- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

CAMBRIDGE, Md. (AP) — Even for a beginning birdwatcher, they were unmistakable.

One large bird plucked a fish from the water, then clutched it in its talons and flew toward a nesting platform, where a second bird was perched. Their white heads and tail feathers made it clear these were two bald eagles.

The first eagle landed in the nest and feasted on its catch. The other, apparently uninterested in eating, sat tall and still.

Not long ago, Marylanders rarely could catch a glimpse the majestic birds. But the number of eagle sightings in the state and across the country has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. It is common to see bald eagles at places such as the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near the Chesapeake Bay, just south of Cambridge.

“Eagles are essentially doing well in Maryland,” said Glenn Therres, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “We exceed 400 nesting pairs in the state, which is more than in the mid-1970s when there were only 41 nesting pairs.”

Mr. Therres, known as “the bald eagle biologist,” has since 1986 monitored and tracked the state’s eagle population.

Until recently, the natural resources department was involved in most eagle programs in Maryland, documenting and surveying nest sites and checking new sites. The state still works with local land-zoning agencies and other land managers to protect nesting sites from development or other disturbances.

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Program regulates development and timber-harvest operations within 1,000 feet of the Bay and its tidal tributaries. As many as 80 percent of eagle nests in Maryland are within the critical area.

“We no longer do aerial surveys,” Mr. Therres said. “The last one was in 2004. For all intents and purposes, the eagle has recovered. It has met recovery goals in the Chesapeake Bay region, that includes Maryland, Virginia [east of the Blue Ridge Mountains], Delaware, the panhandle of West Virginia, southeast Pennsylvania and [southern] New Jersey.”

The goals require that 300 to 400 nesting pairs be sustained in the region for at least five years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the goal was met in 1992, when the number of nesting pairs exceeded 300. Mr. Therres said there are 900 to 1,000 nesting pairs in the Chesapeake region.

Bald eagles nest in 20 of Maryland’s 23 counties. About 80 percent of the nests are found within a mile of the Bay and its tidal tributaries or along the shorelines of large rivers, such as the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent. Eagles are often seen around the Susquehanna River, near Aberdeen Proving Ground. Pocomoke River State Park invites the public to eagle walks each January, where a nesting pair of eagles lives.

The Blackwater Refuge is on the Atlantic flyway for migrating birds and is a popular spot for eagles and other birds to spend the winter.

“One of the primary objectives [of Blackwater] is to manage habitat for wintering waterfowl,” said Sean Flint, a wildlife biologist at refuge.

The refuge also has bald eagles that live there all year.

“According to the latest productivity survey [in 2003], there’s a total of 18 nests,” Mr. Flint said. “In 2001, we identified 16 nests that produced 22 young.”

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