ABIQUIU LAKE, N.M. – More than 50 volunteers spent the first Saturday morning of 2019 counting eagles, at the lake, during the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Watch Survey.
"We had a great turnout, and a very successful event, counting two more eagles than last year, despite cold temperatures and ice on the lake preventing us from being able to cover as much of the lake with our boats,” said John Mueller, project manager, Abiquiu Lake.
Fifty-four volunteers attended the event Jan. 5, 2019, and positively identified seven bald eagles: three mature eagles and four juveniles.
Before heading outside to count eagles, Mueller explained the importance of the survey to the volunteers. Then Alex Patia, from the N.M. Wildlife Center, gave a presentation about eagles, and how to identify the raptor during the survey.
After the presentation, volunteers broke into five groups that dispersed to three shore stations around the lake and two boats that patrolled the lake.
“Due to ice on the lake, the boat patrols were not able to go as far as in previous years,” said Abiquiu Lake park ranger Nathaniel Naranjo.
It wasn’t long before a group spotted an eagle! A mature bald eagle was seen on a tree snag, near the shoreline. Once the eagle was spotted, the other stations were alerted, via radio communications, allowing the other volunteers to see the bald eagle from a distance, using binoculars and spotting scopes.
The basic objectives of the survey are to index the total wintering bald eagle population in the lower 48 states; to determine eagle distribution during a standardized survey period; and to identify previously unrecognized areas of important winter habitat.
The information collected this year will be added to the data taken by other sites around the country, during the same period, to provide insight into the population trends and migratory habits of eagles.
The annual midwinter survey represents a unique source of long-term, baseline data. Unlike nesting surveys, it provides information on both breeding and non-breeding segments of the population, at a potentially limiting time of year. The count has become a national tradition since 1984, and is an annual event at Abiquiu Lake. In addition to providing information on eagle trends, distribution, and habitat, the count has helped to create public interest in the conservation of our national symbol, the bald eagle.