By Elma Chapman
Eagle, eagles, everywhere!
You probably already know that we had a pair of eagles successfully nest in LaGrange County this year, and you may have seen them, but did you know that with a short drive in Indiana you could see LOTS of them this winter? February 2 I participated in a DNR program called Eagle Watch at the Salamonie Reservoir. We met at the Salamonie Interpretive Center at 3 p.m., listened to a brief talk by a naturalist about the eagles, and then boarded the bus for the 66-mile eagle watch tour. Some people chose to drive their cars in a caravan behind the bus, but the $4 charge for the bus was a much better deal.
Our first stop was at Salamonie Dam. Eagles gather there in winter to feed on the fish because the water stays open when most of our lakes are frozen. They do better with low water volume because it’s clearer and calmer, but on this day a large volume of water was being released because barges were unable to navigate the Mississippi. What??? That’s right, the low water levels in the Mississippi River were playing havoc with barge traffic, so more water than usual was being released into the Salamonie River, which flows into the Wabash, which flows into the Ohio, which flows into the Mississippi. A good lesson on watersheds and how what we do here can affect far distant places. But I only saw one eagle at the dam and was somewhat disappointed. It was far away and only visible with binoculars or a spotting scope.
Four days before the trip we received an email from the DNR saying they had driven the route and seen 75 eagles, so seeing one was not too thrilling. I saw one eating something on the ice on North Twin Lake last week and I could see that one with the naked eye, although he was much more impressive with binoculars. But our next stop made up for the lack of success at the first stop.
Eagles have been roosting near a bridge downstream from the Mississinewa dam. When we arrived the naturalist took a quick look with her binoculars and said she saw 11. You have to know what you’re looking for, because I saw only 3, and I had binoculars, too. But as we stood on the bridge, more and more eagles flew in to roost for the night. One of them soared low over the river looking for fish, and we could really see his white head and tail clearly. I believe there were at least 40 visible by the time we left the bridge. The people who set up spotting scopes were generous with letting the rest of us look through them, which really helped because they had them trained on the eagles and you didn’t have to scan to find them.
Another feature of the trip was the presence of Belle, a three year old eagle who had had broken bones from a gunshot wound, and although the bones had healed, she was unable to be released back into the wild because of eye issues. She was named Belle in honor of the Liberty Bell. As her handler told us, “They’re both broken but they still stand for something.” So Belle is destined to live out her days on the educational circuit visiting schools, nursing homes, and public awareness programs like this one. Check out Belle on Facebook under “As Wings Of Eagles, Inc”. Since bald eagles only get their white heads and tail feathers when they are around five years old, she doesn’t yet have the iconic look of a bald eagle, but she is indeed a magnificent creature. We watched as she was hand fed frozen perch. A mature bald eagle is 31-35” in length and has a wing-span of 80”. Very impressive close up!
Eagles last nested in Indiana in the 1890s until they were re-introduced in 1985. They were the first reintroduction under the Indiana Non-game and Endangered Wildlife Program. The state was hoping for as many as 5 nests by the year 2000—instead they had 24! In 2010 there were 98 eagle nests in Indiana. The eagles are continuing to spread throughout the state, but if you want to see a lot of them in one place, check with the DNR in winter.