Bald Eagle

Kayaking with Bald Eagles

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.

– Jeff

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
Photo credit: digitalART2 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

9 thoughts on “Kayaking with Bald Eagles”

      1. Good Morning Jeff.

        I’m just happy to have someone share their local experiences and knowledge. It is inspiring! Had I known about the eagle-watch trip, I’d have gladly gone! (I’m also hoping to see ospreys someday!)

        As for paddling plans, I’ll be on the Upper Cuyahoga again with two inexperienced paddlers on Saturday and have reserved a primitive camp site on the Grand for the first weekend of October. In between, I do hope to paddle from Mason’s Landing!

          1. Hi again Jeff –

            Eldon Russell Park is a great put-in spot…

            “The World Famous” IRON HORSE SALOON
            River Walk Restaurant/Canoe and Kayak Rental
            (This is very laid-back livery and dining opportunity)

            http://www.ironhorseohio.com/canoeandkayakrental.html

            Camp Hi – Longer trips available. Often very crowded with long waits to launch…but worth it.

            http://www.camphicanoe.com/

            Both places will charge you about half for livery service of private vessels. I take padding for my gunnels and extra rope to Camp Hi to add “extra security” to my tie-downs on their trailers. (A friend had a very bad experience.)

            The last leg of the Camp Hi trip is the most fun – the river narrows so the water speeds up.

            Both trips offer excellent views and both require the ability to read the river and maneuver around obstacles! For the good news, no portaging!

        1. That sounds like a good trip, unfortunately Saturday’s before 1 PM do not work well for me. Thank you for all of the information. If you put in at Eldon Russel Park do you know if you can pull out at any of the bridge crossings?

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