Bald eagles: Thrill of the wild

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To me, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing an eagle – whether bald or golden – in the wild and close enough to discern whether it’s an adult or juvenile.

In the late 1990s, two Original Irregular journalists joined a flotilla of canoeists and kayakers paddling across Lake Umbagog to the mouth of Rapid River and back.

We were novices in a canoe borrowed from my friend Mark Robie of Kingfield.

The highlight of our trip was not miraculously surviving a mini tsunami wake kicked up by a large boat farther away. Rather, it was watching a pair of bald eagles repeatedly dive toward the lake raking large fish from just below the surface to feed to their nestlings.

This thrill of the wild is a powerful force of nature not to be missed.

It’s why I was exceedingly pleased to learn that government bald eagle recovery strategies, launched in 1962, four years after I was born, resulted in removing bald eagles from the federal list of threatened species throughout the raptors’ range in the continental states on June 30, 2007.

Through diligent recovery plans, bald eagles were reclassified from endangered to threatened by 1995 across the same area.

By 2006, their numbers had rebounded to at least 9,789 nesting pairs in the lower 48.

Also that year, Maine ranked eighth among the lower 48 in abundance of breeding eagles and is the species’ stronghold in the northeastern United States, according to a report released Monday by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists Brad Allen and Charlie Todd.

In 2006, they wrote, Maine’s 414 nesting pairs represented 74 percent of all eagles living in New England and New York.

But, unlike the nation, one hurdle remains before Maine follows suit and removes bald eagles from the threatened designation under the Maine Endangered Species Act, a change requiring action by the state Legislature, possibly as imminent as next session.

So far, this year, the department’s preliminary survey total is 435 nesting bald eagle pairs, but that number is expected to rise slightly as biologists investigate reports of new nests and do final aerial survey monitoring.

Maine’s eagle stronghold is still Down East, but new eagle pairs have been found from Bethel to Lubec from York County to Aroostook County, Todd and Allen said.

“Maine citizens, visitors to the state, and our data all agree that the steady increases in numbers and distribution of Maine’s bald eagles have greatly boosted public viewing opportunities to see and enjoy our national symbol,” the department report stated.

I fully agree, having seen bald eagles in increasing numbers along the Androscoggin River from Dixfield to Bethel.

Although, granted, our founding fathers’ designation in 1782 of the bald eagle – “a cowardly fish thief of bad moral character,” as Ben Franklin wrote in a 1784 letter to his daughter – rather than Franklin’s desired wild turkey as the national bird, may have been flawed.

However, I have yet to nearly have my minivan’s windshield taken out by our nation’s symbol.

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