Tag Archives: Eagles Over Monroe

Hiking to the Eagle Hacking Tower

 

The 1985 hacking tower at Lake Monroe.

Bald eagle. CC.

Bloomington, IN–The sky spit bits of snow as temperatures in the 20s made me pull up my hood over an insulated hat. Other hikers were wearing face masks and balaclavas. I decided to take wool mittens that could pull down to expose my fingers for photos, slung a pair of binoculars over my neck, and tightened the laces on my insulated high-top hiking boots. I remembered silk underwear and a “smoke ring” funnel scarf made of ox musk yarn from Alaska. But without a backpack, I had to choose between a spotting scope and a hiking pole as our highlight hike during Eagles Over Monroe weekend. Next time the backpack would be another staple in the car trunk, along with extra mittens, hats, gloves, and scarves.

Our group of 20 slowly snaked along an overgrown field, headed to the hacking tower, built at Lake Monroe in 1985 to reintroduce the bald eagle to Indiana. Jill Vance, interpretative naturalist at Lake Monroe, led the group. We needed her for directions and details, or course, but also because the public isn’t allowed here from October through April because it is a waterfowl resting area.

Soon we were stumbling over sticks, brushing up against brambles, even hopping over a small creek. Unfortunately, one hiker slipped and fell into the water, mud covering his entire leg and coat. I worried he might get hypothermia in the cold weather, but he was determined to see the hacking tower.

When eagles first learn to fly–or hack–they develop a bond to the location. Eagles return to their hacking site to build their own nests as parents, when they’re about 4-5 years old. The hacking tower built in 1985 on the North Fork of Stillwater Marsh on Lake Monroe. This site was chosen for a reintroduction program due to the close proximity to water, so the birds could fish, as well as stands of trees for building nests. The tower accommodated 5-6 week old eaglets brought from Wisconsin and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Using two locations and the average eaglet hacking at 13 weeks, the program could hosted two hacking groups per year through 1989. By then, eagles were coming back to Lake Monroe to nest, and the program was deemed a success. The tower was left to fall into disrepair.

We looked at photos Vance brought, showing the construction of the tower, when telephone poles donated by Southern Indiana Bell Telephone were pounded into the ground near the water. The poles were wrapped in metal to keep predators from climbing up the poles to get at the chicks, and an old staircase stopped several feel above the ground for the same reason. Vance said the biologists would bring a stepladder to get the first tower stairs.

As the eaglets fledge, they often have a lot of false starts, Vance explained, spiraling down to the ground. One eaglet seemed to do a lot of fluttering down without flying back up. A biologist would pick up the bird and take it up the stairs back to the nest. About the fifth time it did this, the bird didn’t wait for the biologist to take it back upstairs–it went up the stairs by itself.

The wildlife biologists hid in this blind during the 1985-1989 hacking seasons to observe the eagles in their nest.

We hiked a little farther down the overgrown road to a tower leaning precariously in the water. This was where the biologists hid and could observe the birds. As we looked at it, an eagle soared overhead. Not far across the marsh, a bald eagle’s nest was visible in the trees. Eagle nests are about five feet across, so they can be easy to spot.

This was one of 12-14 eagles’ nests that are scattered around the edge of the lake. The 1985 program goal was to achieve 20 nests in the state of Indiana by 2020. There are now more than 200 throughout the state.

Vance also pointed out a telephone pole far out in the water. These were brought in by helicopter and dropped into the lakebed to serve as perching poles for the eagles. This is one that still remains, and eagles can be spotted there.

As we stood gazing over the water, the bald eagle returned, swooping into the nest and remained. It was easily visible by binoculars, and some hikers offered the use of their scopes to see the nesting eagle close up. My heart fluttered a bit. Some things are worth the wait.

 

 

Eagles Over Monroe 2017

Bald eagle flies from nest. By U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region [CC BY 2.0

Bloomington, IN–Temperatures in the 20s and low 30s didn’t deter more than 200 people from attending the 17th annual Eagles Over Monroe weekend at Monroe Lake this year. The event, sponsored by Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, brought ornithologists, biologists, dedicated bird watchers, kids, parents, grandparents, and outdoors enthusiasts to learn about eagles in the area.

Talon of a Great Horned Owl.

Patrick Haulter was holding up a Great Horned Owl’s talon, saying he had been twirling it in his fingers once when it punched a hole in his finger. “Still sharp twenty years later,” he said. Haulter, interpretive naturalist at Brown County State park, entertained and informed the audience in his talk about behavior and anatomy of birds of prey.

“Life for the raptor is tough,” he said. “They’re highly adapted to what they do, but not to us.” He  described the crop, where a bird stores food for later “kind of like my beard does.”

The high-tech tools, such as satellite and radio-telemetry, as well as the low-tech ones like banding and wing tags are some of the ways scientists follow the movements of birds. Dr. Brian Washburn, a research wildlife biologist with the USDA Wildlife Service National Wildlife Research Center described how he goes about his work, which tools he chooses, and how he works with other scientists to learn about bird movements, habitat management, and interaction with humans. Washburn depends on people to call about birds they see tagged or find lost equipment. “Goose neck collars are really easy to read,” he said. “Wing tags can be really helpful to figure out who’s who.” Each band has a unique 9-digit code, but they are hard to read at a distance, even with a spotting scope. Eagles require a special band that is riveted on “because they’re so good at popping them off.”

Working with birds of prey can be dangerous, even when a handler wears leather gloves and jacket, eye protection, and limits their interaction to a half and hour. Washburn showed a photo of himself with hands bandaged from an encounter with a bird being banded. “The Cooper’s Hawk is like holding a running chain saw,” he said. “And if an eagle clamps down, it will not let go.”

Cost of the more high-tech tracking devices deter scientists from attaching them to all birds, and the transmitters are often just lost. “Sometimes we get them back, like when a Canada Goose walks in front of a car,” he said.

Will Schaust, assistant manager of Eagle Creek Ornithology Center talked about a variety of birding apps. Once, while walking with family on a hike, a cardinal landed in a maple tree ahead of the group. He was very excited to tell the kids that this was the state bird, how it was also the state bird for six other states, and more. When he asked them if they knew what the bright red cardinal was, they replied, “Mr. Will, it’s an Angry Bird!”

Since technology is enmeshed in our lives, we may as well take advantage of it when we can, he said. Schaust then demonstrated several of his favorite apps that help in bird identification.

  • The Sibley eGuide to Birds has the largest variety of calls–some five to seven for each bird–and can be worth the $20 if you want to id them by their calls.
  • Birdsnap an app for iPhone or on your computer, uses real photos of birds, it’s free, and you can take a picture and id a bird. But storage for large files can be a problem.
  • Merlin Bird ID, which is free from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides five questions to narrow down a bird by size, location, color, and more.
  • The Warbler Guide, for $13, offers 58 species of warblers from any angle. “I can spin that bird like a bad 90s DJ,” he quipped while rotating the bird photo.
  • eBird, also from the Cornell Lab, is free, and can help birders search for hot spots and keep checklists.
  • The Audubon Bird Guide apps range from .99 cents to $8, but it covers the entire country.

As 130 people “ate like raptors” dining on fish, venison, and turkey soup at Saturday’s Lunch with the Eagles, the Indiana Raptor Center falconers brought out several live raptors who had been rescued. Center director of education Laura Edmunds and described their characteristics. Attendees saw a kestrel, barn owl, two peregrine falcons, a bald eagle, and a golden eagle. “There’s something special about birds of prey,” Edmunds says. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I still can’t say what. I don’t have a tattoo yet, but one day I’m gonna take the dive and maybe get a golden eagle right here,” she says pointing to her shoulder.

She says you can tell what type of bird a falconer uses by what car the falconer drives. If they

Falconer from Indiana Raptor Center holds a red-tailed hawk.

have a small Kestrel, they might drive a Mini-Cooper. Those who fly Red-Tailed Hawks drive pick-up trucks. But the ones that fly Peregrine Falcons need a bid vehicle like a Navigator. “If you lose a Peregrine Falcon, a bad day means driving 80 miles to get it. If they fly a Cooper’s Hawk, though, they might not have a car at all, they might drive a scooter.”

After lunch, everyone ran to their cars to stop at designated driving spots to see if they could spy the eagles. Experienced birders with scopes were at each stop. While we toured several places, the closest we could get was a bald eagle way across the lake, maybe a mile away. It looked like a white dot in the trees. Not a satisfying ending to our Saturday, though the talks were informative.

Sunday morning came cloudy and cold. We bundled up for the one-hour hike out to the original hacking tower for the eagles. When eagles first learn to fly–or hack–they develop a bond to the location. Eagles return to their hacking site to build their own nests as parents, when they’re about 4-5 years old. The hacking tower built in 1985 on the North Fork of Stillwater Marsh on Lake Monroe accommodated 5-6 week old eaglets brought from Wisconsin and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Using two locations and the average eaglet hacking at 13 weeks, the program could hosted two hacking groups per year through 1989. By then, eagles were coming back to Lake Monroe to nest, and the program was deemed a success.

We stumbled over brush and sticks, following a road that was slowly reverting back to the woods. While walking between the hacking tower and a nearby tower that the biologists used to watch the fledglings, we saw a big black nest across the water. This time is was much closer and easier to see with the naked eye. Suddenly, an eagle swooped in, gliding into the nest. Binoculars rose up to all eyes in unison, and ooos and ahs rang out. At last, our eagle was sighted. What a magnificent ending to a weekend devoted to these magnificent birds, home at last.

Eagle about to land in his nest. CC.