WVU study captures bald eagle images in Washington County

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A West Virginia University study of predatory Appalachian wildlife from Maine to Alabama has captured its first up-close images of a bald eagle in Washington County.


The juvenile bald eagle was photographed Jan. 17 and 18 by a trail camera set up at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village in Avella by WVU research professor Todd Katzner under a study he initially designed to track the migratory patterns of the Eastern golden eagle.


“We were really excited. It’s a remarkable photo,” said Meadowcroft Director David Scofield.


Meadowcroft was added to the WVU study in December 2010 and given a camera to attach to a tree in a remote area off limits to visitors to record animals that feed on roadkill deer used as bait under permission from the state Game Commission.


Katzner wants to determine whether or not the golden eagle’s migration into Appalachia from Canada is being interrupted by a growing number of wind turbines being used in the United States to generate electricity.


So far, Katzner said, no such eagles have been killed by turbines in Pennsylvania, where his study has since grown to include 200 cameras in the state, but that will likely change as the number of turbines increases.


“It’s the only project that I am doing where there is so much citizen science going on out there,” Katzner said Wednesday. “It’s almost like Christmas. You don’t know what you are going to get, but you will get something.”


The study, though, is helping WVU build the first map of occurrences of individual species relative to size of their densities in the mountain region, he said.


Once facing extinction from pollution and the use of insecticide, the protected eagle symbol of America was removed from the federal endangered and threatened list in 2007.


Yet, it is still rare to see one of the birds in Washington County, where there are no confirmed bald eagle nests, said Tom Fazi, a Game Commission information education supervisor in its Southwest region.


“But they have been seen, especially this time of the year,” feeding on the Monongahela River, Fazi said.


Pennsylvania reached a milestone last year, he said, in the recording of 200 bald eagle nests.


Fazi said “it’s only a matter of time” before the bald eagle is found nesting in Washington County.


“The fact that they were turning up at Meadowcroft is indicative of a good environment,” Katzner said.


The camera at Meadowcroft also has captured a remarkable photo of two sparring red-tailed hawks, as well as coyote, red fox, common ravens and the “typical suspects,” raccoons and opossum, Scofield said.


He said he suspects the juvenile bald eagle photographed at Meadowcroft originated from a confirmed nest along the Ohio River in Wellsburg, W.Va.


“They’re around,” he said.


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