River Currents: Counting Roosting Eagles

by Free Speech on February 4, 2011

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Yesterday, Sunday January 30th, was a nice day for the end of January. The sun shone brightly (for a change) and the high temperature for the day was in the low to mid 20’s which was comfortable when dressed properly for being outside. It was an afternoon for the volunteers from the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council to go to their assigned roost counting sites (10 sites) and count eagles the last few hours before sunset at the roosts in and around the Wisconsin River and its surrounding bluffs and valleys.

bald eagle

counting eagles

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is a local organization which according to their website is a grassroots organization whose purpose is “to protect, enhance, and maintain Bald Eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research, and management activities.” The Eagle Council works with schools, area residents, and the community to bring the eagles back every winter. I’ve been a member for years and always help in the roost counts and helping at the spotting scope during Bald Eagle Days. The numerous people who come to the Annual Bald Eagle Days and the many others who come to the Sauk Prairie area throughout the winter to “eagle view” spend a considerable amount of money helping the local economy. Money is spent on gas, food, lodging, and many other expenditures.

Another area where the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council helps the bald eagle is by participating in and financing bald eagle research. Eagle roost counting is one of the research tools that has been done the last 22 years by the FBEC. Every other Sunday afternoon in December, January, and February, the group’s volunteers go to their assigned roosts to count eagles as they come into various sites to spend the winter’s night. Over the years, the busiest and most used roosts have been narrowed down to 10 sites that are now “manned” by volunteers from the Council to regularly count the eagles as they come to their roosts. Volunteers (about 30-40 members) count all roosting eagles and also break the bird count into mature, immature, and unknown eagles in their bird count and survey. All this data along with wind direction, temperature, and snow depth are recorded by the volunteers.

Bald eagles don’t always roost in the same trees and valleys because they go to the roost sites that give them the most protection from the weather (snow and wind). Yesterday, the wind was from the east which had the eagles roosting at the far back of the valley (Sugarloaf) where they were protected from the winter wind. Eagles spend a vast majority of their time roosting or sitting in a tree and only 2% of their time flying and fishing. They are conserving their energy for the winter’s cold, so they don’t do much cruising this time of the year. This is why it is so important to stay in your vehicle while eagle viewing. People scare eagles and you don’t want to have them burn up energy when it isn’t called for or necessary.

When counting eagles, one of the most important things is to dress properly. I count bald eagles with retired UW Professor Tim Moermond, Donna and Bill Stehling, and two area high school students, Kelsey Preston and Renee Recob who helped scan the sky and record the day’s statistics. Kelsey and Renee are doing a project for high school. Tim Moermond is really the expert who knows more about eagles and all birds than all of us combined. If I have a question or want to know something about any bird, I ask Tim!  All of us know how to dress for standing in the cold for 2-3 hours after years of experience. But, two weeks ago was the first time that Kelsey and Renee helped count eagles and they weren’t prepared for the cold. This time they were ready with proper gear even though the day was much warmer.

The Sugarloaf Roost is on the east side of the Wisconsin River and not far from Wollerscheim Winery. A local resident has a backyard that backs up to this roost site and has been nice enough to let the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council use his backyard for years to watch eagles roost before sundown. The cold weather and snow has frozen up the Wisconsin River to Ferry Bluff, so the eagles are concentrated near the dam area. Most of the eagles are now spending their time up river and close to the open water below the Prairie du Sac Dam where they can feed regularly and gorge themselves on gizzard shad. Remember, that fish is the number one food of the eagle.

This Sunday was a good day for eagle counting and standing outside. The eagles started coming into the roost around 3:30 pm and continued almost non-stop till after 5:00 pm. Numerous eagles initially roosted in the southern part of the valley, but as the wind picked up many re-roosted and finally settled in the far eastern part of the valley and half way down the bluff. This must have been the most comfortable location for them for the evening. During periods of cold and snowy weather, an eagle may stay on the roost most if not all of the day. This may happen with the storm that is coming our way! I haven’t received the total count from all the eagle roosts, but I’m sure that the total numbers will remain high and that is over 200 eagles roosting in the Sauk Prairie area. The Sugarloaf Roost had over 40 eagles roost this past Sunday. Isn’t this great that these great birds continue to use our area?! To get the complete numbers go to; www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org or www.garyengbergoutdoors.com

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