in spring during our local hawk migration and watch.
I am eagerly waiting for spring and this annual event.
Blessings,Ruth

Montanagirl said...

I would be smiling too! They're such a beautiful bird, and rather hard to capture photos of - you did a great job!

Eve said...

What a fantastic day Lynne!

sandy said...

Great photos, Lynne. I have never seen one in real life. You sure fill your days with fun things.

forestal said...

wonderful - i hope to see one someday myself.

dan

RuthieJ said...

Exactly like I remembered (except much warmer when viewed at my computer in my warm house). I'm so glad I was able to share this spectacular golden eagle event with you Lynne.
HUGS!!

KaHolly said...

Oh, Lynne, what beautiful captures of this incredible creature!! I've seen one, twice, but not quite as well as you! They are quite uncommon in NE/Atlantic Canada. Congratulations. ~karen

Cindy said...

what a thrilling account of your trip Lynne. Goldens are special, what a splendid way to start the new year!

Jayne said...

Amazing Lynne! I can just see the smiles on yours and Ruthie's faces as you got to witness this!!

JKoenig said...

I bet you're still smiling....What terrific pictures!!!

Carolyn H said...

Lynne: i'm glad to see your blog is back in action again! And your eagle photos are great! No wonder you smiled the whole way home.

Carolyn H.

Wren said...

Great photos, Lynne! And what a great bird to get such a good look at.

troutbirder said...

Oh wow. Amazing Lynne. And so close up. I saw three Goldens last year on the survey but nothing even near this close. And then redpolls.
btw Please send that hoary redpoll you reported on the listserv south to Spring Valley. Tell him its warmer her and the bird feeders are well stock. Can you tell its been a while since I've had a "lifer." :)

The Early Birder said...

Congrats on the lifer Lynne and a great way to start your year. FAB.

Kathiesbirds said...

Wow! WOW! WOW!!!!!! Congrats! And if I lived near there I would definately attend!

Larry said...

Fantastic! Golden Eagles are rarely seen in Connecticut other than an occasional one during Fall Hawk migration.Congratulations!

dguzman said...

WOW!

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