Sierra Star
Friday, May 28, 1999 Online Edition

The Eagle Has Landed

This 10-week-old bald eaglet, safely and comfortably resting at Bass Lake, patiently awaits its parents’ return. The Pines Resort canceled a fireworks show at the end of May to prevent frightening or injuring the baby, which could have prematurely jumped from the nest because of the noise.

Friday fireworks cancelled to protect a baby

    BASS LAKE — A scheduled fireworks show for Friday [May 28] has been postponed to protect an eight-week-old bald eagle nestling.    In recent years, the fireworks have been presented by The Pines Resort as a way to celebrate the official start of the summer season.    The plan was that this year's show would immediately follow the first concert of the "Jazz on the Lake" series, held poolside at Ducey's.

    However, plans changed when Steve Welch, executive vice president of The Pines Resort, heard of the possible danger to the baby eagle from a Bass Lake resident.    David Garcelon, president of the non-profit Institute for Wildlife Studies (headquartered in Arcata), made a special trip to the area after being told that a marked eagle was nesting in the area.

    For Mr. Garcelon, a highly-respected authority on eagles, the trip proved to be more exciting than he expected.    Not only did he discover the eagle chick, but he also realized the mother of the nestling was a bird that he originally fostered into a wild nest on Santa Catalina six years ago.    The fostering of this bird is part of a long-term reintroduction program initiated by the Institute in 1980.

    The mother bird was collected from a nest in Northern California at about 2 weeks of age and placed into the nest on Santa Catalina Island.    It fledged from the nest at about 12 weeks, staying in the company of its foster parents until leaving the island later that year.    Prior to leaving the nest, Institute personnel placed orange wing-markers (No. 31) on the bird to allow for long-term identification from a distance.    The bird was also equipped with a colored leg band and a federal Fish and Wildlife Service leg band.

    In 1995, the eagle was observed in northern Washington, along the Columbia River. Observers relayed the numbers seen on the wing-markers that positively identified the eagle.    It was not seen again until the summer of 1998, when it was observed in adult plumage with another adult adding sticks to an old osprey nest at Bass Lake.    Because it was late in the breeding season, Mr. Garcelon did not think the birds would successfully nest.

    This year, the adult pair was back at the same nest, but this time had started early, likely having eggs by early March.  " It is always a nervous waiting game to see if the eagles will return to an area where they have not yet successfully nested," says Mr. Garcelon.    "After waiting all winter I was thrilled to hear the birds were back at the Bass Lake nest, and even more excited to see that they had an eaglet."    What makes the sighting even more amazing is that in the 20 years Mr. Garcelon has been involved in the eagle program, this is the first eaglet ever successfully produced by an eagle released on Santa Catalina Island.

    Indeed, the pair has one healthy-looking seven to-eight-week-old eaglet in the nest. (Bald eagles normally have one or two chicks).    It is expected that the bird will take its first flight sometime around the end of June, when it is approximately 12 weeks old.

    The Pines Resort has offered to provide lodging for Mr. Garcelon so that he can be at Bass Lake as the nestling prepares to leave the nest, an opportunity he is very excited about.    "Having the opportunity to see the eaglet fledge off the nest is something I have been waiting for since I started the Santa Catalina Island reintroduction program in 1980," says Mr. Garcelon.

    Using a telescope, he spotted the eagle and its nest from the outside patio of Ducey’s. While he was excited about this sighting, Mr. Garcelon was concerned when he heard of Friday's fireworks show.    "As eagles nest fairly close to the water's edge, they are susceptible to disturbance from water-related activities that they have not had a chance to become accustomed to,"explains Mr. Garcelon.    "The loud noise of a fireworks show could cause the young eagle to prematurely jump from its nest, causing serious injury or death. The noise could also keep the adult eagles away from their dependent eaglet."

    Once he was made aware of the situation and the potential harm to the bird, Mr. Welch did not hesitate to cancel the fireworks.    "We decided that saving the nestling was far more important than a fireworks show,"he says. "We would not want to do anything that would place this baby eagle in jeopardy."

    Mr. Garcelon was elated with this decision. "[The Pines Resort] were very sensitive to our concerns about the eaglet and realized right off they would not want to take the risk of losing the first eaglet ever produced at Bass Lake."

    "We know some people will be disappointed not to have the fireworks show," continued Mr. Welch, "but hopefully they will understand why we made this decision."    The fireworks display will instead be held at the last "Jazz on the Lake" concert on September 3.    Mr. Welch explained that they had a contract for the show, but that Mark Silveria of Pyro Spectaculars was kind enough to revise the contract for the Labor Day weekend.

    Because it is expected that the fledgling will be out of the nest by Independence Day, the traditional July 4 fireworks display, presented by the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, will be held as planned.

    At the moment, fireworks does not appear to be what folks have on their minds.    As word has spread about the nestling, many wildlife enthusiasts have arrived at Ducey’s with binoculars, hoping to catch a glimpse of parents and baby.    Although Ducey’s opens at 11 a.m., personnel is allowing small school groups to view the eagles between 8-10 a.m. Monday through Friday.

    "The whole community is looking forward to seeing that bird flying around Bass Lake soon," Mr. Welch adds.    "We are doing our best to accommodate people who want to see the eagles," he says. "We are providing binoculars, a fact sheet on the eagles and information about the Institute for Wildlife Studies."

    The Institute was formed in 1979, with the goal to increase the understanding of wild animals and the habitats upon which they depend, in order to maintain viable wildlife populations.    "The need to understand the habits and habitat requirements of wildlife species becomes increasingly important as humans throughout the world encroach upon areas previously considered wilderness sanctuaries for wildlife,"explains Mr. Garcelon.    "Only through an understanding of how animals relate to their environment, will we be able to provide sufficient space and resources to allow them to flourish."

    According to Mr. Garcelon, many wildlife species have complex relationships with their environment.    As with anything complex, understanding does not come quickly and biologists must examine a species over an extended period of time before they can understand how an animal interacts with its environment.

    Because funding for long-term studies is rare, few species have been investigated in this manner. The endangered bald eagle is one such long-term study. It has created considerable insight into the biology of the eagle, and will contribute significantly to the successful maintenance of their population.

    The Institute has conducted studies to determine the appropriateness of bald eagle reintroductions for the Channel Islands, Point Reyes National Seashore, and for the north and central California coasts.    It has also made recommendations for enhancing habitat features to attract wintering and nesting bald eagles to the Lake Tahoe Basin, and is currently working with two relatives of the bald eagle. One is the Steller's sea eagle, which lives in Japan and Russia, and the other is the Sanford's sea eagle that lives in the south Pacific.

    To maintain the research and conservation programs, the Institute requires continued support from both the public and private sectors.

    Information: Institute for Wildlife Studies, Post Office Box 1104, Arcata 95518.                                  The phone number is (707) 822-4258.


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