Friday, January 6, 2012

Eagle Ogling

January 2, 2012
Various places in Saratoga County, NY

Today was a day to look for eagles ! It was clear, cold and breezy.

Last Friday, both Jackie and I attended the latest Eagle Watch at Moreau Lake State Park.
Led by Gary Hill, the watches are held throughout the winter, to survey wintering eagles who come down from Canada. What attracts them are the dams in this section of the Hudson River which keep the  nearby water open when all else is frozen over. The group stops at four places along the river to make observations. This section of the Park is designated as an Important Birding Area by the state.

The watches can be an exercise in patience, since they involve a lot of standing still and watching, in weather fair and foul.
You can go for several weeks and not see an eagle.

The last stop, at the Spier Falls boat launch, is where you are usually rewarded with a sighting. Most of the winter eagles we’ve spotted over the years have been at this bend of the river.

On Friday, the group saw two eagles in full adult plumage, which was pretty exciting to those who were seeing their first bald eagle.

Both Jackie and I thank our lucky stars that we live in such an interesting place. We are grateful every day. But sometimes we get a little greedy too – so today we met with the intention of doing our own Eagle Watch at several places in Saratoga County.

We decided to meet first at the southern end of the Betar Trail. It’s a pondy stretch of the river, upstream from the dam (and falls) of South Glens Falls. We nixed our original plan of just walking along the Path, keeping an eye out for birds of any sort. It’s a very pleasant walk in warmer weather.
This morning, although it was almost 40 degrees, there was a stiff west wind cutting across the water, right into our faces. Kinda hard to look for birds with tears streaming down your cheeks! And most birds were lying-low in this sort of weather, anyway.

But not the eagles.

The moment I pulled over to park at the meeting-place, a shadow passed overhead. It was an eagle !

[My camera has a decent zoom-lens, but I’m not so good at catching a photo of a bird on the fly. The cropped shots in this blog are awfully grainy.
So you’ll just have to trust me that these ARE eagles.]

The adult eagle circled over me in lazy loops, slowly gaining altitude.  With binocs, I could see that although he had a white head, his wings underneath were flecked brown and white. So he was not in full adult plumage.
Then he caught into a high tail-wind, and zoomed away downriver.

Just then, Jackie pulled up. I  was sorry that she had missed Eagle Number One. After a short shivery walk, we opted to go back to the boat launch, further upriver, where we had seen the eagles on Friday.

As we arrived, we met Pat and her dog Nugget. Pat had found a nice spot out of the wind, and had been observing an eagle that was perched across the cove. She’s a local eagle enthusiast, and had been there for hours this morning. Nugget, however, was not so interested in bird-watching, and he barked out a greeting to us. A short while later, the eagle decided to put more distance between us, and left his perch to fly upriver with slow wingbeats, out of our sight. That was Eagle Number Two.

Back to our cars, and I followed Jackie as she led the way to a place that Pat had mentioned; another place she’d seen eagles this week.
We stopped at Stafford Bridge, which crosses Fish Creek.

Fish Creek ! Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, a creek was something you could step across.
Here, where the Creek flows east from Saratoga Lake, it seemed more like a wide river to me. We stepped out of our warm cars, and walked toward the bridge for a better view. Within moments, a dark shape was soaring low – Eagle Number Three! It was clearly a juvenile, head and tail both still dark. (It takes an eagle about five years to reach the familiar full adult coloration.)  
The pigeons near the bridge scattered at his approach, but he didn’t go after them.

There were mallards in the shallows nearby, and it was funny to see them all tip-up at the same time. Duck and cover !

They weren’t hiding, though, they were feeding. The eagle had already looped up and away, toward the outlet of Fish Creek, where the creek joins the Hudson River in Schuylerville.

Schuylerville was our last stop, though we didn’t see any more eagles there.
It’s great to be able to say that we saw "only" three of them today!

1 comment:

  1. I think you are a good-luck charm when it comes to seeking eagles. You certainly are better at spotting and especially photographing them than I am. What fun to revisit our eagle watches through your wonderful blog.