The alarm went off at 6 AM, being Sunday my initial reaction was not positive but after the sleep haze faded I recalled that I had committed on Facebook to a “Paddling with Eagles” trip at Fairport Lakefront Park with Lake Metroparks. Brian, a park employee, has been working with their summer day camp program and had realized that the Fairport breakwall attracts Bald Eagles in the morning and the activity has recently increased with juvenile eagles leaving the nest.
Lake County Ohio is home to several pairs of nesting Bald Eagles. The ones that I know of are located in the Mentor Marsh near Route 44, Grand River near County Line Road in Madison, Grand RIver upstream of Helen Hazen Wyman Park in Painesville and I believe there is another pair near the route 90 and 615 interchange, possibly the Chagrin River. This is vastly different from when I was growing up. The first 35 years of my life I had never spotted an eagle in the wild, now it is not an uncommon event when out near water.
We arrived around 6:50 AM, unloaded the two boats near the dog beach and found Brian to let him know we were ready. After signing a couple waivers and waiting for the others in the group we set off toward the east end of the breakwall. Here we found a juvenile Bald Eagle sitting at the base of a signal light. He was not to fond of us approaching and flew to the next light to the east. We followed and he returned to the original. There were already fishermen drifting along the wall and we suspected they may have spooked the eagles as we found no others as we explored. Either way I considered this a successful bird watching trip
To quote my favorite infomercial line, “but wait, there’s more”. The same day I kayaked from Mason’s Landing to Painesville’s Recreation Park with my good friend Matt. I estimate that we had 12 to 15 Bald Eagle sightings along this stretch of the Grand RIver. I suspect they were all the same family of 4 to 5 birds since according to my research eagles are territorial. It was certainly a magnificent site to watch these creatures sore and hunt over the river. At times they were close enough that you could hear their wings swishing through the air as they flew bye. Other times they were perched on tree limbs and headed upstream or downstream as we approached.
How to spot Bald Eagles
What I learned this weekend is that the end of July is a great time to go Bald Eagle watching in Northeast Ohio. The juveniles are leaving the nest and both adult parents are hanging close by. Juvenile eagles are mostly black with white spotting that is very similar to what you see on a fawn. It is only after three years that the Bald Eagles mature and take on the iconic white head and tail.
My understanding is that the parents will continue to feed the young throughout the summer. While hunting is instinctive, evidently it takes some practice to become good at it. The juveniles will watch their parents, study prey and practice hunting this summer.
During the nesting cycle the parents will stay within a mile or two of the nest. Therefore knowing the nesting sites will be key seeing an eagle. Bald Eagles seem especially fond of lakes and rivers, at least that is the most common places I have seen them. The vast majority of my sightings have been while kayaking with this day the single most sightings I have ever had. When kayaking, they will fly off when you get too close but they definitely allow you to get close when perched and will fly closely when hunting.