Capture of Eagle #E63
It had been a long day already, up at 2:00am and on the road by 3:00am to get here and get set up before the birds left their night roost close to dawn. It is important that the capture site is all prepared and mostly unchanged when the eagles arrive; human activity any near the site will scare them off, sometimes for days. My intern, Amy Rabuck, and I feel very much like closing our eyes for just a quick cat-nap. But like fisherman watching a line that disappears to places unknown, our anticipation and excitement kept that from happening. At any moment, we figured, an eagle could fly up the valley from it's roost, up and over the dam, and land on or near our bait.
We didn't have long to wait. At 6:40 am the first two immature birds came flapping up the valley, pumping hard to gain the elevation needed to clear the huge dam. They flew nearly directly toward the carcass', perching in trees only 50 yards or so away. These were quickly followed by more eagles, both immatures and adults, indicating to us they were all very aware this food source was there. The carcass had been placed for some time, to get the eagles used to this site for exactly this purpose; two fresh ones had been placed just two days before by another member of our team, Kathy Michell. (You should know this is in no way a one-person show; it takes a large team to make all our research come together).
The presence of 4 adult birds, perched in trees not far from the carcass', really excited us. We watched intently all the movements and actions of the eagles. Crows had been feeding on our offering from first-light, always a good sign, as they seem to be indicators to the eagles that all must be "all right" down there. An immature eagle landed on the ice 20 yards from the deer, walked in and began feeding at 7:35am. Soon two immatures were feeding, then three, then four. Finally, at 7:50am , an adult landed and began feeding. At first he was very cautious, and was even being pushed around and off the meat sometimes by some of the larger immatures. This gave me the first hint that this was a male eagle, smaller and often submissive to larger females, even if they are immature. I quickly gave the remote-control firing box to Amy, and excitedly gave her some instructions on its use. We had to be patient though, as all the feeding eagles needed to be in just the right spots before we could detonate the rockets that carry the 40' x 60' net over the bait. This is a tense time, waiting, and hoping one of the birds or something else (like another truck driving up on the dam) doesn't spook the adult off the carcass. Through my binoculars, I had already determined this eagle was unbanded, meaning he was not one of our local birds; a perfect candidate for us.
He was perched atop the main carcass, head down and feeding actively, I told Amy, "Pull!!" A loud bang and huge cloud of smoke instantly covered the trap site and all its occupants as the net deployed. We didn't wait to have a look. By the time the smoke cleared, I was already speeding across the dam and nearly at the trap-site. The truck lurched to a stop; we threw our doors open and ran down onto the ice. There, under our net, was our target adult male and four immature bald eagles. The shot was perfect, and it was only eight o'clock in the morning! Much work lay ahead.
For you real motivated Journey Northers, you could go back through the archives and look at other eagles captured from this area to see where they went. Do you think E/63 might go to these same areas, simply because he was wintering in the same area as those birds?