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Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eagles cluster at Marion Reservoir

March 16, 2008

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— On the back roads of Marion County, you'll find them - about 30 or 40 roost in the trees along Marion Reservoir.

They appear as black forms in the distance, but for avid bird watcher Terrill Bruton, he can spot one from just about anywhere.

They're eagles - bald eagles that found haven around the Kansas lake this winter. And they soon will wing their way back north when the weather begins to warm.

On this morning, Bruton, of Galva, spots around 30 on a trip around the lake. A week earlier, on one of his Saturday morning drives around the lake with wife, Sandy, the couple spotted 38.

"That's got to be one of the prettiest birds there is," Bruton says, watching through his binoculars a group of a dozen or so bald eagles in the trees at Marion's causeway bridge.

They also congregate in the trees at Hillsboro Campground and north of the dam around the Marion boat ramp, he said. If there is ice on the lake, they're easy to spot.

Each fall, when the northern lakes and rivers freeze, adult bald eagles begin the migration south. One stop includes Kansas.

Some experts expect more than 700 or 800 eagles to stop through or even spend the winter in Kansas. Each year, the number continues to grow, said Ken Brunson, the wildlife diversity coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

"It seems like every winter, we have a few more eagles," Brunson said.

Even though bald eagles have been flying through Kansas for years, more people are taking notice of America's national bird.

That could be because the bald eagle has rebounded from the brink of extinction, he said.

In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act to shield the bird. However, in the 1970s, pesticides like DDT harmed eagle reproduction and caused its population to plunge to all-time lows, Brunson said.

DDT was banned in 1972.

"They've been slowly building back since the days of DDT," he said, noting the eagle came off the endangered species list last summer.

"Eagles are always popular," he said. "And a lot of people are just seeing their first bald eagle in the wild."

Besides Marion, eagles also are viewable along the Arkansas River and at eastern reservoirs like John Redmond, Brunson said.

At Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a natural salt marsh in Stafford County that attracts thousands of migratory birds such as ducks and geese, interim manager Jim Sellers said he counted about 24 bald eagles last week.

Sellers said the eagles would probably stay around into the first part of March.

"Whenever the waterfowl begin to move, they'll start to move back north too," he said, "but we'll often have eagles clear into April."

At Marion, the eagles probably will stick around at least another month, Bruton said.

He should know. He's been watching them for about 11 years - ever since he and his wife moved from California to the small Kansas town of Galva - about 20 minutes from Marion Reservoir.

Every Saturday, the Galva couple goes to Marion for breakfast, then takes a trip around the reservoir, taking pictures of wildlife and viewing the eagles.

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