Our area is loaded with bald eagles, judging from sightings being reported to the outdoors desk in recent weeks.
Many observers report seeing one of the majestic birds of prey for the first time and they justifiably are thrilled. Veteran eagle-watchers lean back and smile a knowing smile in satisfaction that 30 years of eagle conservation has paid off handsomely.
In 1979, Ohio was down to its last four bald eagle nests, all of them in the western Lake Erie marshes, the great birds having fallen victim to pollution-induced declines in reproduction and loss of habitat.
In 2009, there were 215 confirmed nests - 33 of them new - and they produced at least 197 eaglets. In 2008 a record 222 eaglets hatched in nests in 43 Ohio counties.
More eagles each year are being found well inland, all the way to the Ohio River, mainly along stream corridors.
One of the reasons eagles are so visible now is that they are easier to see in a leafless, barren winter landscape.
Also, eagle nests are hard to miss. An average one ranges from three to five feet wide and three to six feet deep. The nests are usually built high in a tall tree.
Both male and female eagles share in the incubation and feeding of the young, which begin to leave the nest at about 12 weeks.
Many migratory eagles, which nest farther north and into Canada, spend at least part of the winter in Ohio.
That adds to the already burgeoning numbers of resident birds, which include the mated pairs and newly minted immature birds. Immature eagles may be brown to mottled in coloration; they will not attain the tell-tale adult white-brown-white plumage till about age five.
A mid-winter aerial survey by the Ohio Division of Wildlife turned up 80 adult and 41 immature birds. But the survey was very limited compared to thorough, statewide surveys in years past, when up to 600 or more eagles, both residents and overwintering migrants, were counted.
Winter conditions also affect seasonal eagle numbers. During the Christmas Bird Count, ice and open-water conditions along western Lake Erie were perfect for large gatherings of eagles. The birds were drawn to the ice-edges at warm-water discharges of power plants, where they fed on gizzard shad.
A phenomenal 125 eagles were counted on the one-day Monroe, Mich., area Christmas count, mostly at the Monroe Power Plant. Observers also watched an eagle attack on a black duck at the Whiting Power Plant at Luna Pier, Mich.
The Toledo-area Christmas count reported 68 bald eagles, an all-time high for the 78-year-old count run by the Toledo Naturalists' Association.
Another reason eagles are so visible now is that they have been actively refurbishing or outright building nests. That keeps them moving about.
If you think that you have spied a new eagle nest, report it by calling toll-free to 1-800-WILDLIFE, or online by visiting wildohio.com.
"We should have birds on eggs by now," said Mark Shieldcastle, research director at the Oak Harbor-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Shieldcastle retired as wetlands project leader of the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Ressearch Station at Magee Marsh and as such was Ohio's lead eagle researcher.
Some pairs of eagles, the biologist said, typically begin the 35-day incubation of eggs by the last week of January. "Now is when we may find new pairs," he added.
"Most pairs start nesting in March," Shieldcastle noted. "The cold snap we've got right now will tend to slow them down a while. But as soon as we get a break from the weather they'll go like a house afire."
"Birding on Ice," a weekend for beginner and avid birders alike, is set for next Saturday and Sunday on Michigan's western Lake Erie shoreline.
Sponsored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tropical Birding Tours, and the American Birding Association, the weekend will feature tours visiting open water at the Monroe Power Plant (limited attendance), Pointe Mouilee State Game Area, and Lake Erie Metropark.
Evening presentations at the Hotel Sterling in Monroe will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. with an optional soup-and-sandwich social time beginning at 5 p.m. To sign up for events, call with Kristi Thiel, a ranger with the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, at 734-692-7649, or visit online at fws.gov/midwest/detroitriver and click on the "Birding on Ice" link.
Upcoming - Saturday, annual game dinner, Wolf Creek Sportsmen's Association, at St. Clement's Community Center, 3030 Tremainsville Rd., 5:30 p.m., call Rick Ferguson for remaining tickets 419-836-5264.
Feb. 26, Fremont Chapter, Ducks Unlimited annual dinner, River Cliff Golf Course, 1313 Tiffin St., Fremont; doors open 5:30 p.m.; call Todd Williams for tickets 419-355-8771.
Feb. 27, Wood/Lucas Chapter, Pheasants Forever, 20th annual dinner, Glass City Boardwalk, 27820 East Broadway, Moline; doors open 5 p.m., steak dinner
6:45 p.m.; for tickets call Lou Best 419-241-5522 or 419-353-3171.
Contact Steve Pollick at: