bearriver Blog : Bald eagle


Friday, February 8, 2013

Bald Eagle

Tomorrow is Bald Eagle day in Utah, and we're celebrating this majestic bird here on the Refuge as well with all kinds of activities, movies, and presentations.  I'd thought I'd take a quick minute and blog about a few Eagle Fun Facts that maybe you didn't know!

  1. Benjamin Franklin was against having the Bald Eagle as the national bird and symbol of the nation because they so frequently steal from each other.  He, instead, preferred the very wily and smart  (and noble, he felt)  Wild Turkey.
  2. Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are found ONLY in North America!
  3. Though still protected, due to amazing research and conservation actions, the Bald Eagle is no longer on the Endangered Species list . . . having been removed in 2007, a great success!
  4. Utah hosts 25-30%  (around 1200-1300) of the wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. Last winter of 2011-2012, the Refuge's high count was 180 eagles!
  5. Bald Eagle's second favorite food if they can't nab fish . . . is the slow flying American coot.
  6. Both eagles in a pair will build their nest together . . . but it's the female that picks the tree.
  7. Obviously, Bald eagles aren't truly "bald" . . . the word comes from the old english word, balde,  meaning white.
  8. The Golden eagle - another local eagle - is actually not the Bald eagle's closest relative. The "Baldie's" closest cousins are other sea or fish-eating eagles:  the African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) of sub-Saharan Africa and the white-tailed sea-eagle(Haliaeetus albicilla) of Eurasia.

HAPPY BALD EAGLE DAY  and Happy Birding

 - Jason

"Raptor's Delight!"

Tuesday, Janary 8, 2013Bald eagle

RAPTOR'S DELIGHT   -  Bear River Gang

"I said a hick, a hawk, a rough-legged hawk 

I said a hick, a hawk, and you don't stop, til you get a Red-tailed hawk!"

O.K. For anyone not around for the early ages of rap, that lil ditty might be completely over your head...and even IF you were around, it is most definitely silly, I admit.  But my recent trip around the Refuge and the surrounding promontory mountains was SO FILLED with raptors that I just couldn't help myself in changing Rapper's Delight to RAPTOR'S DELIGHT!

As part of the Mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey...I got the chance for a chilly drive to search for eagles and raptors...and my, they didn't disappoint.  My tally by the end of the survey was well over 100 raptors seen of 9 different varieties!  We'll start with the most famous...Bald eagles.

I spied 14 Bald eagles, 9 adults and 5 juveniles, along my route. Did you know you can tell the youngsters apart?  You can!  Bald eagles do not become mature adults, with fully white heads (where the name Bald comes from) and white tails til they reach four or five years of age.  Before this - they are very splotchy and patchy with white and brown feathers all over..and their beaks lighten from dark to the famous bright golden yellow.  Bald eagles love it here in Utah in the winter - hunting for fish along open areas in the ice and congregatting in tall cottonwoods along the rivers.

Their slightly larger and darker cousins, Golden eagles, stay in the area year-round.  Golden eagles are named for the golden colored plumage on the backs of their heads when they are adults, but again - when they are younger - they have some white feathers in large patches under their wings.  Unlike Bald eagles who prefer to eat fish, Goldens prey on mammals in the open grasslands like rabbits, marmots or even baby deer or sheep. They also rarely nest in trees, but prerfer cliffs and rock ledges.  I was lucky enough to see 5 of these majestic raptors along the route.

Along with the eagles...this route is an excellent place for other raptors, such as owls, hawks and falcons.  I spied one Prairie falcon and many American kestrels... our smallest falcons.  Peregrine falcons are also seen along this route frequently...but I was not able to find one out there today. Peregrines are known for their 200mph stoop, or dive, to knock their prey right out of the air!

I mentioned owls...and they did not elude me today. I was able to spot two Great Horned Owls. These are the earliest breeders of the owls - already setting up pairs and nests and calling constantly to each other at night.  Another owl species that was spotted is the short-eared owl. This little owl is diurnal as well as nomadic...sometimes around in big numbers and other years there may be none at all - all depending on the availability of food sources like mice and voles. This year in northern Utah - it has been a GREAT year for the short-eareds. Almost every trip around the Auto Loop provides a look at several.

And last but not least, is the larger hawk species such as the common Red-tailed hawk and the winter visitors from the Tundra - Rough-legged hawks. These two large Buteo hawks are easily spotted, usually perched atop a telephone pole or tree-top, watching calmly for a small rodent or bird to make a mistake and fly too close or move too slowly. Adding these two species together made up over half of my survey count, totalling 51 birds seen!

So you see- Raptor's Delight is definitely an apt description of the Refuge and northern Utah in the winter months!  I hope you get a chance to experience it!

 - Happy Birding,  Jason

Arrival of the BIG STARS!

Friday, October 25, 2012

Let's just admit it right now.  Bald eagles and Tundra swans are two of the biggest stars in the bird world, especially right here at the Refuge, and for weeks (and sometimes months) before their return...people are asking "Any swans yet?"; "When do the eagles get here?"; and "When is the best time to see swans and eagles?!"  Tundra swans and full moon over the BRMBR, by Lloyd Bush

Well folks...that time is just...about... NOW.  Swans have started to arrive on the Refuge..from just a few last week to hundreds and maybe thousands this week, and the number is expected to grow into the 10s & 20s of thousands into mid-November until the wetlands freeze over. Of course,    if they don't freeze over like last year       (due to such a mild winter)  we can have flocks of swans here straight through the cold months until March for Swan day on March 9. But - if we have a more regular Thanksgiving or shortly after,   most of the swans will head south and west of us to Mono lake and southern California. (Photo: SWAN MOON, by Lloyd Bush.)

As for the eagles - it is possible to see some in the winter...but they prefer it around here when the ice is almost covering the wetlands with scattered open water to fish in.  The best month is February - hence we have Bald Eagle day on February 9th - but we do get "Baldies" coming in in late November and through December as keep an eye out for this superstar.

So, Papparazzi birders, get your bins and scopes ready for the BIG BIRDS and their entourages...and don't forget to dress warm!

Happy Birding

 - Jason

Some B's of Birding

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011

Today was a Beautiful and interesting day for Birding on the refuge.  First off - we had a lovely, mature Bald eagle on the fence post just south of the Wildlife Education Center that preceded to sit there and show off for most of the morning.  Later, our resident Barn owl was seen hunting above the wetlands for some Brunch.  These two B birds had a clash later in the afternoon - either for territory or possibly because the Bigger Bald eagle wanted the Barn owl for lunch.

Then - later in the day - a sure sign of the Beginning of spring (and there have been many, despite the recent snow)  was the appearance of the first Sandhill crane of the season - feeding in a nearby field with some Canada geese. Now, neither, I know, start with B ...But Both were Browsing on the available feed.

All in all - even in this harsh weather - the Bounty of the Bear River Bird refuge is obvious...and it's Beauty and magnificent Birds can't BE BEAT!

 - Jason