Saturday, November 12, 2011

My First Eagle Census

Yesterday I was reminiscing about the many interesting experiences and opportunities I’ve had since becoming a volunteer for the World Bird Sanctuary.  Foremost among these was the first time I was invited to take part in a Bald Eagle Census in 2003.
Most of us know about the U.S. Census for humans--Did you know about the Bald Eagle census?
The call came on a Saturday morning.  It was our daughter, Teri, Director of Education for World Bird Sanctuary.  She wanted to know if her dad and I would be interested in doing a Bald Eagle count with Jeff Meshach on Tuesday.  Jeff was at that time the Director of Animal Management for WBS, and was and still is in charge of doing the yearly eagle census counts each December through February, when the birds migrate south in search of open hunting waters.

As far as I was concerned this was the opportunity of a lifetime!  Jeff laughingly told Teri that we had called him back within 14 minutes of his original call.  An eagle count consists of four people in a small plane flying at low altitude down (or up) the center of the river channel.  The two people in the rear of the plane are the spotters, and Jeff records the number and type of eagles (adult or juvenile), and their approximate location, on a river map.

As time drew near to the day of the count, the weather forecasts were not sounding promising.  On the morning of the count we showed up at Spirit of St. Louis airport not knowing if we would even be able to take off due to weather conditions – 12-14 degree temperatures with wind chills I don’t even want to think about, and possible snow.  However, our pilot, George Stephenson, assured us that the weather would not be a problem, and that we would be flying well beyond the “no fly zone” created by a Presidential visit that day in South St. Louis.
This would be two adults perched
Jeff gave us a quick rundown on procedures for spotting the eagles.  My husband, Art, and I were each to count the eagles spotted on our respective sides of the plane.  As we spied the birds we were to call out the number and type of birds and where they were located, i.e., “2 juvies perched” (which means perched in trees), or “3 adults on the ice”.  Jeff then recorded this information as it was called out.
This would be two adults and one juvie on the ice
At one point, action on my husband’s side of the plane was a bit slow and he began to count birds on my side.  Apparently we gave Jeff and George quite a chuckle when I told my hubby to mind his own side of the plane.

These numbers are given to several Bald Eagle population monitoring groups, who then use them in conjunction with numbers supplied by other spotters around the country to guage the health of the bald eagle population.

Census counts are just one of the many tools in World Bird Sanctuary’s arsenal to ensure that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will still be able to see our country’s national symbol in the wild, and not just in cages at zoos.  We hope that future generations will never have to say to their children, “Once upon a time there used to be a bird called a Bald Eagle….”

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

No comments: