Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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September 17, 2012

Eagles spotted nesting in LaGrange County

LaGRANGE — That famous phrase, “The Eagle has landed,” not only applied to the moon landing of 1969, it applied to LaGrange County Parks in 2012.

An adult, mating pair of American bald eagles successfully built a nest and hatched two fledglings this past spring and early summer. The event is so rare in northeastern Indiana that it garnered quite a bit of attention from local naturalists and game management personnel.

“The nest in LaGrange County is significant because it is the first known nest in that county and the most northern nest in Indiana that I know of,” explained John Castrale, a non-game bird biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The current count for the state of Indiana runs between 150 to 175 nests and most of those are in the southern part of the state.

“From about 1898 to 1989, there were no nests reported in Indiana,” Castrale said.

He attributed the population making a significant return, after nearly a 100-year absence, mainly to conservation efforts that improved their habitat. Castrale guessed at what the LaGrange eagle family’s probable plans for this fall are.

“They are likely still in the area, but don’t spend time at the nest,” he said. “The adults will continue to feed (the young) for a couple of months until they have perfected their hunting and fishing skills.”

Leaving soon

The juvenile birds will leave the nesting area. “They’ll wander for the next four years before trying to attract a mate and establish their own nesting territory,” he said. “This usually occurs within about 125 miles of where they were raised.”

 Where they spend their winter is up to the prevailing temperatures.

“Bald eagles at this latitude don’t migrate long distances,” Castrale said, “so the adults will likely stay in the area until most lakes freeze up. At that time, they will venture south to find open areas where fish and waterfowl are more available. During mild winters, they will likely stay in the area.”

Wherever they go, they will travel alone. “When they migrate, they move as individuals, not as a pair or family group,” he said. “The adults should return to their territory in late winter and nest sometimes from late February to early April.”

 Scott Beam, resident LaGrange County Parks system interpretive naturalist, was thrilled when he heard about the successful nesting pair. “People had spotted them and called me,” Beam said. “I never did find the nest, but I was directed to the vicinity and that nest was in a remote, densely forested area near Olin Lake. It is a rare event.”

Hunting activity

 It isn’t only the professionals that have observed an upswing in eagle sightings. Loren Heinlen lives southwest of Mongo. A hunter and practicing conservationist, he has observed eagles hunting in the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife preserve. Although he hasn’t spotted any nesting activity, he might have witnessed one member of the pair training their young.

 Heinlen said he and his wife sighted two bald eagles. One was mature and the other was immature. They were hunting along a creek that runs into Pigeon River in the fish and wildlife area. “The immature had a rabbit in its claw while it sat in a tree. The older one sat nearby, observing. I saw some Amish youngsters a few days later with binoculars along that same stretch. My guess is that they had seen them also.” Heinlen says he has seen ospreys and feels the bald eagles can’t be far behind if the hunting is good. “I’ve also seen golden eagles twice, but not in many years.”

For more information about Indiana’s eagle population go to the DNR’s website and search under endangered and non-game species. www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.

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