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Eagles Stay Close

Urban Eagle Sightings

From the Record Searchlight On-line:

Caltrans pulls down new nest next to covered site
By Dylan Darling
Friday, December 14, 2007

Undeterred by a 3-foot black plastic cone planted by the state Department of Transportation on their nest near Turtle Bay, a pair of bald eagles are trying to move in right next door.

In the latest round of what has become a turf war, a tree climber on contract with Caltrans scaled a cottonwood about 10 feet from the eagles' old nest Thursday morning and pulled down a tangle of sticks they'd woven together as the start of a new nest one tree over from their old home.

An eagle was seen working on the new nest Wednesday and Thursday mornings. "It's just a very suitable habitat for them right there," said Tom Balkow, senior environmental planner in Caltrans' Redding office. "Unfortunately, it's just not compatible with construction."

Work on the Dana to Downtown project is set to start in the summer, but Caltrans officials hope to prod the eagles to find a new home now because construction eventually will come within 100 feet of their old nest.

With a construction window already tightened by restrictions on working in the water near spawning salmon, state and federal officials decided it would be better to move the eagles than try to work around their nest.

The fear is that the eagles will hatch a family and then abandon the eaglets if they are frightened by the construction.

Caltrans had hoped the cone would entice the eagles to build a new nest far away --not next door.

Eagle fans were miffed by the Thursday development.

"That's their home and it has been for several years," said Mike Adams, a Redding man who often drives past the nest on Highway 44. "I think Caltrans is fooling themselves if they think they can make them stay away."

The eagles first built their nest about 80 feet up in a cottonwood in 2005, returning in 2006 and last year to raise eaglets there.

With their nest visible from Highway 44 and trails winding to the Sacramento River, the eagles have collected a flock of followers who enjoyed watching them raise their young close to the hustle and bustle of downtown, said Richard Downs, who lives across the highway from their nest.

He said he wasn't surprised to see the eagle hauling in sticks as big a pool cues this week after their old nest was capped by the cone last month.

"It's pretty self-evident that that's where they want to be," he said.

The cluster of cottonwoods where the eagles are trying to build is surrounded by water on three sides and is best accessed by boat.

Balkow said Caltrans has the approval of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Game to clear out the start of any bald eagle nests near the Highway 44 bridge across the Sacramento.

Still, moving a bald eagles' nest and efforts to stop the birds from making a new one are contentious steps that Balkow said he personally doesn't like having to take.

For now, it's a game of wait and see for officials and eagle supporters.

A tree climber will again be called out to remove sticks if the eagles try to build another nest within a half-mile of the construction site, said Craig Martz, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

If the birds are able to build more than a third of a nest, then he said another cone will be put over the new structure.

"We hope they will eventually take the hint and find a suitable location that is not right in the middle of this project," Martz said.

In hopes of tempting the eagles to move farther away, Caltrans had a new nest built just south of the South Bonnyview Bridge -- about 3 1/2 miles away as an eagle flies.

Martz said state and federal wildlife officials approved the plans to try to move the eagle now to prevent any harm to their offspring later. Once pile driving is in full effect for the bridge work, the unrelenting pounding could scare off the birds and leave their eaglets vulnerable.

"We really think it is less damaging than the alternative," he said.

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Emotions Soar on the Wings of Bald Eagles

Urban Eagle Sightings

Editorial published on November 30, 2007, in Record Searchlight On-line:

Our view: It has been a rare treat to have bald eagles nesting in the heart of the city, but Caltrans has nudged the raptors away from a future bridge construction site as humanely as possible.

Word that Caltrans has capped an eagle nest to try to nudge the raptors away from its upcoming Highway 44 bridge reconstruction has a lot of bird lovers' feathers ruffled.

It's easy to understand their soaring emotions.

The surprise appearance in 2005 of a bald eagle nesting in commuter's-eye view of the freeway was a rare moment where wild nature and city life seemed to happily blend.

What could be worth disturbing this National Geographic scene?

A $65 million construction project in the works for a decade. "Dana to Downtown" is an essential city transportation link, widening the Highway 44 bridge to six lanes and adding a westbound onramp from Hilltop Drive that should dramatically ease traffic tie-ups.

Now or later, by gentle human persuasion or by the commotion of construction cranes, the eagles will be driven away. The birds have proven oblivious to the highway hum, but the pounding of piledrivers will take the neighborhood's noise up a few decibels.

After consultation with both Fish and Game and private bird-conservation groups, Caltrans concluded that red-tagging the 2-year-old nest before its residents return for the winter was the most humane alternative. Otherwise, birds would likely lay and hatch eggs, then be driven off when construction begins this spring, leaving helpless eaglets to starve.

That's hardly a better alternative.

Irked bird lovers ought to take some consolation in a brighter future.

Bald eagles, once near extinction in the lower 48 states, are thriving. If one pair nested in Redding's heart, it won't be the last. And the bridge plans include a walkway that will offer a fine perch for spying on birds in the tangle of islands at the bend in the Sacramento.

Nobody likes to see a noble bird evicted when it's just minding its own business, but in this case, the public's business takes precedence. And Caltrans doesn't deserve to be pecked to death for taking reasonable and humane steps.

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Caltrans Builds Nest

Urban Eagle Sightings

From the Record Searchlight On-line

Department is hoping eagles will make a smooth transition
By Dylan Darling
Thursday, November 29, 2007

Despite concern and questions from the public about a plastic cone displacing a pair of bald eagles from their nest in downtown Redding, state wildlife and transportation officials said Wednesday that it's the best way to prevent the death of any eaglets.

"We went through a lot of consultation over this," said Tom Balkow, senior environmental planner for the state Department of Transportation.

He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on the plan to wire a three-foot plastic cone over the eagles' nest to shoo them down river and away from the future Dana-to-Downtown construction site. The cone was put into place last week.

Approval for the plan came in additions made during the summer to environmental documents for the project first drafted in spring 2003, he said.

The eagles moved into the neighborhood, building their nest in 2005 and raising eaglets there in 2006 and last summer. Its high perch, 80 feet up a cottonwood at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, is just a couple hundred feet from where the state Department of Transportation plans to replace the Highway 44 bridge over the Sacramento River.

A flurry of callers Wednesday to the state Fish and Game, as well as the Caltrans office, questioned why the birds weren't left to use their nest again. Many people said if the noise bothers the birds, they'll simply fly away, said Craig Martz, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

But that's the problem, he said.

If the eagles have eggs or eaglets in the nest and abandon them because of the construction, then the state could be found at fault, he said.

"Everything we are doing is to try to avoid the scenario where the birds would abandon the nest as a result of construction disturbance," Martz said.

While Caltrans has pieced together the start of a new stick nest in a tree about a half-mile downstream of the coned nest -- just south of the South Bonnyview Bridge -- it's unclear whether the eagles will make the move.

"It's the question that no one really knows the answer to," said Bruce Deuel, a recently retired DFG biologist who monitored the eagles near the end of his career.

Although she talked to a number of officials Wednesday who reassured her that the project had the proper approval, Terri Lhuillier still questions whether enough study of the eagles was done before the cone was put in place.

Lhuillier, who walks her dog regularly near the nest, said the eagles already had started building their nest and she is talking to a Fish and Wildlife law enforcement official in Sacramento to see if the cone is in violation of federal laws protecting bald eagles.

The agent asked her if she had any photos of the eagles building their nest this year, but Lhuillier said she hadn't snapped any. She said she didn't realize that she might need the evidence.

"We never imagined this would happen," she said.

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CalTrans Blocks Nest

Urban Eagle Sightings

From the Record Searchlight On-line

Cone an attempt to get eagles to leave construction site
By Dylan Darling
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

CalTrans has plopped a cone into a bald eagle nest next to Highway 44 close to Turtle Bay. No, it's not the typical California Department of Transportation orange caution cone. It's black, about 3 feet wide at the base and made out of hard plastic -- but it's designed to warn the pair of eagles that have called the nest home the past three winters that there's a hazard coming to their neighborhood.

"This is a temporary measure that is being put in place so we won't have a problem with the eagles nesting and then being disturbed during construction," said Craig Martz, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

With work on the Dana to Downtown project slated to start next year, the nest is close to a soon-to-be bridge construction zone, he said.

While the intrepid eagles have shown they don't mind the noise of highway traffic and hospital helicopters, the worry is that pile-driving and workers walking within 100 feet of the nest could cause the pair of eagles to abandon it, said Tom Balkow, senior environmental planner for the state Department of Transportation.

Tree climbers scaled the cottonwood last week to put the cone into place, preventing eagles from perching in the nest, he said. This week, hoping to entice the eagles into some new digs, workers put the start of a stick nest in a tree downstream of the current nest, just south of the South Bonnyview Bridge.

"We are hoping they chose it," Balkow said.

If the eagles don't, and if they start building in a tree that is as close to the Highway 44 bridge as the old nest, then workers will climb up and pull down the sticks in hopes of getting the eagles to move, he said. Biologists have told him that eagles usually start nesting in January.

But some who have gotten used to seeing the eagles during hikes along nearby trails say the pair already has shown where they want to be this fall.

Terri Lhuillier, who walks her dogs about three times a week on a trail that winds near the nest, said she has seen the eagles carrying sticks.

"These guys have been back, working on their nest," she said.

She wonders whether the cone could be violating any laws designed to protect the eagles, which were taken off the threatened and endangered species list only last June.

Balkow said CalTrans didn't make the decision alone, but rather met with the state Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society and others during the summer.

Along with the state's three-year bridge project, the city of Redding plans to pave a portion of the trails used regularly by Lhuillier. That work should take six to eight weeks this summer and shouldn't have any impact on the eagles, said Terry Hanson, manger of community projects for the city of Redding.

Although that depends on where the eagles finally build their nest.

"We don't know where they'll nest," Hanson said.

Creatures of habit, bald eagles often return to nests year after year, especially when they've had success there. The pair of eagles first built the nest now blocked by the black cone in 2005, and they raised eaglets there in 2006 and last summer.

During that time, the eagles garnered a fan club, said Bill Oliver, president of the Wintu Audubon Society. Since the cone has gone up, he said he has fielded a number of calls about why the eagles have been booted from their branches.

Oliver said other options included going ahead with construction without moving the birds or closing down construction for six to seven months at a time while the eagles were nesting. The cone won out.

"This seems to be the best of several poor choices," Oliver said.

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2008 US Bald Eagle Commemorative Coin Program

Wildlife News

The 2008 U.S. Bald Eagle Commemorative Coin Program

The Bald Eagle, nearing the brink of extinction just 35 years ago, has made remarkable progress and is still expanding its presence throughout our Nation's lands and skies. Public Law 108-486, signed by President George W. Bush on December 23, 2004, calls for the United States Mint to mint and issue three commemorative coins that celebrate the encouraging recovery of the Bald Eagle species, the 35th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the removal of the Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List.

In 1792, the Second Continental Congress selected the Bald Eagle as our National Emblem of the United States and made it the centerpiece of the Great Seal of the United States. The majestic Bald Eagle has come to symbolize America's freedom, strength and democracy.


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