Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pale Male Mulls and John Blakeman on Bald Eagles Then and Now

Photo courtesy of 
 Pale Male has the sweetest expressions, even if he's looking at something he might like for lunch.

Central Park Hawkwatchers report all is going as it should for this time of year.  Stops by both hawks on the nest along with the yearly minor nest renovations are in full swing  

 And yes, Pale Male can be caught,  well... mulling, on the nest.  It's one of my favorite Pale Male watching moments.  He'll stand on the nest looking at a particular portion.  Stare at it as if he's trying to figure something out.  He'll fly off and come back with a twig which he then adds to the portion of nest he'd been staring at.

Occasionally the twig doesn't work in the way he had in mind so he'll drop it aside, take off for another twig which, then seems to fit his ideal specifications as he puts it in place, takes a look and leaves it.  

  Prairie du Sac, on the Wisconsin River, just below the dam.   

For whatever reason, the sudden appearance of numerous fish at catchable depth, or something else the Bald Eagles were aware of but we watchers weren't, at least a dozen eagles suddenly left their perches and flew over the river.

John Blakeman, the ever incisive raptor biologist from Ohio,  read yesterdays eagle post and sent in his take on the spookability of Bald Eagles-

Dear  Donna,
I don't know the details of the eagle-watching restrictions; but they seem to derive from an antiquated last-century misunderstanding of the social behaviors bald eagles.

We had the same problem here, where in the 1980s the Ohio Division of Wildlife, in concurrence with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, made pronouncements that no one would be allowed to hike within a quarter-mile (or some such giant distance) of an active BE nest. Farmers would be allowed to plow or harvest, but not stop or get off the tractor.

This was from some earlier “study,” as I understand it, where some biologist investigated the distance at which nesting BEs became disturbed when humans approached a nest from a great distance. This work, as I understand it, was done in very remote norther forests, in wild Minnesota or Canad, some time ago, when eagles were still being shot and poisoned.

That perspective takes into account nothing of authentic, easily-seen Bald Eagle behaviors in the 21st century, as at the site you’ve tried observe.

Contrary to the antiquated and no longer applicable BE literature, modern Bald Eagles are extremely social (congregating in winter in massive, localize aggregations), and moreover, simply pay little or no attention now to nearby humans, whether in cars, or walking around.

Last spring, during Fellowship Hour after church, one of the kids in my congregation (of humans, not Bald Eagles) rather incongruously said that there was a big eagle sitting in a tree next to the church parking lot. Every one heed and hawed at the imperious kid’s pronouncement, until someone looked. Sure enough, a big white-headed Bald Eagle was sitting out there.

A number of people said we needed to stay indoors, and just carefully “peak” at the bird through the windows, so as to not alarm it. I, being the raptor expert, said, “No, let’s get all the kids and walk out there and see this great bird. She’ll just sit up there and watch us in all our Sunday finery.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Twenty-five people stood under the tree and took pictures for 10 or 15 minutes, before the eagle decided, on her own, to fly a few blocks north back to Lake Erie, here in Huron, Ohio.

Let everyone get as close the eagles as they can. Encourage them to take pictures, and marvel at our National Symbol. Nothing finer (nor safer, for people or eagles). These are not your grandfather’s Bald Eagles.

–John Blakeman,

Raptor Biologist

I  agree with you John, these particular eagles have a very high flush point. I crawled into the back of the Blazer, and opened the hatch back  in order to get a better view of the multiple eagles flying  over the river.  Most of the Bald Eagles, even those in the next tree, paid absolutely no attention at all to the big window flipping up.  One eagle did look down with one of those raptor isn't-that-interesting-looks and then turned back to watching the river with perfect calm.
The Second Installment of the Prairie du Sac Bald Eagles Coming Soon!

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

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