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The comeback of our national symbol in Pennsylvania is a wildlife success story

Posted on April 30, 2013

Mark NaleI saw a car parked along the side of Route 22 Saturday morning as I was driving to a trout fishing spot in Huntingdon County. The female occupant had a spotting scope or a camera with a high-powered telephoto lens clamped to the partially open window on the passenger side of her car. Her glass was trained on an expansive talus slope across the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River from where she was parked.

Although my curiosity was tugging at me, I wanted to get on the trout stream, so I didn't stop.

Four hours later, on the drive home, there were pickups at the pull-off – and two men glassing the same slope. My pickup joined the other two, and I was quickly offered binoculars to view an eagle nest just above the rocky area high on the steep side of Tussey Mountain. The nest – a loose pile of branches – appeared to be near the top of a large oak tree. I could barely make out the mature eagle's white head without magnification.

The binoculars turned the white speck into a bald eagle standing watch over the young in its nest.

One gentleman told me that he had definitely observed two eaglets on the nest the previous week, but this week he had only seen one. The same man said that he had seen both parents together at the nest several times.

"When they are together, it is easy to tell the female from the male, because the female appears so much larger, but I couldn't tell you if this eagle is the male or female," he said.

"I spent most of my life with little chance of seeing a bald eagle in Pennsylvania, and now I get to check out this nest on my way home from work each day," the second man said. "This is special."

Eagles are special, and your chances of seeing one in the wild are greater now than at any time during the past century.  I have seen bald eagles at Lyman Run State Park in Potter County, in downtown Huntingdon, at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County, while walking the Lower Trail in Blair County and several times along Centre County's Bald Eagle Creek. My daughter has seen bald eagles along Yellow Creek in Bedford County three times during the past two weeks. 

Last year's survey of Pennsylvania's nesting bald eagles revealed more than 200 active nests in 51 counties. The 2013 survey will surely show more. It is hard to believe that, 30 years ago, there were only three nests in the commonwealth.

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