Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The White-Headed Eagle

January 28, 2011
Moreau Lake State Park

I bought me a spy-glass some weeks since... I buy but few things, and those not till long after I begin to want them, so that when I do get them I am prepared to make a perfect use of them and extract their whole sweet.

HDT Journal, April 10, 1854

[Note: Thoreau had worked himself up to spend the princely sum of eight dollars for this spy-glass.]

I think I have got the worth of my glass
now that it has revealed to me the white-headed eagle.

Journal, April 23, 1854

For a few months in winter, Moreau Park participates in a weekly Eagle Watch. It takes about 2 hours to make 4 or 5 stops along the Hudson River and make 10-minute observations at each spot. Results are reported to the DEC. The state agency has been tracking these birds, which come down from Canada at this time of year. When the northern rivers starting freezing up, the eagles come south, to fish here at open spots on the river near the dams.

It’s a Friday morning activity that is a good way to get outdoors in winter, although it involves a lot of standing still, which on a cold day can be pretty chilling. Sometimes no one signs up, sometimes there a big crowd. Gary, the park naturalist, usually leads these watches. I’ve been tagging along for several years, going when I can.

One time it was just me and Gary, standing in cold cold rain along the river’s edge, scanning the sky in vain. Another time, twenty people showed up, endured the two-hour stint, and saw no birds of ANY kind. That's when you realize that one of the requirements for any naturalist is lots and lots of patience.
Today was cold and overcast, yet a fairly enthusiastic bunch showed up.
We start at Sherman Island Boat Launch, one of my favorite views of the river, any time of year.

At other stops nearer the dam, we observed black ducks, mallards and mergansers, sporting fearlessly in the wide-open water. Here’s Mary checking the treeline. You have to look carefully since all the trees have snow in the branches that could be the "white-headed eagle."  Hmm, no eagles here either.

It’s usually at the last stop, Spier Falls Boat Launch, that we see an eagle. We were cold and tired, and about to call it a day.

Suddenly Mary (henceforth to be known as Eagle-Eye Mary), asked me to look waaaaay upriver, to confirm something she had spotted. With my small binocs, I saw, perched in the farthest pine along the farthest shore as the river bent to the left, a tiny blob topped with white. It was indeed an eagle ! (You'll have to click to enlarge this photo, which was taken at full zoom on my camera.)

I have no idea how she saw it in the first place. The rest of us checked it out after Gary set up the spotting scope. THEN it was definite.

The observers were jumping for joy, even to see this tiny vision so far away.

On the way back along the river road, we saw another eagle rise up from the river ice, and perch in a maple across the river. So that made it a two-eagle day.

It’s a thrill that never gets old. There’s always someone along who has never seen one before. And I realize how lucky we are to see them so regularly. When I was growing up, they were considered almost extinct in the lower 48.


On one particular Watch a few years ago, we had seen an eagle across the river on a beautiful sunny day, but I could not get a good photo of it. Man was I frustrated. Gary would have liked some “evidence” of our sighting. So later that day, I sent Gary this "improved" photo – of what it feels like when you see one – even though in reality, it was just a tiny speck. He laughed for a long time when he saw it. Huzzah for PhotoShop !



  1. You Go Girl! I so admire your patience, fortitude, determination, AND generosity to share with us the fruits of your labor! Awesome!

  2. Look at all those happy faces! That's how it feels when you see an eagle. Even an "enhanced" one, like the one in your last photo.