Eagles draw eager EMNC visitors

Jim Borden of Sheldon Hill Road, Springville, tells of his travels exploring the nesting sites and flyways of the American Bald Eagle on Sunday at the Endless Mountains Nature Center, Vosburg, as his wife Joan handles the powerpoint slides. STAFF PHOTO/PAT FARNELLI

BY PAT FARNELLI

Nature lovers gathered Sunday afternoon at the Endless Mountains Nature Center, eager to learn more about bald eagles and hoping to spot a pair that lives along the Susquehanna River.

Nature photographer Jim Borden of Springville told stories behind photos, sharing eagle lore as his wife Joan presented a PowerPoint slide show.

One slide showed a large eagle staring downward in extreme concentration.  Borden said that the nesting eagle was looking at a nest of Merganser ducks, and that when he first observed this eagle, there were 13 babies in the duck nest. One by one, the ducks disappeared, and most likely were fed to the young eagles. By the time was ready to leave the site a week or so later, there were only three young ducks left in their nest.

“The eagle knew that the baby ducks were a better value, for the energy needed to get them than fish,” Borden said. “They each have more nourishment than a whole trout.”

Borden shared photos of other varieties of eagles as well as owls and waterfowl.

Most of the visitors ventured out on the trails along the river hoping to sight eagles first hand.

Naturalist Rebecca Lesko led one of the groups along the paths and pointed out a large nest, easily visible in the trees.

She noted that eagles built that nest 11 years ago, but have had mixed success. There were three broods of eaglets successfully raised in three consecutive years. However, the past three years have been tragic.

Three years ago, a storm knocked the nest with its young eagles from the tree, and the eaglets perished in the fall. The next year, the pair did not hatch eggs. In the spring of 2012, the pair hatched eggs, and visitors to the Bluebell Celebration were able to glimpse the fledglings in the nest, and observe them being fed.

Unfortunately, that spring, helicopters were flying back and forth along the river, doing seismic testing for the gas industry, according to Lesko.

Although a map had been made with coordinates of the eagle nest location, the spot was marked wrong on the maps, and the helicopters continued to buzz past the nest, coming over the steep ridge right at that location. The adult eagles were frightened away, leaving the young ones behind in the nest, where they died.

Unfortunately, during the eagle walk, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, although Lesko pointed out delicate mouse trails in the snow.

After all but the most die-hard birders had left the center, two eagles returned to the nest area, and a few photos were taken at about 4 p.m.

One woman on the walk hypothesized that the eagles had joined regulars who frequent Lake Carey, where the ice fishing conditions were excellent on Sunday afternoon.

“The fishermen sometimes throw their fish onto the ice, and the eagles take advantage of easy pickings,” she said.

A group with about eight children didn’t let the lack of eagle sightings deter them from enjoying the day. They pulled branches into a large circle near the trail and made a large scale eagles nest in the snow, then gathered inside. A couple noticed the excellent packing quality in the snow along the trail, and soon snowballs began to fly, all in good fun.

Girl Scout Troop 50275 had extensively prepared for the event, making butterscotch/chow mein noodle eagle nest cookies, and little chocolate and almond mice. Hot tea and cocoa were also served in the lodge.

Last, the junior girl scouts performed a puppet show about hungry forest animals and explained several displays about eagles they had constructed.

Junior Girl Scouts Sarah Wickizer and Ava Kidd helped other children assemble eagle head magnets after the program.