How many times have you been so close to a bald eagle you could literally reach out your hand and touch it?
Me neither. That is until I went to the Wild Birds Unlimited educational event earlier this month in Lexington Park that featured a bald eagle from the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center.
The eagle (who goes by the name “the eagle”) was accompanied by Mike Callahan, a teacher at NCEEC and well-known local raptor expert. While bald eagles are protected by laws and cannot be kept in captivity, a special license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources gives NCEEC permission to use the eagle for educational purposes.
Callahan shared an interesting story about how the eagle came to reside in Southern Maryland.
Nearly eight years ago, a concerned citizen in Madison, Wisconsin called authorities to report a recently-fledged juvenile bald eagle drinking from a backyard pool. The eagle was captured and taken to a facility to be rehabilitated. The bird was severely underweight and doctors discovered it was blind in one eye. Even after extensive therapy to teach the eagle how to hunt and scavenge, the bird was still unable to catch prey successfully.
That’s where Pilots N Paws came in. This non-profit organization matches volunteer pilots to animals in need of transport. Most of the time the passengers are rescued dogs and cats heading to new homes. But every once in a while something really special shows up on the request list.
Well, when the call came in for a pilot to transport a bald eagle, folks stepped up immediately to help.
A pilot from Ohio flew to Wisconsin and brought the eagle to an Ohio airport where a La Plata pilot was waiting to bring the eagle back to Indian Head. The eagle has resided in Nanjemoy ever since, and it can be expected to live another six decades doing the important work of teaching children and adults about wild bald eagles.
Callahan explained to a rapt audience that Southern Maryland is a hot spot for viewing bald eagles all year round. While bald eagles generally nest from January through June, many of the locally-born eagles stay close to home and additional eagles from more northern locales will winter in the Chesapeake Bay watershed since the water rarely freezes and food is available. Callahan commented that he routinely sees wild bald eagles in the morning on his daily commute.
Several folks in the audience nodded in agreement that they’ve seen a resurgence of bald eagles in our area and confirmed they are a common sight if you spend any time outside. In fact, we’ve got our own pair of famous bald eagles who have their own YouTube channel, “Port Tobacco Eagle Live Cam.”
Hope and Chandler have nested at the Port Tobacco River Park for many years, successfully fledging two young this year. And thanks to the Southern Maryland Audubon Society, the Port Tobacco River Conservancy, Charles County parks department and Terrain360.com, for the first time ever, viewers could tune in to watch the parents redecorate their nest (it is 6 to 7 feet across) and witness the babies hatch, grow and fledge.
Bald eagles, like many birds, mate for life and will only find a new mate if theirs dies or disappears. So there’s a very good chance that Hope and Chandler will be back again next year. The county built an eagle observation deck with a magnification viewer so visitors to the park can easily view the nest.
Lynne Wheeler, former president of Southern Maryland Audubon Society, said that bald eagle sightings are good all over Southern Maryland, especially near the water. Wheeler has seen as many as 10 in 1 view on the Mattawoman Creek.
In my own neighborhood in St. Mary’s County, where there are several freshwater ponds, I usually have a good chance of seeing a bald eagle soaring overhead on a clear afternoon.
When you do see a bald eagle in the wild, you might be surprised when you hear its call.
Unlike the bird scream that’s commonly dubbed on TV shows and movies (which is usually the red-tailed hawk’s call), a bald eagle’s cry is comparatively quite weak sounding.
You might also not even know you’re looking at a bald eagle if the bird is younger than five years. It takes four years before the birds develop their distinctive white feathers, which both the males and females of the species sport once they are sexually mature.
And, actually, I have seen a wild bald eagle up close once, in a soybean field near Prince Frederick more than a decade ago. The bird seemed to be dazed so I went to investigate.
When I approached, the eagle flapped its wings and for the first time in my life, I was scared of a bird. With a wingspan of up to eight feet and talons and a beak that are finely-honed weapons capable of shredding hides and breaking bones, you better believe I backed up quickly and called the police to report a distressed bird.
Bald eagles don’t face many natural predators in the wild. They are most vulnerable while chicks in the nest, but with two fierce parents to defend them, there are only a handful of animals that might have the audacity and opportunity to prey on a bald eagle.
While bald eagles have made an amazing comeback since DDT was banned and are no longer listed as endangered, lead poisoning is still a threat. We humans can do our part to further the success story of the bald eagle by using non-lead shot when hunting.
I don’t recommend approaching a bald eagle in the wild, but I do think spending some time outdoors viewing them from an appropriate distance would be a great activity for the whole family. My favorite place to take the kids to see bald eagles is the wharf in Leonardtown. Often you can see several bald eagles of different ages perching in trees or catching dinner.
And if you want to learn more about bald eagles, mark your calendar for Eagle Day at the Port Tobacco River Park on June 20, 2020 to celebrate American Bald Eagle Day.
Night on the River event coming soon
Have you been to the Port Tobacco Marina Restaurant in western Charles County?
It’s my family’s favorite lunch spot after spending the morning at the Port Tobacco River Park working up our appetites.
The location can’t be beat. You can enjoy waterfront views of the river and the park right across the water from the expansive decks outside. It’s an opportunity to enjoy a great meal at a great spot.
Well, here’s another reason to give the restaurant a try. The Port Tobacco River Conservancy is hosting a Night on the River from 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Port Tobacco Marina Restaurant.
Tickets are $50 per person and proceeds are used to further the organization’s goal of restoring and protecting this important natural resource.
That evening, one lucky winner will be drawn for a Pelican Mustang 100X Kayak. Included with the prize is a paddle, personal flotation device, Field and Stream car-top carrier, and waterproof storage bag.
Raffle tickets are $10 each, 6 for $50, or 14 for $100. You can buy tickets at the door or online. For more information, go to https://porttobaccoriver.org/night-on-the-river-2019/.
You don’t need to be present to win, so even if you can’t make the event, consider purchasing a ticket for the kayak raffle. The money goes to a good cause and a kayak makes a great vehicle for getting up close to nature.