River watcher at work

Soaring just above the surface of the Battenkill River near East Greenwich on Monday, Dec. 31 a bald eagle turns in search of prey. The birds are year-round residents of the region, but are particularly active in the winter months.

When I worked at The Citizen newspaper in Auburn, I'd go on mid-winter bald eagle survey around Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

It's a population count now managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

I was very fortunate, because Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is the spot where the state placed its first eagle hacking tower in the 1980s as part of its program to bring the population numbers back up from two.

I got to meet the late Mike Allen, one of the first state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife technicians leading the project, and see his reaction to his efforts. There were more than 80 seen last year alone. 

I'm still on the email chain for those bald eagle surveys, and I learned today that the federal government's shutdown is delaying this year's survey. Four of 14 survey routes, said the organizer David Marsh, pass through gated areas of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and are not accessible during the shutdown.

Marsh said those four routes accounted for the sightings of 50 of last year's 81 bald eagles.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the group may survey by mid-February and still be a part of the nationwide population count.

I will be writing about New York's bald eagles in more detail, and will be following a local surveyor to get an idea of how the Capital Region's bald eagles are doing. From some of the photos I've seen from our bird experts in Washington and Warren counties, they're doing quite well.

But I do hope the Montezuma National Wildlife survey can proceed unfettered, as its that special place where the eagle's comeback began. It would be a shame if it could not fully account for the legacy that is there.

— Gwendolyn Craig

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1

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