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Naturalists Need You! 

To help follow golden eagles

The Christmas Valley region has at least three Golden Eagles roaming around that are wearing radio transmitters, and one of them is from Alaska.

The transmitter is difficult to see, unless you look for it. If the bird's soaring overhead there will be several opportunities to observe that small "hump" on the eagle's back, between the wings. If it is perched on a cross-arm near the top of a power pole or irrigation pipeline, it is also obvious, but watching the bird without the aid of binoculars can sometimes be a handicap.

The one pictured was observed near the junction of Highway 395 and Christmas Valley road. It was outfitted with the transmitter two years ago, where it fledged from a nest in the interior of Alaska.

Two seasons ago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided to place transmitters on several fledglings from nests in Southeast Oregon. Many of the birds left the region, but two—plus the Alaska visitor—have been returning to the Christmas Valley region in winter. The USFW and Bureau of Land Management researchers would really appreciate any field notes on what the eagles are doing and exactly where.

Tracking wildlife with radio transmitters is not a new way of studying their movements, but the newest method of doing so by satellite has opened new doors to making immediate contact with the research bird in the field.

For years, wildlife biologists have been tracking wildlife to learn about migratory patterns, mortality, and human interactions. While this research seeks to determine where the animals are going, researchers also want to know why they are going "there," and what is happening to their habitat.

Back in the mid-90s, my wife Sue and our kids tagged hundreds of monarch butterflies raised in the Lava Beds National Monument, just south of Klamath Falls. The objective was to see where they were going after they left Lava Beds.

We often traveled to California, especially to the Monarch Preserve in Santa Cruz. We'd spend a week searching among the thousands of wintering monarchs looking for one of our tagged butterflies, but never did spot one.

However, one winter we were notified that a researcher in a Monarch Preserve near Half Moon Bay, California, was capturing monarchs and taking them into the interior and releasing them to see if they'd return to the preserve he captured them from. As he was netting the monarchs he discovered one of our tagged males from Lava Beds.

American Naturalist and artist, John James Audubon, used a similar technique to satisfy his curiosity about whether migrating birds return to the same spot each year. In 1803, he tied colored yarn to the legs of migrating birds—effectively the first known bird-banding project in North America—and discovered what we now know, that birds do return.

These days, scientists use metal bands to track the movement of birds, but the idea is the same. Banding can offer a window into avian migratory patterns, such as revealing that red-tailed hawks can live up to (and perhaps above) 21-years of age. How do I know? The banding lab sent me notice that a red-tail I banded in Fort Rock was recovered—shot—21 years later in a wildlife refuge in Idaho.

Which opens another window for you to look through. In addition to leg bands and radio transmitters, some eagles, hawks, and turkey vulture researchers are using a patagial (wing) tag on their birds. This tag is usually colored, has a visible number on it, and is placed between the wrist of the bird's wing and body.

Back in the '70s, I was leading a birding trip into the Fort Rock Basin and we spotted a bald eagle wearing a patagial tag. We followed it the greater part of the day, but could never be in the right place at the right moment to read the number. We gave up in frustration as the eagle—undoubtedly also frustrated by the bus-load of people following it around all day—flew off, never to be seen again.

The women on the trip assured me the tag was chartreuse in color, so that Monday I called the banding lab (who authorizes the use of auxiliary markers on wild birds), and this is what I was told: "Thanks, Jim, even without the number I can tell you that bird came either from Alaska or Utah; Alaska was using green, and Utah was using blue, but both weathered out to chartreuse."

It was through banding waterfowl that the issue of lead poisoning in humans and ducks was discovered, which lead to the banning of lead in waterfowl hunting. It was also through banding that I discovered three snow geese I had shot during the waterfowl season at Summer Lake were residents of Russia; they were wearing Russian bands.

I began banding golden eagles in 1962 and the first thing I noticed was the high morality of juvenile eagles along Highway 31, between LaPine and Silver Lake.

Banding also presented data that young eagles, for the first three years of their lives, often migrated from Central Oregon to west Texas and New Mexico in winter. Now, satellite-tracking is providing first-hand, in-depth locations of the eagles wearing the devices.

When you see a transmitter-equipped eagle, please obtain a photo if you can, use a GPS to mark the location, and then write up what you observed the eagle doing. You can call me if need be at 541-480-3728, and/or submit your data via email:

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