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Posts Tagged ‘eagle watchers’

mp100_scope_family_Jan_06_2014

Eagle Watcher Volunteer Carl Johansen shows a young visitor how to look at a bald eagle through a spotting scope on the Skagit River near Rockport Washington

UPDATE 11/10/16: We are no longer accepting applications for the 2016-2017 season. Thank you to everyone who applied!

Do you like spending time outdoors? Would you like to learn more about bald eagles and salmon in the Pacific Northwest and share that knowledge with visitors to our area? If that sounds like you, then you would make a great volunteer for the Skagit Eagle Watchers program with the US Forest Service.

The program is a lot of fun and full of great people. But don’t take my word for it; listen to what our current and former volunteers have to say:

If you are interested in volunteering, look for the application form on the top of this page, or call the Mt. Baker Ranger District at 360-856-5700 for more information.

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Eagle Watcher Volunteers on training day near the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

Eagle Watcher Volunteers on training day 2011 on the Cascade River near Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

Do you like spending time outdoors and meeting new people? Would you like to learn more about bald eagles, salmon, the Skagit River and the North Cascades? Do you enjoy winter birding, and sharing what you have learned with others? The Forest Service is looking for adult volunteers for our winter volunteer stewardship program. Volunteers staff information tents near eagle viewing areas on the Skagit River, and we get to look at eagles through spotting scopes and binoculars all day. Volunteers can also give nature walks or even formal programs if they have the desire to do so. You don’t have to know anything about eagles, we will teach you.  All you need is a friendly attitude and the desire to talk with the public. This program has been going for 21 years and we would love to see some new faces this year. Volunteer solo or with a friend or relative. The application and more information can be found using the tabs above. I will be in the office beginning November 10 and can be reached at (360)854-2630 if you have more questions.

-Tanya

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Eagle Watcher Volunteers at Milepost 100 on Highway 20, January 2012. This could be you!

Eagle Watcher Volunteers at Milepost 100 on Highway 20, January 2012.
This could be you!

Great news, Skagit Eagle Watchers! Our favorite eagle viewing site, Sutter Creek Rest Area (AKA Milepost 100) will be available for use this winter. Original plans were that a Skagit River restoration project and resulting road construction were going to close the rest area all winter while contractors used it as a staging area for heavy equipment. Our sources at the DOT now tell us that in fact, the site will remain open to the public until February.

Come see us on the river this winter on weekends between December 21-January 26. Take a look through the spotting scope or borrow a pair of binoculars.

Interested in volunteering? We still have room for a few more applicants! Click on the 2013 application tab above.

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eagle watch13

A bald eagle perches in a cottonwood above Highway 530 bridge in Rockport, Washington.

Story and photos by US Forest Service Kelly Sprute

 

Everett, Wash., Jan. 16, 2013—It isn’t an easy job: standing six long hours in rain, sleet, hail, sun and snow every weekend starting in December through January.  Armed with binoculars, spotting scopes and a love for bald eagles they greet and teach thousands of people who pilgrimage to Skagit River for a glimpse of eagles roosting in trees and eating fish along the banks. And these Eagle Watcher volunteers do it for free.

Eagle Watchers are stationed at three locations along the Skagit River on the North Cascades Highway: Howard Miller Steelhead Park near Rockport, Wash., nature viewing area at milepost 100 and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades Institute created the program in 1992 to control crowding that disrupted the birds and caused traffic problems on the highway according to Tanya Kitterman. The Forest Service Eagle Watcher coordinator said the Skagit River watershed boasts one of the largest wintering populations of bald eagles in the continental United States.

“The birds flock to the Skagit River for three reasons: the abundance of food, the river has good flows for spawning and it doesn’t ice over,” Kitterman said. Each year it takes 45 volunteers run the program, but most are eager to return, so she usually only needs to recruit about five people.  All it takes to be an Eagle Watcher is enthusiasm about eagles and be an adult.  “I bring the canopies, scopes, tri-pods and binoculars and they run with it. Their passion for the eagles is contagious,” Kitterman said.

The Forest Service trains volunteers about eagle biology and how they fit into the Skagit River ecosystem, readying volunteers for a multitude of questions: “How long do they live? How big is their wingspan? How much do they weigh? Why is the female bigger than the male? Where are they from?”

Harry Ota, a retired US army colonel who lives in Mt. Vernon, Wash., is a 20-year veteran Eagle Watcher.  “It beats getting cabin fever,” he said. He still gets ready for the season every year by digging out his reference books and reviewing old videos.

Eagle Watcher Program volunteer Harry Ota scans for eagles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery in Marblemount Washington.

Eagle Watcher Program volunteer Harry Ota scans for eagles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery in Marblemount Washington.

“The eagles that arrive here are frozen out of their territory and food source up north and follow the salmon traveling south. It is amazing how nature works together. As one spawning route ends, another begins and the eagles move to follow,” Ota said. They are hungry when they arrive on the Skagit. “You’ve heard the saying about eating like a bird. Well, eagles are very voracious eaters and eat about a pound of meat a day. That is like us eating 40 quarter-pounders,” Ota said.

The years of observing these birds have given Ota insight into the eagle’s behavior.

He has noticed that some have become attuned to the presence of human activity.  Although most will fly away from their meal when a boat drifts down river, some eagles just stop, guard their salmon, watch the boat pass and continue eating.

“Eagles are incredible animals with personalities. They have a favorite perch they return to, just like we do. Some watch the world go by, others fight over food, and a rare few perform flybys worthy of jet fighters over the bridge near the Howard Miller Steelhead Park,” Ota said.

In 2000 he got to help trap, tag and release eagles along the Skagit River for a Washington State wildlife research study.  “Holding an eagle in my hands was an experience of a lifetime,” Ota said. They tagged 23 eagles and tracked them for five years. “The study discovered the eagles came from up north in the Yukon and were flying down the coast to northern California or east across the Cascades following the Yakima River,” he said.

One of Ota’s favorite stories is of the eagles’ resiliency and recovery. “In the 1950s there was an estimated 412 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The bird was later listed as an endangered species. By the 1990s the eagle’s population had rebounded to an estimated 115,000 and was later removed from the endangered and threatened list in 2007,” he said.  But Ota said what keeps him coming back every year is seeing peoples’ face light up when they view an eagle through the scope for the first time. “It is wonderful,” he said.

You can view the bald eagles each weekend until the end of January.

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Visitors and volunteers brave the rain on Highway 530 bridge in Rockport Washington, December 23, 2012, while eagles put on a show below.

Visitors and volunteers brave the rain on Highway 530 bridge in Rockport Washington, Satuirday, December 22, 2012, while eagles put on a show below.

The sun makes an appearance at Sutter Creek Rest Area on Sunday, December 23, 2012. Milepost 100 on State Route 20 near Rockport, WA

The sun makes an appearance at Sutter Creek Rest Area (Milepost 100 on State Route 20) on Sunday, December 23, 2012 near Rockport, WA.

Eagles were lively on the Skagit River last weekend. Many people braved the rain on Saturday to see the birds pulling salmon carcasses out of the water and feeding on them. When the sun came out on Sunday, suddenly it was eagle bath time. They put their heads and bodies under water and shake all around. Very fun to watch!

Bald eagle bathing in the cold water of the Skagit River near Milepost 100, State Route 20, Washington

Bald eagle bathing in the cold water of the Skagit River near Milepost 100, State Route 20, Washington

We’ll be there again the next five weekends, come look through the spotting scope!

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Eagle Watcher Program Volunteers with a visitor at Milepost 100. January 2012

Eagle Watcher Program Volunteers with a visitor at Milepost 100. January 2012

Eagle Watcher Volunteers will be on the Skagit River for the next six weekends beginning this Saturday, December 22. Migrating bald eagles have returned to the upper Skagit to feed on salmon, and US Forest Service volunteers will be there to greet visitors at three places along Highway 20 between Rockport and Marblemount, Washington. Look for the yellow signs. We have binoculars and spotting scopes available for use so you can get an up-close view of the birds.

It looks like it will be a wet one, bring raingear and warm clothing. See you on the river.

-TK

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Eagle in our spotting scope, Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Rockport, WA, January 2012. Photo by Don Knutzen.

The Forest Service can still take a few more volunteers into the Skagit Eagle Watcher program this winter. I have extended the deadline to Wednesday, November 21. Volunteer participants receive training on December 1st and 15th, then spend a few weekends out on the Skagit River looking at eagles and answering questions for the public. Interested? Fill out an application form here (see the tab above) or call the Mt Baker Ranger District for more information at 360-856-5700.

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