I don't know why the bald eagle holds such a special place in my heart, but he does. Maybe it's because he is the symbol of our country. Maybe it's because he is such a bold-looking character, or how he poses himself so proudly. Maybe it's that stare he gives with those yellow eyes, when you are close, that looks deep into your soul. Or how effortlessly he soars through the sky with those broad and powerful wings; if you get close enough, that yellow hooked beak speaks of power and strength while the yellow legs with those long sharp talons demand respect. His occasional scream, as he soars high in the blue sky, puts a chill up my spine, as it seems to say “I'm free and King of the Sky.”
We almost lost our country's symbol due to our careless ways with DDT. Here in New York, in 1976, we only had one nesting pair of eagles in the whole state and they weren't producing because of that “miracle” pesticide. DDT made the eagle's egg shells fragile, which caused them to break as they were being incubated.
Once we found out what this chemical was doing to nature's creatures, DDT was banned, but of course the stuff still remained in the bodies of what was left of our eagles back then. We screwed them up and now it was up to us to save them.
Over a number of years Peter Nye, who was in charge of the Endangered Species Unit of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and his partner Mike Allen, got 198 young eagles from nests (mostly from Alaska, where DDT had not affected them) and hacked them (raised to them flight stage) in special towers. This was done at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge near Seneca Lake, in the Adirondacks and locally at the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area.
The theory was that when these young eagles matured (usually at five years of age) they would nest in those areas and be successful because there was no DDT in their system. It was hoped that these young eagles would bring this magnificent bird back to New York's skies — and it worked.
Of the first four nests from this project one was on Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. This is when I got involved with eagles. Dan Carroll, the biologist who managed the two local Wildlife Management areas, put a camera up by that eagle nest which broadcast the activities back to INWR headquarters, so that the public could watch it up close and personal. What a success that was and I was fortunate enough to be quite involved with it.
Since that first nest I have closely monitored eagles in our area and to say the least it has been interesting and rewarding.
Presently there are 10 eagle nests in this area that I monitor: three on the Wildlife Management areas, five on the Iroquois refuge and two on private land. Today the best place for the public to observe the nesting of our national bird is on the Iroquois refuge at Ringneck Marsh Overlook, which is off Route 63 on Oak Orchard Ridge Road.
My recent adventure with eagles? Well, I was headed down Oak Orchard Ridge Road to the Ringneck overlook when an immature eagle flew in front of me very low and close towards the marsh. My thought was, “he is going going to get himself in trouble,” because nesting eagles are very territorial. Sure enough, just as I was pulling into the overlook, I saw two eagles high over the marsh with locked talons. They cartwheeled down out of the air to eventually hit the water. Eventually they freed themselves; the immature one took off and Ma eagle returned to her nest on the island. I just had to email Peter Nye, now retired, to tell my story. His response was that seeing them hit the water still locked up was something few get to see. I was “high" all day!
Did I catch this amazing activity with my camera? No. It happened so fast that by the time I was able to stop my vehicle and grab the camera it was over. I bet that vision will remain in my mind to my last days, though.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or firstname.lastname@example.org .