GAMBIER — Eagle enthusiast Walter Seward of Mount Vernon has a piece of advice for anyone thinking about taking up bald eagle spotting.
“You need to get out here real quick,” Seward said, casting an eye toward the huge nest in a tree near Killduff Road near Gambier.
Although the nest is plainly visible now, Seward explained that once the tree leaves bud out, the 500-pound monster of a nest becomes almost too impossible to spot.
Seward was one of about 60 people who showed up Wednesday evening at Kenyon College’s Brown Environmental Center on Laymon Road for an eagle watch program sponsored by the Knox County Park District. Jon Minard, who serves as area eagle spotter for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, was on hand to guide participants to a nearby nest site; Abby Rodebeck, ODNR Division of Wildlife naturalist; Kim Marshall, KCPD director; and KCPD operations manager Doug McClarnan were also on hand to answer questions.
The program began with a few introductory remarks at the BFEC, then participants loaded onto a MOTA bus to head out to Killduff Road, where an observation area was set up along the road, a safe distance from the nest. As Minard and Marshall pointed out, human encroachment on a nest can cause eagles to abandon a nest and move elsewhere. That is what happened with this nest, which used to be near the White Oak Inn on Ohio 715.
Almost as if expecting visitors, the female bald eagle had crossed the road and was perched on the highest sturdy branch of a tree, while the male remained stationed in the nest. Minard set up spotting scopes; many enthusiasts brought binoculars and cameras with telephoto lenses.
Madeline Walker from Danville was excited to catch her first glimpse of a bald eagle in the wild through the spotting scope. She came to the watch with her grandfather, Don Russell. Russell and his wife recently had a close eagle encounter while driving to Coshocton on U.S. 36, when they saw an eagle sitting in the middle of a corn field, only an estimated 60 yards off the road.
Although far from common, the birds are making a strong recovery in Ohio. ODNR confirmed on Monday that a record 206 active eagle territories have been identified in the state so far this year. Ashtabula Countygleaned the honor of having the first confirmed eagle hatchling of the year, on March 12.
Marilyn and Geoff Stokes have enjoyed bird watching for many years, going back to their native England. But the long-time naturalized American citizens said there are no bald eagles in England.
“The first time I saw one was a number of years ago at Yellowstone Park,” Marilyn said.
Since her retirement from Kenyon, she has had time to start following the return of bald eagles to the waterways of central Ohio.
Minard’s wife, Margie, shares her husband’s fascination with the majestic birds, particularly after the eaglets hatch in spring. She told stories of watching eagles “potty train” the hatchlings to defecate outside of the nest, something quite necessary, for eaglets do not mature and leave the nest until they are 3 or 4 years old. Minard said he believed the female on Killduff Road has laid an egg, because her sitting position in the nest has been higher up recently.
“I was delighted to see such a large turnout despite the weather,” Marshall said, noting that it was a larger crowd than last year.
She said the program was made possible by the parks district levy passed in November. She also said the county’s newest park, Indian Field Bluffs on Sapp Road, would be opening soon, and would likely be a good location for spotting eagles flying along the Kokosing River.