Who in their right mind would get up at 5:30 on a January Saturday? We did! Fortunately it wasn’t like previous West Union Bridge trips as it was mid 50s rather than 20 and snowy! We were really blessed when we arrived at the bridge to find another vehicle there and it was DNR bird Biologist Amy Kearns. She was there to take the midwinter eagle census for the DNR. She seemed glad for extra pairs of eyes. The purpose of the census is to get an idea of how many eagles are overwintering in Indiana. She was counting from 7 to 9 AM.
One year we saw more than 50 eagles, and the next we saw fewer than 20, so we weren’t sure what to expect. The flight began slowly, with one or two birds flying over at a time. After the first half hour or so, there was a slight lull and we saw a mature bald eagle (one of the few) flying back upriver. A few minutes later, we had another increase.
In between eagles, we also observed or heard several robins, bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, a tufted titmouse, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, and several red-winged blackbirds back for the winter! (As a side note, later that day, we saw seven turkey vultures in a group, and then observed many more flying singly or in smaller groups. The birds must think the worst of winter is past.)
As we neared 9 AM another vehicle drove up to the bridge. It was a couple from Fort Wayne who had come hoping to see eagles. We weren’t sure if they would get the chance, as the flight of eagles had slowed to a trickle. As we stood and talked, however, another bald eagle flew over, and it was a mature one. We talked for a few more minutes, exchanging email addresses and thanking Amy for sharing her expertise with us. A few minutes after 9, when we probably would already have been gone without having other people around, we got a special treat–a fully mature golden eagle flew overhead! It was a lifelister for both of us, so we spent more time looking at it through binoculars than we did photographing.
After we left West Union, we paid visits to two of the area eagle nests. On our way, we saw a lone mature bald eagle flying along a treeline. When we arrived at Baird’s Sugar Shack, we saw that the nest near the sugar camp had two adult eagles nearby, watching over it. The nest near Clinton Falls only had one adult watching, but it looks like the breeding pairs are already staking out their territory and getting ready to start their families.
All in all, it was a great day! At the bridge we saw 59 bald eagles and 1 golden eagle. Then we saw 4 additional adult bald eagles.