Once upon a time - well, actually, back when the bald eagle was designated as our national symbol - an estimated 100,000 nesting pairs of them existed in what became our lower 48 states.

That was 1782, folks, and let's be honest, there was no way then to know how many birds. Heck, hardly anyone knew what was west of the Appalachians, but never mind; it's a nice round number. And a good guess, since this continent was a wildlife paradise at one time.

By 1963, though, wanton shooting, habitat destruction, polluted waterways and, of course, widespread use of DDT had reduced that number to 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the by-then 48 United States, a pretty reliable - and most distressing - total. Worse, that was 20 years after federal legislation had been passed to protect the eagles and their habitats. Think of it.

In 1972, DDT was banned in the United States. In 1973 came the Endangered Species Act, and bald eagles were designated as endangered under it in all but five states. Recovery of the eagles began. A success under the ESA, bald eagles were upgraded to threatened in 1995 in all the Lower 48, continuing their climb out of their precarious situation.

On June 28, 2007, just last week, bald eagles were delisted. There are now some 10,000 nesting pairs in the Lower 48, plus perhaps 40,000 individual birds in Alaska and Canada. Recovered. A success under the Endangered Species Act. Congratulations to the eagles, to some particular humans, to all of us.

Although no longer protected under the act, bald (and golden) eagles remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which covers the birds and also their habitats.

So then, it's OK to relax on the eagles' behalf. No, not just yet. Bald eagles continue to suffer and die when they ingest lead fragments and pellets infecting carrion left in the field by hunters who use lead ammunition. Investigators and ornithologists, including Derek Craighead and Bryan Bedrosian of Craighead Beringia South in Jackson Hole are studying this most unfortunate problem and its solution. Basically, the solution is to phase lead out of ammunition (and fishing gear). It must be got rid of, since it is not inert and its compounds are toxic to animals and birds. And people.

It can be done.

Now, then ... "Now then" is an artifice I resort to sometimes when a subject change is going to happen and my other suggestions as to how to indicate that fact herein are ignored by copy editors. So. Bald eagles never disappeared even in the early years of the last century in Jackson Hole, and for that matter, in Wyoming. Not that they didn't suffer; they did by poisoning, shooting and persecution. But some birds persisted.

In June 2007, the nongame biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Susan Patla, reported in her aerial survey of  bald eagles. Currently, Wyoming enjoys more than 100 bald eagles. The highest density of nests is found along the Snake River corridor. In Teton County and in Grand Teton National Park, 28 nests produced young this year. (!) Four other occupied nests failed to produce. Many nestlings will be out or ready to leave their nests today, July 4. This year's mild spring weather enabled many nests to produce two young. A few brought off three, very rare for our average climate and our elevation.

The bald eagle, Susan Patla reminds, is classified as a "Species of Special Concern" in Wyoming. This will not change with delisting.

Field Notes: More birding news from Susan Patla. As of June 29, there were 34 occupied trumpeter swan sites in Wyoming, 21 nesting pairs and 18 successful nests to that date that produced 66 cygnets. Two pairs were still incubating. Before this year, the highest number of cygnets hatched in Wyoming since records began to be kept many decades ago was 54 in 2004. Of these, 38 survived to fledge. So this is a historic year.

This high productivity marks the importance, Susan points out, of Wyoming Game and Fish's program to develop new wetland ponds that will be able to support additional pairs of nesting swans and provide habitat for sub-adults that may not nest until they are 4 to 5 years old.

Enjoying the six cygnets on the Buffalo River (Pinto Pond) is Fred Kingwill. Mike Mauer noted black-headed grosbeak in Cache Creek Canyon. Al Galbraith vastly admired a long-billed curlew family on Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park. Kim Springer found peregrine falcons on the Granite Creek Trail.

Kim Springer also remarked on the loss of huckleberries to frost at the 8,000-foot level, but fireweed in very early bloom on Snow King Mountain. Very early. Several hikers have noticed few mosquitoes but many butterflies. It continues dry, dry, dry and now hot.

The Jackson Hole Bird Club will meet informally at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 8, on the Bert Walk immediately north of the visitor center on North Cache Drive. Bird watching, socializing, observations and refreshments. Everyone is welcome to attend.

© Bert Raynes 2007


Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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