The survey is sponsored by the National Eagle Center. The purpose of the workshop is to help those people interested in participating in the survey distinguish between golden eagles and immature bald eagles, both of which can be found in the same approximate area. I have participated in the survey the past two years. I have also taken the workshop in the past so I knew most of the info but a refresher never hurts and Scott Mehus, who runs the survey and the workshop, always ends the program by taking people out to a location where he knows golden eagles can be found
The Eagle C enter is a great facility located on the banks of the Mississippi River at the northern end of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Since the Upper Mississippi River NWFR hosts the largest number of wintering bald eagles in the continental US, the National Eagle Center is an a perfect location. With a number of decks, like this one outside on the river, lots of windows, marked with decals to prevent birds from flying into them, and plenty of scopes and binoculars to use it is tough not to see an bald eagle here. If you happen to visit at a slow time when there are no eagles around outside you can always check out one of the four resident bald eagles at the center. The bald eagles include Angel, pictured above, Harriot, Columbia, and the newest arrival Was'aka an three year old immature bird from Florida. On my way down to the eagle center I spotted about 35 eagles on the river, much of which is now frozen unlike in these pictures which I took at the end of October.
Over the past few years the center has been branching out to look into the golden eagle population that spends winter in southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin. After watching the golden eagles in the winter for several years Scott, who works at the center, put together a survey in 2005 to try and get an idea of the number of golden eagles wintering in the area. In 2005 25 people participated in the survey and they counted 21 golden eagles. Over the past five years the number of participants in the survey has increased, 2009 was the largest group with 100 people, which has helped to find an increasing number of eagles each year, 88 in 2009.
In 2008 the National Eagle Center went a step further and procured a golden eagle education bird from the California Raptor Center. This allowed visitors to the center to see a golden eagle up close. In 2009 a golden eagle inadvertently caught in a coyote trap in western Wisconsin became the first bird in a joint research project between the center and Audubon Society of Minnesota, with support from the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR and a couple other groups. Golden eagle 42, nick named Whitey, was fitted with a satellite tracking pack when he was released, he was rehabilitated at The Raptor Center. The project hopes to discover where these golden eagles spend their summer as well as general research on behavior and migration. Whitey traveled from Wisconsin up into Canada and spent his summer up at the arctic circle north of Churchill. Currently Whitey has returned to western Wisconsin to spend the winter. The project hopes to tag a couple more eagles this winter if possible so that they can learn more about these magnificent winter visitors.
For more information about the Golden Eagle Project check out this website at Audubon Minnesota.