ABIQUIU LAKE, N.M. – Despite cold temperatures and recent snow, more than four dozen volunteers came out to count eagles Sat. Jan. 9, 2016, at the lake during its annual Midwinter Eagle Watch.
“We had a great turnout, one of the best! We had 49 volunteers, recorded eight bald eagles and two golden eagles,” said Austin Kuhlman, Lead Park Ranger at Abiquiu Dam.
Before the volunteers started the count, Katherine Eagleson with the New Mexico Wildlife Center gave a short presentation about the center’s mission; the history and behavior of eagles; eagle identification; why the annual count is conducted; and how the data is used.
As part of the presentation the volunteers could interact with the center’s non releasable bald eagle, Maxwell.
Because of the large turnout, “we were able to man three stationary viewing locations with volunteers and high powered spotting scopes,” said Kuhlman. “We also launched two boats witch traveled in opposite directions around the shoreline. The combination of boats and stationary positions all in communication with radios and using a sector map of the area provides a fairly accurate count.”
Overall there were a total of 10 eagles counted – one juvenile and seven adult bald eagles and one adult and one juvenile golden eagle.
“In 2015 we saw 18 bald eagles, in 2014 we saw 13 and one golden, so we defiantly saw fewer eagles than in years past, but this did not take away from the event, there were plenty of eagles to go around,” Kuhlman said. He added that as far as the data is concerned, not seeing an eagle is just as important as seeing an eagle.
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.
"This event provided an excellent opportunity for the public to become citizen scientists, and contribute meaningful scientific data to help in the management of these majestic creatures, all while getting out and enjoying our shared natural resources," Kuhlman said.
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.