Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cold weather often draws more bald eagles to the Boise River; now is good time to see them

A bald eagle roosts on a cottonwood tree along the Boise River. Courtesy Bob Young
Courtesy Boise State University
Hi all,

I've often found that when the weather gets cold in Boise, more bald eagles than normal tend to roost and hunt along the Boise River corridor between Barber Park and ParkCenter. Bald eagle experts also have told me that they've counted more birds in the river corridor during cold weather periods, when temperatures are below freezing.

So even though the weather will be chilly in Boise in the coming week, it's still going to be sunny, and fortunately for you, there are several excellent trails along the Boise River, where you can explore, hike or run, and look for eagles. Be sure to bring your camera and bino's, dress warm, and wear your snow boots!
The bald eagle walk from Barber Park also goes through the Bethine Church  River Trail. (Click image to enlarge) 
I like to start the eagle walk at Barber Park and hike or run about three miles downriver to the junction with the ParkCenter paved greenbelt pathway. You can leave a shuttle vehicle in ParkCenter, as needed. To get to Barber Park, take Boise Avenue east to Eckert Road, turn left, and make an immediate left into Barber Park. Proceed into the park and park over by the new Barber Park event center. Head over to the river, pick up the pathway heading west, downriver. This trail is open only to walking and running; no bikes allowed.

Longer hiking and running loops along the Boise River are detailed in my Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home.
The Municipal Park to Barber Park loop is one longer option ... it's 9.5 miles roundtrip. (Click image to enlarge)
About 3/4 of a mile downriver from Barber Park, it's often possible to see bald eagles on a tall cottonwood whose branches extend out into the glassy pool above an irrigation diversion and rapids.  But they could be perching just about anywhere. If you see eagles, sure, take a moment to take a picture or look at them through the bino's, but don't dwell on it ... the birds will get nervous if you just stop and stare for long. Keep moving. Remember, they're trying to conserve energy and dive for an occasional fish.

Do you wonder how the bald eagles continue to roost and hunt along the urban corridor of the Boise River even though they're in a small city? Here's a link to a study on the topic. I was the natural resources reporter for the Statesman back in the late '80s, and I remember walking the river with study author Robin Spahr, as well as her supervisor, the esteemed wildlife biologist and eagle authority Karen Steenhof, to look for eagles and write about the issues related to the eagles hanging out in an urban zone.

Seeing bald eagles is a thrill for me. My teen-age kids don't really get it. I think they're a stunningly beautiful bird. It's always a special moment to see a bald eagle swoop down to the river, snag a fish and fly up to a tree limb and enjoy the feast. That's nature in action.

Plus, we mustn't forget a time when bald eagles were becoming extinct in the 1960s and 1970s because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the U.S. I remember reporting on the gradual recovery of bald eagles in the 1980s and the 1990s, to the point where the bird was delisted. We've even been able to witness the recovery first-hand along the Boise River in Boise. It's definitely a wonderful success story in our nation's history, and in the history of the Endangered Species Act. I didn't remember that our own former Idaho Gov. and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made the decision to delist the bird.

"Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned," said Secretary Kempthorne. "In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior's decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List."

I hope you enjoy your walk, and please leave a comment on the blog as to how many eagles you see on your walk or run.

Have fun!
-- SS