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Training center's eagles can be seen on Web site

January 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The two bald eagles that have been nesting at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center probably figured they had a nice private spot.

Little do they know the whole world can look in.

Fascinated with the eaglets the eagles have raised at the property in past years, the facility's land manager decided to install a video camera near the nest to record the habits of the birds.

The images are being transferred to a Web site - better known as the Eagle cam - allowing the public to follow the latest goings-on in the nest.

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By going to the Web site at training.fws.gov/eagle, observers can check out the nest - about 85 feet in the air in a giant sycamore tree - by viewing a black-and-white image of the spot.

Experts believe bald eagles mate with the same partner for life and will use the same nest for several years, said Karen Lindsey, land manager for the National Conservation Training Center along Shepherd Grade Road north of Shepherdstown.

The two bald eagles that have been nesting at the center were first spotted there in winter 2003 when they began building the nest in the sycamore tree, Lindsey said.

They left and did not return until the next year, Lindsey said.

Center officials believe the female eagle laid three eggs in the nest in spring 2004 and two hatched.

The two young eagles were seen flying around the nest in June of that year, Lindsey said.

The two adult eagles returned to the nest last year and in June at least one of their young was seen flying around the nest, Lindsey said.

This year, Lindsey wanted to make sure the center - and everyone else - had a front-row seat for the action.

Lindsey thought about video cameras that have been installed at wildlife refuges in other parts of the country to observe wildlife and decided to try it at the local center.

Lindsey enlisted the help of a local tree expert to install the camera.

A truck that could lift a worker into the air was used to reach the spot. But because the truck could only reach as high as 75 feet, the worker who installed the camera had a use a rope to climb another 10 feet to install the camera on a limb, Lindsey said.

The camera, which was installed around August, is powered by a battery that is charged by a solar panel that was set up by the tree, Lindsey said.

The images recorded by the camera are sent to a nearby visual production building, where they are transferred to the Web site, Lindsey said.

The Web site provides a still picture of the nest and the image is renewed every four seconds.

In November, the eagles returned to the nest and were observed making repairs ahead of the spring nesting season. The birds often come to the nest between about 8 and 9 a.m. and return again in the afternoon, Lindsey said.

The birds have finished bringing large sticks into the nest - which is about three feet in diameter - and recently have been bringing in softer material, such as grass, Lindsey said.

Like all adult eagles, the adult male has been seen bringing sticks and other materials for the nest and the female has determined where the items will be placed, Lindsey said.

"She'll either take it or throw it over the edge. That's kind of fun," Lindsey said.

The eagle population was once on the decline with the introduction of the pesticide DDT in 1947. The giant birds, which have a wingspan of about 7 feet, are common in areas with large expanses of aquatic habitat, like Florida and the Chesapeake Bay, and have been increasing in population in the Eastern Panhandle, Lindsey said.

It is believed eagles like the Jefferson County area because they can go to the Potomac River to find fish to eat, Lindsey said.

"They will take a big fish up there and feed on it," Lindsey said, referring to the nest at the training center.

Lindsey said when the worker was installing the video camera in the tree, he stood in the nest and saw a turtle shell laying in it, apparent evidence of another good meal.

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