Friday, December 14, 2012

Salmon River Bald Eagles

December 11th Photo by Roger Plothow Copyright 2012

Salmon River Bald Eagle numbers have surged in recent years and may be poised for further population gains.

According to IDFG Salmon Region Wildlife Biologist Beth Waterbury, as many as 20 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles now
call the Salmon River home. These mostly resident breeding birds typically produce two chicks per year. Meanwhile,
large numbers of Bald Eagles are winter visitors to the Salmon River. Nearly 200 Bald Eagles have been observed during
the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey conducted in January. Ms. Waterbury oversees the Salmon Region’s Wildlife
Diversity Program.

The wintering birds begin arriving in December and their numbers typically peak in mid-February before they begin to
disperse to their own breeding areas. Almost all of these winter visitors are gone by the end of March. Although there
is no one hot spot for bald eagle sightings, bird watchers can usually spot Bald Eagles roughly every few miles from the
town of North Fork upriver to Challis.

The Bald Eagles prey on trout species but also heavily utilize the abundant sucker fish popular as well. Bald eagles have
also been observed hunting cottontails, jackrabbits, muskrats, waterfowl, and great blue herons!

Ms. Waterbury said nesting Bald Eagles began to reappear along the Salmon River about 1990. In the past six years, the
number of Bald Eagle nests roughly doubled. Ms. Waterbury noted the breeding birds appear to be spaced approximately every eight miles along the river corridor.

Near Stanley, Bald Eagles utilize conifer trees for their nest placement and construction. Elsewhere, Bald Eagles use
mature 80-100 year old cottonwood trees capable of supporting the substantial weight of an eagle's nest.

Ms. Waterbury has observed Bald Eagles in altercations with one another over their respective turf or nesting areas. She
does not feel the eagles enter into altercations with osprey but that they often harass osprey into dropping fish which are then taken and consumed by the eagles.

Currently, the Redfish Lake area is the farthest upriver location of a nesting pair of bald eagles. Ms. Waterbury feels there are additional potential nesting areas in various locations between Challis and Stanley and downriver from North Fork.

During the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey, the East Fork Salmon, Pahsimeroi and Lemhi drainages are monitored. Bald
Eagles have been observed up to the headwaters of the Lemhi River and generally in the watered areas of the Pahsimeroi
Valley. Some may also be found along the East Fork Salmon River. Survey data dates back to 1976. The Midwinter Bald
Eagle Survey begins at the Hell Roaring Creek confluence in the Sawtooth Valley and extends downriver to Corn Creek,
below the Middle Fork Salmon River confluence. IDFG, Salmon-Challis National Forest, BLM, and volunteers are
enlisted to conduct the survey on the second Friday in January every year.

In the past few years, the winter visitor count has averaged about 170 birds. Numbers last year totaled 194.

In the early part of the 20th Century, Bald Eagles were extirpated from the Salmon River, largely because of being shot
by humans who then considered Bald Eagles a nuisance bird. The nationwide DDT issue also played a large part in the
endangered species listing for Bald Eagles. Luckily, increased public recognition and respect for the Bald Eagle as a
shining symbol of American freedom and majesty helped set the stage for a great recovery success story.

At this point there isn't any measurable "Bald Eagle Tourism" going on along the Salmon River, due mostly to
the constraints of winter travel conditions. However, if you are looking for a place to soak up the splendor of Bald Eagles The Salmon River in wintertime is The Place to be!

Thanks to Roger Plothow for permission to use his photo and thanks to IDFG's Beth Waterbury for providing such a wealth of information about the Salmon River Bald Eagles.

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