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Published: Monday, 2/13/2006

Watchers gain eagle-eyed skills

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Migrating raptors such as eagles, falcons, and hawks often pass through northwest Ohio on their way to breeding grounds. Mark Shieldcastle, banding an eaglet, above, helps volunteers learn to identify raptors. Migrating raptors such as eagles, falcons, and hawks often pass through northwest Ohio on their way to breeding grounds. Mark Shieldcastle, banding an eaglet, above, helps volunteers learn to identify raptors.
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As they migrate from their winter havens in Venezuela to breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic, large populations of falcons, hawks, and eagles pass through northwest Ohio.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory led a workshop yesterday to help volunteers identify and count the migrating raptors, or carnivorous birds, during the next three months.

Conservation of the birds' habits along Lake Erie's marshland is one of the primary motivators behind the project, which generates data used to help implement parts of the U.S. Clean Water Act.

"Everybody's so busy, but they really appreciate looking out their window and seeing something natural," said Julie Shieldcastle, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ottawa County.

"They don't miss it until its gone," added her husband, Mark Shieldcastle, who helped lead the workshop.

During last spring's migration, volunteers at observation towers scattered around the region counted 9,943 birds of prey over the course of 980 observation hours.

This year's 23 prospective volunteers, many of them veteran bird watchers, met at Pearson Metropark to review distinctive features about a bird's shape, plumage, and flight patterns.

For example, a golden eagle has a smaller head and beak than a bald eagle. And unlike the bald eagle, which flaps its wings upward, the golden eagle flaps its wings downward.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory seeks to preserve the region's bird habitats. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory seeks to preserve the region's bird habitats.
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From Feb. 27 to May 12 this year, the volunteers will observe the birds in morning and afternoon shifts. They will record the temperature, wind speed, and cloud coverage, before scanning the sky with binoculars.

To help train the volunteers, a slide projector showed pictures that appeared to resemble abstract modern art instead of living creatures.

A black "m" on a blue background flashed on the screen.

"Turkey vulture," several volunteers correctly answered.

Dana Bollin, a volunteer who also happens to work at Maumee Bay State Park, said that studying bird migration has become a vital indicator for determining how ecosystems respond to suburban sprawl.

"Everything is connected," she said.

Mr. Shieldcastle said the data collected by the migration project could influence where new houses or wind turbines are constructed.

Population counts done without regard to the scientific method, which Mr. Shieldcastle said were common, are suspect to developers and local governments.

"Anecdotal evidence doesn't stand up in court," he said.

Mark Plessner, a naturalist for Metroparks Toledo, thought for a second and amended that claim.

"Good data keeps you out of court," he said.

Contact Joshua Boak at: jboak@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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