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Jun. 22, 2018
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Bald Eagles nesting near Lanier Islands

By Jane Harrison
 
Thirty years of boating on Lake Lanier gave Gary Scott a certain familiarity with the waterscape of Georgia’s largest reservoir. But, he spotted something last month above the water that filled him with newfound wonder: two Bald Eagles feeding eaglets in a nest not far from Lanier Islands Resort.
 
“The dad came first. He was feeding at least two chicks a fish. We could see their heads popping up,” Scott said, describing the scene he and wife, Petra, spied in a tall pine tree near the water’s edge. “I thought my wife was going to leap out of the boat.”
 
The nest is the third or fourth documented on Lake Lanier in three years, said Bob Sargent, eagle survey manager with the Georgia Department of Resources. The nesting pair that Scott reported may be a new couple, Sargent said, or it is entirely possible they are the same pair documented three years ago about a half mile away. Eagles sometimes establish a “back up nest in case their abode falls out of a tree,” he added.
 
Sargent has observed nests on Lanier’s west side and on the northern end at Don Carter State Park. The sightings on Lanier come during a particularly high time for Bald Eagles around Georgia, with record numbers of active nests reported last year.
 
Statewide aerial surveys in 2017 detected 218 occupied nest territories. That eclipses the previous record of 210 in 2015 and marks the third straight year that more than 200 active Bald Eagle nests have been documented in Georgia.
 
Sargent said Lanier possesses the three-factor formula for an ideal nesting environment. First, Bald Eagles “need an adequate food resource, particularly fish,” which are 70 percent of their diet. They also consume ducks, coots, turtles, and snakes – all in abundance around the lake with about 690 miles of shoreline.
 
Next, Bald Eagles seek a certain tree structure to accommodate large nests and wide wingspans. “They nest 90 percent in pine trees, among the largest in the forest,” Sargent said. They seek pines with flattened tops and open architecture, the kind not found in dense woods. Not just any tree can host guests with seven-foot wing spans who build domiciles more than three to four feet wide and deep.
 
Third, Bald Eagles need privacy from humans. “Human activity needs to be uncommon. They shy away from houses, traffic, and the coming and going of people,” Sargent said. Although there are exceptions, eagles generally build 1,500 feet or more from the nearest house or road. Stretches of Lanier’s largely undeveloped shore gives eagles the isolation they need to raise their young.
 
Scott, who has a home in Alpharetta and a place near Bald Ridge Marina, actually first saw a single eagle above Lanier about four years ago. That thrill hooked him on bird watching from his boat. “I kept my eyes to the sky,” he said, looking for the white heads and broad wings of America’s national symbol above the water. Two years ago, he focused on two Bald Eagles in the same vicinity where he viewed the nesting family last month.
 
“My wife first said it was an osprey,” Scott said, referring to another large raptor frequently seen around Lanier. Observing the white heads and white underbellies, Scott declared, “That’s not an osprey!”        
 
“We could hear the chicks chirping,” he said. In a couple of return outings, they watched as one eagle hunted and another tended the nest. “I got real excited about it. They are awesome, majestic birds.”

He reported the nest site to Sargent through the DNR’s website. Sargent said that another observer had actually contacted him about that nest two weeks previously. “They’re in a tree right by the water’s edge. They picked a really good spot,” Scott said.

 
Bald Eagle Facts
  • The DNR does not disclose exact nest locations to inhibit people from getting too close. Imposition by humans interfere with Bald Eagles’ ability to incubate eggs and feed their young.
  • Pairs begin maintaining a nest and mating in October. Some lay eggs in November.
  • Eaglets fledge in North Georgia in late May. Parents continue to look after their young for one to three months. It generally takes a six month investment to see them on their way.
  • At least 142 nests in Georgia last year were successful, fledging a total of 218 young eagles, an average of 1.5 per successful nest. Four nests appear to have fledged as many as three young. In 2016, 149 of the 201 occupied nesting territories were successful, fledging an estimated 240 eaglets.
  • Factors feeding the national bird’s recovery include a U.S. ban on DDT use in 1972, habitat improvements after enactment of the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, protection through the Endangered Species Act, increased public awareness, restoration of local populations through release programs, and forest regrowth.
  • The public is encouraged to report eagle nests via www.georgiawildlife.com/bald-eagle, (478) 994-1438 or bob.sargent@dnr.ga.gov. (Tip: Osprey nests are sometimes confused with eagle nests. If unsure, check out the differences via online research.)

            Source: Bob Sargent, DNR eagle survey manager


Baby peregrine falcons succumb to cold
 
Four newly hatched Peregrine Falcons at Tallulah Gorge State Park did not survive a cruel bout of cold weather in late April. “It’s entirely likely they got too chilled,” said Bob Sargent, Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. The baby birds, known as eyasses, died in the cold spell that disrupted tender new life in the gorge.
 
Temperatures in the mid-30s and freezing rain hit the cliffs where a nesting pair had returned to the rugged high country for the fourth consecutive year. Their first appearance in 2014 marked the first time in nearly 75 years that a Peregrine nest in a natural setting had been confirmed in Georgia.
 
A park ranger spotted the returning female Peregrine in early February. The male was seen shortly after near the same location where they had previously nested. The eggs hatched in mid-April. The eyasses needed from 35-42 days of feeding and care from their parents to fledge.  
 
Birdwatchers who followed the raptors four years trained binoculars across the gorge in a hatch watch April 9 were saddened by their demise, but hopeful about next year.
 
“Nature is harsh sometimes,” Sargent said. But, he added the Peregrines will likely return again next February and try again. 


Posted online 5/29/18

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