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Speaking of Eagles

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

 

While I was on the Delaware Sojourn, Don Hamilton of the National Park Service, did a presentation on the Bald Eagles in the Delaware River Valley.  We watched a nest from an island some distance away as he spoke.  He told us that breeding pairs had a territory of roughly 5 river miles.  I found that pretty interesting. 

I often see Bald Eagles as I paddle my canoe between Easton and Riegelsville.  Spending time on the Towpath, the River, or even Mariton’s overlooks is a good way to see an Eagle.  Your odds are increased at this time of year, because the young are off the nest and adults are still mentoring them.

Another amazing number:  the Pennsylvania Game Commission knows of 206 active Bald Eagle nests this spring. Thirty years ago, they started an Eagle Recovery Project because there were so few nesting eagles in the state.  Now there are eagles nesting in 51 of the 67 counties.  That is a wildlife management success story for the books.  Thanks to the Clean Water Act, the banning of DDT, and a great fishery, the Bald Eagle has made a healthy return to our watershed. 

 

The Bald Eagle That Wasn’t Bald

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

Earlier this week, I was canoeing on the Delaware River Sojourn.  We saw lots of Bald Eagles each day, and even had a program on Eagles as one of the educational programs.

I saw an unbelievable sight involving an Eagle.  A few of us were paddling out front when an immature Bald Eagle appeared overhead.  It was being chased by Tree Swallows.  The most aggressive of the swallows landed on the Eagle’s head!  At first I couldn’t believe my eyes, but then I saw it disengage from the Eagle’s head, and land again… and again.  It was only 60 feet above us when it happened, so I got a very good look.  Each time, the swallow stayed attached for at least 10 seconds.  Even if I had doubted my eyes, there were five other paddlers who confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming.  We all turned to each other afterwards and said in unison, “I’m glad you saw that too.  No one would believe me.”

Bald Eagle Chicks at Tinicum Marsh

 

By Kirsten Werner, director of communications

Photo by Adrian Binns, FOHR

The Friends of the Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum reported earlier this week that Bald Eagle chicks have hatched. Or perhaps there’s just one chick–the nest is 80 feet up in a tree, so it’s tough to tell the exact number! This is the third consecutive year that Bald Eagles have nested at the 1,000-acre refuge.

Once a common sight in North America, the number of Bald Eagles plummeted in the mid-20th century due to habitat loss and the use of DDT, a pesticide that caused sterility or the inability to lay healthy eggs. But thanks to conservation efforts and a ban on DDT, the species’ population has rebounded from the brink of extinction. It was officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995.

At Natural Lands Trust, we’re always happy to hear news of wildlife thriving. It’s further evidence that protected open space is critical for a diverse and healthy natural world. After all, without the trees to nest in and the marshes to hunt for food, the only Bald Eagles at Tinicum would be on the bumper stickers of football fans’ cars!   

But we’re even more interested than usual when it comes to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, since we can trace our history back there. In 1953, a group of avid bird watchers came together as volunteers to protect these very marshes and soon found themselves in the vanguard of the private conservation movement.

Allston Jenkins

Allston Jenkins

In the years that followed, the group—known as the Philadelphia Conservationists—preserved natural areas, wetlands, and forests along the East Coast and even as far away as Costa Rica. In the early 1960s, they established Natural Lands Trust as a vehicle to permanently own and care for land. Thus began the building of what would become Natural Lands Trust’s 21,000-acre (and growing) network of nature preserves.

The Philadelphia Conservationists were led by an unlikely hero. Allston Jenkins was an accountant who was new to birding, going to ornithological classes with his wife as a way to get out occasionally and, according to his daughter, “enjoy a night away from the kids.” When Allston learned of the threat to fill the Tinicum marshes with dredging material, he began an association with our organization that would span five decades as both President of the Board and Executive Director.

To our friends at the Heinz Refuge, we extend our congratulations and wishes for many happy returns—of the eagles, that is!

Bald Eagles are frequently spotted at many of our preserves, most recently at Binky Lee, Hildacy Farm, and Gwynedd Wildlife Preserves, and Glades Wildlife Refuge. Grab your binoculars and come on by!

 

Eagle vs. Seagull

The McCausland family had an unexpected visitor over the holidays. A Bald Eagle has been hanging around their property, the iconic Erdenheim Farm in Montgomery County and protected through conservation easement with Natural Lands Trust. Chris McCausland was able to capture these images of the eagle just after successfully capturing a seagull.

 

 

Due to habitat loss and the use of a pesticide known as DDT, the number of nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in Pensylvania plummeted during the second half of the 20th century. Though DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, as recently as 1980 there were only three nesting pairs in the state. 

In 2006, a major milestone was reached for Bald Eagles in the U.S. when they were removed from the federal list of Endangered Species. They are still considered a “threatened species” in Pennsylvania, but have rebounded. Protected open space for hunting and nesting — like Erdenheim Farm — is critical to their survival. 

Erdenheim Farm is the crown jewel of 2,000 acres of nearly contiguous open space in the Wissahickon Valley between Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Fort Washington State Park in Whitemarsh. In 2009, 426 acres were preserved, ensuring that the sweeping vistas remain intact… forever.

Erdenheim Farm - photo courtesy of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

Daytop Village Outdoor Adventures

For 13 years, Steve Eisenhauer—our New Jersey regional director of protection and stewardship—has led outdoor education programs s for students from 1st grade to graduate school. Activities focus on Natural Lands Trust’s preserves or other publicly accessible locations near these preserves in Cumberland, Salem, Cape May, and Atlantic Counties. Recently, Steve has had the pleasure of working with 30 teens from Daytop Village, a substance abuse treatment facility established in New York City in 1963 that has a residential campus in Cumberland County.

Over the past two months, Steve has led Daytop Village students on two kayak trips conducted over multiple days. On the first day, Steve taught safety skills and the basics of kayaking, and talked with the kids about the role of public property (land, water, and air) in society. The groups then explored Union Lake and the Maurice River, just upstream from our Harold N. Peek Preserve. After that, Steve visited their classroom to give an interactive presentation about exploring similar publicly accessible open space in the students’ home communities throughout New Jersey. The responsibilities of using public open space were emphasized, as was the wide range of this space: structures, sidewalks, roads, parks, rivers, beaches,  the ocean, and even the air (i.e. when you buy a house how high up can you build, and at what point does the air become public open space?).

With the onset of cold weather, the program is shifting to hiking adventures. A trip to the old growth forest of our Glades Wildlife Refuge is likely to be one of these hikes, as will visits to the trail systems of Parvin State Park and to the Maurice River Trail in Millville.

The pictures above show the students on their kayak adventures, which included spotting one of the five Bald Eagle pairs nesting within the city limits of Millville, NJ. These two particular eagles were seen only a half-mile from downtown Millville.

Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve: Bald Eagle Sighting

Recently, two members of our stewardship staff spotted a Bald Eagle flying over our Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve. They watched, mesmerized, as it soared past Swedesford Road and out of sight.

Within minutes the raptor reappeared only to land in the lone hickory tree out in the middle of the warm season grass meadow. The bird rested just long enough for staffer Steve Longenecker to a get a shot with his camera. It was only the second Bald Eagle sighting at the preserve to the best of anyone’s memory.

 Here are some facts on this spectacular species:

– The Bald Eagle is the second largest North American bird of prey after the California Condor.

– The Bald Eagle prefers habitats near rivers, large lakes, oceans, and other large bodies of open water with an abundance of fish. The species requires old-growth and mature stands of coniferous or hardwood trees for perching, roosting, and nesting. They are extremely sensitive to human activity, and is found most commonly in areas free of human disturbance

– Bald Eagles are monogamous and thought to pair for life.

– Once common across much of North America, the Bald Eagle underwent a dramatic decline between the late 1700s and the 1960s as a result of intense hunting, habitat loss, and poisoning by pesticides (notably DDT), lead shot and other pollutants. In addition, DDT is believed to have caused widespread eggshell thinning and reproductive failure.

– In the United States, the species was listed for protection under the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940 (now the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act), and later under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and various regional recovery plans were produced. However, the dramatic recovery in bald eagle numbers led to the species being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, as it was no longer considered to need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

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