By Darrel Whipple
"Well, eagles aren't going to like this place!" remarked Mike Tweedy as we turned around in disappointment at the gate of the county shooting range near the mouth of the Toutle.
Indeed. The place was loaded with dozens of vehicles apparently owned by recreational shooters, but also by folks plying their skills -- well, actually their kids' skills -- at moto-cross, creating an insufferable din as the bikes bounced and flew around a course over the extensive mound of sand dredged from the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers.
No sooner had we started back toward the Cowlitz River to continue the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey, when we saw two bright adult eagles posting watch in the two nearest trees to the moto-cross cacophany! What. were. those. eagles. thinking?
It reminded me of Prof. Mayhew's Second Law of Animal Behavior: An animal will be where you find it. (Mayhew's First Law was: An animal will do what it damn well pleases.) Go figure.
Anyway, it was a great day to run the survey -- Saturday, February 20, 2021 -- and we had a respectable final count of 21 eagles. Seven of them were sub-adults, birds still in their first three years of life, not having attained adult plumage. It's good to see that the population may be replacing itself in our region, after many decades of nesting failure attributed to DDT or PCBs in the food chain. The Silver Lake nests are notably successful recently, as five of our observed sub-adults today were found there.
Most of our sightings were near nests or territories where I had found them in prior years' surveys, even though we often had to scan distant conifers to find them. Mike was good at spotting that little speck of white on a hillside of green.
Other species that were highlights of this day's outing were American Kestrel, Bufflehead and Tundra Swan.
We were conducting the 43rd Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey sponsored by WHAS, roughly following a vehicle route that was prescribed in 1979, when WDFW and other entities kicked off a ten-year eagle population study in the state. This year's survey yielded 11 adults and 5 sub-adults in the north latitude-longitude block (Coweeman mouth to the I-5 bridge over the Cowlitz) and 3 adults and 2 sub-adults in the south block (Coweeman to Kalama Marina).
Each block is about eight by twelve miles in size, and the route covers approximately 120 miles. The survey hours were 7:45 am to 3:30 pm, with temperatures in the 40s and an occasional shower.
The total of 21 eagles has been par for the course over the last few years. (Last year was a notable exception: we had 74 eagles on February 25, 2020, attracted from all over the region by the late smelt run!)