This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate once again in the annual mid-winter Bald Eagle survey. This national event began back in 1979 by the National Wildlife Federation. Our local count is under the direction of Noel Fletcher, Wildlife Biologist for the Prescott National Forest.
My assigned area each year is Goldwater Lake. The protocol for the count requires being in one’s assigned area by 7 a.m. and staying until 11 a.m. This count is very different from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which involves a lot of travel by car and by foot. For my location the Bald Eagle count is a fixed-point survey, which means I stayed in the exact same spot for the entire four-hour period.
Last year my birding buddy Everett Cox and I observed nine Bald Eagles at Goldwater—including adults and several juveniles. This year we only observed two adults during the four-hour count period. Our first eagle sighting occurred at 7:31 a.m., and the second sighting was at 8:09 a.m. From our vantage point, we could see both eagles simultaneously so we knew we weren’t double counting.
Both birds arrived at Upper Goldwater Lake from the direction of Lower Goldwater Lake. When they left, they returned to the same area from where they had come. While we didn’t see a lot in the way of eagles, standing at the edge of Goldwater Lake for four hours gave me the opportunity to do a lot of bird watching.
Some of my favorite bird sightings on Saturday included both hooded and common mergansers, and common goldeneyes. I had my Swarovski scope with me. I have to say, these are really amazing birds — their plumage and markings are striking! Other water fowl observed included canvasback ducks, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, mallards and, of course, American Coots.
There was also a male belted kingfisher hanging out in a cove on the northeast corner of the lake where he was actively fishing. I never tire of seeing belted kingfishers! And of course, there were several great blue herons working the shallow margins of the lake looking for prey.
The day before the Bald Eagle survey, I led a Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored bird walk at Willow Lake where we saw a single adult Bald Eagle on the east side of the lake. Two days earlier, on New Year’s Day, my wife and I saw a juvenile Bald Eagle as we hiked the Flume Trail in the Dells.
This means I saw Bald Eagles three times in a four-day time span. I think this is remarkable! I can remember that when I was growing up, Bald Eagles were rare. Eagles, along with other birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons, were negatively impacted by DDT poisoning. Even though I started bird watching at a very young age, I didn’t see my first Bald Eagle until I was in my 20s.
Thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, both Bald Eagles and peregrine falcons (along with many other species such as brown pelicans and Kirtland’s warblers) have made a great comeback.
I am grateful to live in a place surrounded by our beautiful National Forest and in an area with beautiful lakes. Our local lakes contribute so much to the diversity of birds we see in the Prescott area including several Tundra swans and a lone Pacific loon that have been at Willow Lake the last few weeks.
We are blessed with an abundance of amazing birds in the Prescott area that enrich our lives as we spend time out in nature. Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.