EASTMAN LAKE, Calif. Aca,!" For one long week this summer, Eastman Lake's park rangers feared the worst. The lake's bald eagle nest, home to one of America's most fertile eagle pairs, had fallen, Eastman volunteer Bowman Looney reported. Scattered beneath its perch they'd found feathers and mammal droppings. The rangers had seen just one of the three fledglings in recent days. The other two, it appeared, had been lost.

Then, one morning in late July, there they were. Park ranger Ella Thurston was out on morning patrol when she saw them: all three bald eagle fledglings, swooping over the water with one of their parents, learning to hunt. "Oh my God!" she whispered, reaching for her binoculars. She watched them until they glided off into the trees, then made for the park office. She burst in, smiling. "I just saw all three!"

It was a heart-warming discovery for everyone at Eastman Lake, made more so by the loss of two fledglings last year, when high winds blew their nest out of its tree. The bald eagle pair has fledged 35 young since they first nested at Eastman in 1993, making them among the most consistently productive parents in the Pacific region, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Now they were part of the Eastman family.

"Fledging three birds is rare," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife wildlife biologist Ken Sanchez, who has advised Eastman on protecting their resident eagles. "You usually see one, maybe two come out of a nest," he says. "Three is unique."

Since the pair's first nesting site was discovered in 1993, Eastman park rangers have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to protect them and their offspring during nesting season. Bald eagles are sensitive to human activities, especially when they're nesting, and thrive best in seclusion. So Eastman developed a bald eagle management plan in accordance with Army natural resource management regulations and both agencies' recommendations. The plan protects the eagles by limiting access to recreation areas near the nesting site and provides observations about the pair's productivity and habits to Fish and Wildlife and Fish and Game.

Dale Steele, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, says the collaborative observation and reporting of bald eagle population data have been essential to the species' recovery.

"The work we've done with our partners like the Corps has been essential to documenting the nest productivity of a number of threatened and endangered species, including the bald eagle," says Steele. "It's only through this kind of documentation that we've been able to gauge the health of the species and the effectiveness of our efforts to protect them. It's important work, and invaluable to their conservation."

Tracking the eagles is a big job, but Eastman has kept it up with the help of several volunteers. Area resident and teacher Bowman Looney has been following the eagles since the first nest was discovered.

As a wildlife enthusiast, he says, "I've always been interested in predators. And the bald eagle is just beautiful."

For over a decade, Bowman has been leading groups of special-needs students on eagle-spotting excursions to Eastman. It's a valuable education experience for them, he says, but also an emotional one.

"It's surprising, actually. Some of these kids are from the city, and they've had it pretty tough," Bowman explains. "But seeing a bald eagle in the wild, it's just exciting. You see it in their faces - it's just thrilling for them. And that's thrilling for me."

Eastman Park Manager Jerry Magnuson says that's a feeling he and the park staff share.

"As our national bird, there's a certain pride that comes with having these bald eagles nesting here," he says. "For years there wasn't a nesting pair of bald eagles within 200 miles of us. So to have been a part of their recovery, and to have seen so many eagles fledged here at the lake, gives us a feeling of great satisfaction and reward."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16