It is early August and I have one satellite transmitter (or PTT) yet to deploy on a young eagle. Dave and Ann Lynch spent two solid weeks in late June/early July perfecting their craft of artful presentation of fish to the Decorah fledglings, yet the “kids” instead chose to food-beg loud and often and insist Mom or Dad bring them food at the nest. There was no evidence of any of the fledglings ever picking up a fish during that time. In previous years we’ve had multiple fledglings coming to the same spot – the mulch pile – for some easy meals, and usually within just a few days of watching and waiting for our talented trout tossers to appear.
When visitor attendance diminished at the hatchery in late July, all three fledglings were still being spotted with regularity by several of our sharp-eyed eagle watchers. Hatchery biologist Brian Malaise and I kept in touch often and he and his crew again put fish out in the same spot. Lo and behold, the female, D27, began showing interest and eventually took advantage of these easy meals each morning. One of the males was believed to have also helped himself to the free offerings.
We chose Monday, August 7 to attempt to capture whichever youngster decided to come to bait. My wife Carole, Eagle Valley Technician Ryan Schmitz, and I arrived at Willard Holthaus’s shop by 5:15 AM and quickly set the padam noose trap baited with three nice hatchery trout. Weather was perfect: 58 degrees, mostly clear sky, light wind. All equipment and supplies were laid out in the shop in anticipation of a successful capture. Then we watched and waited. A few adult calls were heard from near the nest tree by 6:05. Then at 6:15 an immature eagle appeared from the west just above treetop height. I speculated it was large enough to be female D27. She landed in the maple tree briefly, then headed toward the mulch pile, looped over that area, perhaps checking out what food might be there, then circled back and landed on the mulch pile. We had placed a small trout atop the mulch pile, which she decided looked like a great appetizer. She rather daintily ate the fish and began eying the three trout just two feet away. She walked inside the padam, grabbed a fish or two in a foot, and tugged at them a few times as we all watched intently. When I was convinced she had a noose around a toe or foot, I gave the call to “GO, GO” and Ryan and Brian sprinted ahead to secure her. She was captured at 6:18, hooded, and taken to the shop where she was weighed (9.48 #) and had several measurements taken. The composite of those measurements revealed she is a small female. The entire process of getting measurements, banding, and fitting of the PTT was fluid and seamless.
Within an hour of capture we were ready to release D27 and begin what is likely the final chapter of the Decorah eagle tracking story that began with our beloved D1 back in 2011. After placing her back on the mulch pile, she quickly oriented herself and flew north alongside the N1 Cottonwood tree to settle along Trout Creek.
I cannot imagine a better crew than Carole and Ryan. John Howe, Brian, and friend Andrew Batt documented the entire process with photos and video. And a huge “Thank you!” to Willard for again making his shop available for all of this. What a great example of teamwork by all. I am so thankful for everyone’s input, time, and patience.
After tracking primarily adult eagles since winter 1998-99 to determine migration dynamics in the Upper Midwest, their fidelity to migration routes, as well as fidelity to and mobility on summer and winter ranges, The Eagle Valley Nature Preserve study has recently been focusing on immature eagle travels and observing if/how the migration behavior changes as the birds mature. The Decorah eagles have provided an outstanding opportunity to track eagles of known origin from this region and begin to answer the oft-asked question of “where do the Decorah eagles go when they leave Decorah?”
We encourage all of you to join us in our prayers and positive believing that D27 lives a long, healthy life and the PTT functions properly for several years so we can continue to reveal the intricacies of eagle migration behavior.
Stay tuned: thanks to Brett and crew, we will share D27’s travels athttps://www.raptorresource.org/eagle-map/.