Bud's View: The bald eagle has landed
The winter months are the best time of the year for bald eagle observations. Many resident bald eagles migrate south for the winter, but winter is prime time for seeing those that remain, as well as many that migrate from northern Canada. There are about six bald eagle nests in the Lehigh Valley.
Many northern bald eagles spend the winter in northeastern Pennsylvania where the open waters of the Lackawaxen River join the Delaware River. The eagles are easier to spot because of the lack of foliage. Most of the northern reservoirs and lakes were frozen solid this winter. When available, open water provides feeding areas for eagles.
Nine hardy nature enthusiasts spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day traveling by car pool to spot bald eagles in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Monroe, Northampton, and Pike counties; Raymondskill Falls, Dingmans Ferry, Pike County, and on the New Jersey side; and reservoirs north of Route 97 along the Delaware River in New York.
This year was the fifth winter that I guided a group of Lehigh Valley residents on a northern bald eagle tour. The first stop was at the Bushkill boat launch along Route 209 about two miles north of Bushkill, Pike County. The federal government budget sequestration in 2013 seems to have had an effect. There was a gate across the entrance and the road had not been plowed.
We walked in and checked out the area with our binoculars. A few male common mergansers took flight as we approached the edge of the river, but there were no eagles.
We continued on to the Raymondskill Falls visitors' parking lot not far from Dingmans Ferry. Raymondskill Falls, at approximately 150-feet-high, is the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania. It is four feet shorter in height than Niagara Falls, but is much narrower.
Raymondskill Falls has several divides from the head of the falls to the base. There are two viewing platforms: upper and lower. The trails to the falls were somewhat icy. We had to be very careful as we safely navigated the trail to and from the upper viewing area. The falls are definitely worth a trip in any season.
Our first eagle (an immature) was perched in a tree downstream from Dingmans Ferry Bridge on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. Binoculars provided a great view of the young eagle. It takes about five years before the white feathers on the head and tail begin to appear.
We drove on Route 209 through the beautiful village of Milford, Pike County. I recommend Milford as a great place to spend a few days. We went on to Matamoras, also in Pike County, and across the bridge to Port Jervis, N.Y. From there we traveled on Route 97 along the Delaware River.
We found one resident bald eagle sitting in a large white pine tree that also contained a nest (eyrie). The nest is on the Pennsylvania side. The lone eagle took flight, crossed to our side of the river and flew downstream, passing within 30 yards of our position.
We returned to our vehicles and headed west on Route 42 to three New York reservoirs that provide winter habitat for bald eagles from northern New York and Canada. The winter migrants are often chased by resident bald eagles if they venture too near the resident nests.
Five eagles were observed along a stream paralleling Plank Road and the edges of the reservoirs. We returned to Pennsylvania on John Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct, which later became the Roebling Bridge. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Lackawaxen River, not far upstream from where it joins the Delaware River.
The bald eagle numbers were low this year on our annual northern tour. Resident eagles mate in late February and early March.
Bald eagles have made a great comeback since almost being wiped out by pesticides developed for use back in the late 1940's. The most widely-used pesticide, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) created devastating effects on bald eagles and other raptor populations.
DDT was passed up through the food chain. Animals, like the bald eagle, at the top of the food chain suffered cancers and reproductive irregularities. Many died from the ingested DDT. High concentrations of the pesticides collected in their fatty tissues.
The females laid eggs with thin and weak shells. The fragile egg shells cracked beneath the parents' weight during incubation. Raptor reproduction was essentially brought to a halt in the areas where the pesticide was used, including Pennsylvania.
DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 and the raptors began to recover. The combined efforts of government, private organizations and dedicated volunteers brought these majestic birds back from near extinction. Restoration efforts included aggressive reintroduction programs, an increase in raptor protection and improvements in air and water quality.
While there were only three known bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania in 1983, the official nest count has increased to more than 270. The bald eagle comeback has been so successful that the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners voted in January to upgrade the bald eagle's status from threatened to protected.
And that's the way I see it!
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