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Bald Eagle

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bald Eagle pastel by Wendy Hall
Bald Eagle pastel by Wendy Hall




Sylvia by Brenda Dadds Woodward


Bald Eagles in the Adirondacks
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus

The bald eagle is not only our nation's most recognizable natural symbol, and the only eagle found exclusively in North America, it is also the endangered species act's most prominent success story, and a reminder of how important are the protection of our wildlife, critical habitat and natural resources generally.

Populations of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower forty-eight states crashed in the late sixties to just over 400 pairs, due to hunting, habitat destruction and most prominently, the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture, such as DDT.
In a scary process, known as "biomagnification" , bald eagles, being at the top on their food chain, and feeding mainly on  fish, occasional small rodents and carrion, in other words, wildlife which had themselves absorbed toxins in various forms ultimately from pesticide-laden vegetation or runoff from agricultural fields, suffer highly concentrated, elevated levels of these toxins, negatively impacting birth and mortality rates. Calcium deficiencies caused by the toxins resulted in the thinning of egg shells, which would collapse under the nesting female's weight, causing a nosedive in successful eaglet births.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was the result of the attention called to these and related problems by wildlife lovers, falconers, hunters and others concerned about the fate of our native species. With the banning of the pesticides most harmful to wildlife in the United States, eagle numbers recovered, with the result that the bald eagle went from "endangered" to "threatened", and to finally "delisted" in 2007, as mating pairs reached over 11,000 in the lower forty-eight. Eagles were never as threatened in Alaska and British Columbia, and Alaska still has about 80% of the World's bald eagles.  Many raptors joined in the recovery, due to the banning of these pesticides, most notably, the peregrine falcon.

Of course, the problem with pesticides is far from over, as most folks don't realize that the sale of these pesticides was banned only in the U.S., and they are still being used all over the rest of the world. DDT is said to help fight malaria in third world nations, and Swainson's Hawks, which nest on the Canadian-American prairies, remain on the endangered species list, because they winter on the Argentine Pampas, where Swainsons' die-offs from an
inexpensive but lethal pesticide, monocrotophos, were still a problem in the late nineties.

There is also a downside to "delisting". as it opens formerly protected critical habitat to development and some of the very pressures that contributed to the decline of the eagle in the first place.

Bald eagles disappeared from the Adirondacks by the early sixties, but in 1981, Peter Nye, an eagle biologist and leader of the Endangered Species Unit of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, traveled to Alaska on a mission to repopulate the Adirondacks with bald eagles. Alaska has four times as many eagles as the rest of the country, so Nye's mission
, in a process known as "hacking", was to take wild eaglets mature enough to care for themselves and just about ready to fly, transport them to New York, and release them in a remote area, unvisited by people, in the hopes that the eagles would begin breeding, nesting and repopulating New York.

A logical place to release them was Follensby Pond, a remote wilderness area of over 14,000 acres, once home to bald eagles, and the site of a famous get together in 1858 known as the "Philosophers Camp", which was organized by painter William James Stillman, and included poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell and paleontologist, geologist and all around naturalist, Louis Agassiz.

The owners of the Follensby Wilderness, John and Bird McCormick, sold the property to the Nature Conservancy in 2008, on the condition that the Nature Conservancy work with New York State to ensure that the Wilderness remains wild, and inaccessible to the public, at least for the foreseeable future. It is here that Nye hacked the eagles, with the result that there are now twelve nesting pairs of eagles in the Adirondacks, and over 130 pairs in New York State. Way to go, Pete!

Steve Hall

Bald eagle release video, from August 14th, 2013, Ticonderoga, NY

Sylvia by Deb Mackenzie
Sylvia by Deb MacKenzie

The number one killer of Bald Eagles today is the use of lead bullets. Gut piles left behind by hunters contain lead shards, the remains of  lead bullets which tend to shatter and scatter upon impact. Bald eagles, along with many other less charismatic scavengers, ingest the lead, which often proves toxic. Please ask your hunter friends to switch to non-toxic copper bullets! Predictably, the NRA is opposed to any restrictions on the use of lead ammunition, our National Symbol be damned. For more information, click on this box.


Hegman Lake, Ely, Minnesota, Sept. 2011Hegman Lake, Ely, Minnesota, Sept. 2011
Emily & Bharath canoeing below Bald Eagle, on Hegman Lake, Ely Minnesota, Sept. 2011, by Steve
Hegman Lake, Ely, Bharath and Emily
"What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"
Henry David Thoreau
Bald Eagle Project in New YorkBald Eagle Information web site
Great Eagle information sites!

Juvenile Bald EagleJuvenile Bald Eagle
Sylvia, a Non-releasable Juvenile Bald Eagle at West Sound Wildlife Rehab, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Juvies develop the white head and tail between 4 and 5 years of age.
Photos by Wendy Hall

Sylvia - Juvenile Bald Eagle

Here is Sylvia the day of her arrival at Adirondack Wildligfe Refuge, October 5th, 2011. Sylvia and her two male siblings were blown out of a nest  during a bad storm on Bainbridge Island in the Spring of 2009. The brothers have since been rehabbed and released, but Sylvia injured her wing in a way, which will prevent her from ever flying, and she will be an exhibition bird at the Refuge.


Ben Franklin on the Bald Eagle as our National Symbol

Ben Franklin, the statesman, philosopher, naturalist, inventor and all around Renaissance Man, was not all that thrilled with the choice of the Bald Eagle as our national symbol, and seemed to prefer the wild turkey as a utilitarian symbol, which is uniquely American, and often spelled the difference between our wilderness forefathers eating or starving. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin said, in part.....

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Of course, these days we often call politicians "turkeys", but I believe we have a different meaning in mind.

So....was Ben correct?

Well, yes and no. Bald eagles are opportunistic predators, and we have seen them steal fish from our local ospreys, but that is fairly standard behaviour for predators. Grizzlys will try to steal kills from wolves, but if there are more than two wolves, they will tease and harass the grizzly, until it gives up and leaves. Ravens will lead wolves to a winter killed-moose, but when the wolves are finished gorging, and are just lying around, the ravens will cover the carcass, but instead of eating, will cleverly steal and cache chunks of meat, hiding the cache from the wolves and other ravens, to assure a larger take, than if they simply stayed at the carcass and ate. Lions occasionally lose a kill to hyenas, so the rule seems to be, if you can accomplish it without too much risk, sometimes by sheer force of numbers or overwhelming size or strength disparity, it's often easier to steal someone else's prey than to secure your own, particularly when prey is scarce, and your stomach is complaining.


Steve Hall

Immature bald eagle visiting RefugeImmature bald eagle visiting the Refuge
Immature Bald Eagle visiting the Refuge in Nov. 2011. More photos on Facebook

Bald eagle suspended from leghold trapEagle caught in leghold trap
Wendy works with eagle injured by leghold trap in the Adirondacks
Photo, left, by NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Photo on right by Trish Marki

Wendy working with Bald Eagle at West Sound Wildlife Rehab
With Mike Pratt of west Sound Wildlife
Wendy works with Mike Pratt, director of West Sound Wildlife Rehab, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Wendy with Liberty at World Bird sanctuary, Missouri

Wendy with "Liberty" at the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri, photo by Jeff Meshach of WBS.

West Soung Wildlife Center, Washington
from Cornell Univ. School of OrnitholgyAn Eagle Named Freedom

"Every scientific truth goes through three states: first, people say it conflicts with the Bible;
next, they say it has been discovered before; lastly, they say they always believed it."
Louis Agassiz

Stillman's "The Philosophers Camp"
"The Philosophers Camp in the Adirondacks", 1858, by William James Stillman
Emerson is the figure in the middle between two trees

World Bird Sanctuary - Missouri

"Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found."
James Russell Lowell
Roger of the WBS with a Bald Eagle
"The Bird Man"
Pastel by Wendy



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The Adirondacs
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A JOURNAL

DEDICATED TO MY FELLOW TRAVELLERS IN AUGUST, 1858

Wise and polite,--and if I drew
Their several portraits, you would own
Chaucer had no such worthy crew,
Nor Boccace in Decameron.

We crossed Champlain to Keeseville with our friends,
Thence, in strong country carts, rode up the forks
Of the Ausable stream, intent to reach
The Adirondac lakes. At Martin's Beach
We chose our boats; each man a boat and guide,--
Ten men, ten guides, our company all told.

Next morn, we swept with oars the Saranac,
With skies of benediction, to Round Lake,
Where all the sacred mountains drew around us,
Tahawus, Seaward, MacIntyre, Baldhead,
And other Titans without muse or name.
Pleased with these grand companions, we glide on,
Instead of flowers, crowned with a wreath of hills.
We made our distance wider, boat from boat,
As each would hear the oracle alone.
By the bright morn the gay flotilla slid
Through files of flags that gleamed like bayonets,
Through gold-moth-haunted beds of pickerel-flower,
Through scented banks of lilies white and gold,
Where the deer feeds at night, the teal by day,
On through the Upper Saranac, and up
Pere Raquette stream, to a small tortuous pass
Winding through grassy shallows in and out,
Two creeping miles of rushes, pads and sponge,
To Follansbee Water and the Lake of Loons.

Northward the length of Follansbee we rowed,
Under low mountains, whose unbroken ridge
Ponderous with beechen forest sloped the shore.
A pause and council: then, where near the head
Due east a bay makes inward to the land
Between two rocky arms, we climb the bank,
And in the twilight of the forest noon
Wield the first axe these echoes ever heard.
We cut young trees to make our poles and thwarts,
Barked the white spruce to weatherfend the roof,
Then struck a light and kindled the camp-fire.

The wood was sovran with centennial trees,--
Oak, cedar, maple, poplar, beech and fir,
Linden and spruce. In strict society
Three conifers, white, pitch and Norway pine,
Five-leaved, three-leaved and two-leaved, grew thereby,
Our patron pine was fifteen feet in girth,
The maple eight, beneath its shapely tower.

'Welcome!' the wood-god murmured through the leaves,--
'Welcome, though late, unknowing, yet known to me.'
Evening drew on; stars peeped through maple-boughs,
Which o'erhung, like a cloud, our camping fire.
Decayed millennial trunks, like moonlight flecks,
Lit with phosphoric crumbs the forest floor.

Ten scholars, wonted to lie warm and soft
In well-hung chambers daintily bestowed,
Lie here on hemlock-boughs, like Sacs and Sioux,
And greet unanimous the joyful change.
So fast will Nature acclimate her sons,
Though late returning to her pristine ways.
Off soundings, seamen do not suffer cold;
And, in the forest, delicate clerks, unbrowned,
Sleep on the fragrant brush, as on down-beds.
Up with the dawn, they fancied the light air
That circled freshly in their forest dress
Made them to boys again. Happier that they
Slipped off their pack of duties, leagues behind,
At the first mounting of the giant stairs.
No placard on these rocks warned to the polls,
No door-bell heralded a visitor,
No courier waits, no letter came or went,
Nothing was ploughed, or reaped, or bought, or sold;
The frost might glitter, it would blight no crop,
The falling rain will spoil no holiday.
We were made freemen of the forest laws,
All dressed, like Nature, fit for her own ends,
Essaying nothing she cannot perform.

In Adirondac lakes
At morn or noon, the guide rows bareheaded:
Shoes, flannel shirt, and kersey trousers make
His brief toilette: at night, or in the rain,
He dons a surcoat which he doffs at morn:
A paddle in the right hand, or an oar,
And in the left, a gun, his needful arms.
By turns we praised the stature of our guides,
Their rival strength and suppleness, their skill
To row, to swim, to shoot, to build a camp,
To climb a lofty stem, clean without boughs
Full fifty feet, and bring the eaglet down:
Temper to face wolf, bear, or catamount,
And wit to trap or take him in his lair.
Sound, ruddy men, frolic and innocent,
In winter, lumberers; in summer, guides;
Their sinewy arms pull at the oar untired
Three times ten thousand strokes, from morn to eve.

Look to yourselves, ye polished gentlemen!
No city airs or arts pass current here.
Your rank is all reversed; let men or cloth
Bow to the stalwart churls in overalls:
_They_ are the doctors of the wilderness,
And we the low-prized laymen.
In sooth, red flannel is a saucy test
Which few can put on with impunity.
What make you, master, fumbling at the oar?
Will you catch crabs? Truth tries pretension here.
The sallow knows the basket-maker's thumb;
The oar, the guide's. Dare you accept the tasks
He shall impose, to find a spring, trap foxes,
Tell the sun's time, determine the true north,
Or stumbling on through vast self-similar woods
To thread by night the nearest way to camp?

Ask you, how went the hours?
All day we swept the lake, searched every cove,
North from Camp Maple, south to Osprey Bay,
Watching when the loud dogs should drive in deer,
Or whipping its rough surface for a trout;
Or, bathers, diving from the rock at noon;
Challenging Echo by our guns and cries;
Or listening to the laughter of the loon;
Or, in the evening twilight's latest red,
Beholding the procession of the pines;
Or, later yet, beneath a lighted jack,
In the boat's bows, a silent night-hunter
Stealing with paddle to the feeding-grounds
Of the red deer, to aim at a square mist.
Hark to that muffled roar! a tree in the woods
Is fallen: but hush! it has not scared the buck
Who stands astonished at the meteor light,
Then turns to bound away,--is it too late?

Our heroes tried their rifles at a mark,
Six rods, sixteen, twenty, or forty-five;
Sometimes their wits at sally and retort,
With laughter sudden as the crack of rifle;
Or parties scaled the near acclivities
Competing seekers of a rumored lake,
Whose unauthenticated waves we named
Lake Probability,--our carbuncle,
Long sought, not found.

Two Doctors in the camp
Dissected the slain deer, weighed the trout's brain,
Captured the lizard, salamander, shrew,
Crab, mice, snail, dragon-fly, minnow and moth;
Insatiate skill in water or in air
Waved the scoop-net, and nothing came amiss;
The while, one leaden got of alcohol
Gave an impartial tomb to all the kinds.
Not less the ambitious botanist sought plants,
Orchis and gentian, fern and long whip-scirpus,
Rosy polygonum, lake-margin's pride,
Hypnum and hydnum, mushroom, sponge and moss,
Or harebell nodding in the gorge of falls.
Above, the eagle flew, the osprey screamed,
The raven croaked, owls hooted, the woodpecker
Loud hammered, and the heron rose in the swamp.
As water poured through hollows of the hills
To feed this wealth of lakes and rivulets,
So Nature shed all beauty lavishly
From her redundant horn.

Lords of this realm,
Bounded by dawn and sunset, and the day
Rounded by hours where each outdid the last
In miracles of pomp, we must be proud,
As if associates of the sylvan gods.
We seemed the dwellers of the zodiac,
So pure the Alpine element we breathed,
So light, so lofty pictures came and went.
We trode on air, contemned the distant town,
Its timorous ways, big trifles, and we planned
That we should build, hard-by, a spacious lodge
And how we should come hither with our sons,
Hereafter,--willing they, and more adroit.

Hard fare, hard bed and comic misery,--
The midge, the blue-fly and the mosquito
Painted our necks, hands, ankles, with red bands:
But, on the second day, we heed them not,
Nay, we saluted them Auxiliaries,
Whom earlier we had chid with spiteful names.
For who defends our leafy tabernacle
From bold intrusion of the travelling crowd,--
Who but the midge, mosquito and the fly,
Which past endurance sting the tender cit,
But which we learn to scatter with a smudge,
Or baffle by a veil, or slight by scorn?

Our foaming ale we drank from hunters' pans,
Ale, and a sup of wine. Our steward gave
Venison and trout, potatoes, beans, wheat-bread;
All ate like abbots, and, if any missed
Their wonted convenance, cheerly hid the loss
With hunters' appetite and peals of mirth.
And Stillman, our guides' guide, and Commodore,
Crusoe, Crusader, Pius Aeneas, said aloud,
"Chronic dyspepsia never came from eating
Food indigestible":--then murmured some,
Others applauded him who spoke the truth.

Nor doubt but visitings of graver thought
Checked in these souls the turbulent heyday
'Mid all the hints and glories of the home.
For who can tell what sudden privacies
Were sought and found, amid the hue and cry
Of scholars furloughed from their tasks and let
Into this Oreads' fended Paradise,
As chapels in the city's thoroughfares,
Whither gaunt Labor slips to wipe his brow
And meditate a moment on Heaven's rest.
Judge with what sweet surprises Nature spoke
To each apart, lifting her lovely shows
To spiritual lessons pointed home,
And as through dreams in watches of the night,
So through all creatures in their form and ways
Some mystic hint accosts the vigilant,
Not clearly voiced, but waking a new sense
Inviting to new knowledge, one with old.
Hark to that petulant chirp! what ails the warbler?
Mark his capricious ways to draw the eye.
Now soar again. What wilt thou, restless bird,
Seeking in that chaste blue a bluer light,
Thirsting in that pure for a purer sky?

And presently the sky is changed; O world!
What pictures and what harmonies are thine!
The clouds are rich and dark, the air serene,
So like the soul of me, what if 't were me?
A melancholy better than all mirth.
Comes the sweet sadness at the retrospect,
Or at the foresight of obscurer years?
Like yon slow-sailing cloudy promontory
Whereon the purple iris dwells in beauty
Superior to all its gaudy skirts.
And, that no day of life may lack romance,
The spiritual stars rise nightly, shedding down
A private beam into each several heart.
Daily the bending skies solicit man,
The seasons chariot him from this exile,
The rainbow hours bedeck his glowing chair,
The storm-winds urge the heavy weeks along,
Suns haste to set, that so remoter lights
Beckon the wanderer to his vaster home.

With a vermilion pencil mark the day
When of our little fleet three cruising skiffs
Entering Big Tupper, bound for the foaming Falls
Of loud Bog River, suddenly confront
Two of our mates returning with swift oars.
One held a printed journal waving high
Caught from a late-arriving traveller,
Big with great news, and shouted the report
For which the world had waited, now firm fact,
Of the wire-cable laid beneath the sea,
And landed on our coast, and pulsating
With ductile fire. Loud, exulting cries
From boat to boat, and to the echoes round,
Greet the glad miracle. Thought's new-found path
Shall supplement henceforth all trodden ways,
Match God's equator with a zone of art,
And lift man's public action to a height
Worthy the enormous cloud of witnesses,
When linked hemispheres attest his deed.
We have few moments in the longest life
Of such delight and wonder as there grew,--
Nor yet unsuited to that solitude:
A burst of joy, as if we told the fact
To ears intelligent; as if gray rock
And cedar grove and cliff and lake should know
This feat of wit, this triumph of mankind;
As if we men were talking in a vein
Of sympathy so large, that ours was theirs,
And a prime end of the most subtle element
Were fairly reached at last. Wake, echoing caves!
Bend nearer, faint day-moon! Yon thundertops,
Let them hear well! 'tis theirs as much as ours.

A spasm throbbing through the pedestals
Of Alp and Andes, isle and continent,
Urging astonished Chaos with a thrill
To be a brain, or serve the brain of man.
The lightning has run masterless too long;
He must to school and learn his verb and noun
And teach his nimbleness to earn his wage,
Spelling with guided tongue man's messages
Shot through the weltering pit of the salt sea.
And yet I marked, even in the manly joy
Of our great-hearted Doctor in his boat
(Perchance I erred), a shade of discontent;
Or was it for mankind a generous shame,
As of a luck not quite legitimate,
Since fortune snatched from wit the lion's part?
Was it a college pique of town and gown,
As one within whose memory it burned
That not academicians, but some lout,
Found ten years since the Californian gold?
And now, again, a hungry company
Of traders, led by corporate sons of trade,
Perversely borrowing from the shop the tools
Of science, not from the philosophers,
Had won the brightest laurel of all time.
'Twas always thus, and will be; hand and head
Are ever rivals: but, though this be swift,
The other slow,--this the Prometheus,
And that the Jove,--yet, howsoever hid,
It was from Jove the other stole his fire,
And, without Jove, the good had never been.
It is not Iroquois or cannibals,
But ever the free race with front sublime,
And these instructed by their wisest too,
Who do the feat, and lift humanity.
Let not him mourn who best entitled was,
Nay, mourn not one: let him exult,
Yea, plant the tree that bears best apples, plant,
And water it with wine, nor watch askance
Whether thy sons or strangers eat the fruit:
Enough that mankind eat and are refreshed.

We flee away from cities, but we bring
The best of cities with us, these learned classifiers,
Men knowing what they seek, armed eyes of experts.
We praise the guide, we praise the forest life:
But will we sacrifice our dear-bought lore
Of books and arts and trained experiment,
Or count the Sioux a match for Agassiz?
O no, not we! Witness the shout that shook
Wild Tupper Lake; witness the mute all-hail
The joyful traveller gives, when on the verge
Of craggy Indian wilderness he hears
From a log cabin stream Beethoven's notes
On the piano, played with master's hand.
'Well done!' he cries; 'the bear is kept at bay,
The lynx, the rattlesnake, the flood, the fire;
All the fierce enemies, ague, hunger, cold,
This thin spruce roof, this clayed log-wall,
This wild plantation will suffice to chase.
Now speed the gay celerities of art,
What in the desert was impossible
Within four walls is possible again,--
Culture and libraries, mysteries of skill,
Traditioned fame of masters, eager strife
Of keen competing youths, joined or alone
To outdo each other and extort applause.
Mind wakes a new-born giant from her sleep.
Twirl the old wheels! Time takes fresh start again,
On for a thousand years of genius more.'

The holidays were fruitful, but must end;
One August evening had a cooler breath;
Into each mind intruding duties crept;
Under the cinders burned the fires of home;
Nay, letters found us in our paradise:
So in the gladness of the new event
We struck our camp and left the happy hills.
The fortunate star that rose on us sank not;
The prodigal sunshine rested on the land,
The rivers gambolled onward to the sea,
And Nature, the inscrutable and mute,
Permitted on her infinite repose
Almost a smile to steal to cheer her sons,
As if one riddle of the Sphinx were guessed.





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Adirondack Wildlife
Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 360, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phone: 914-715-7620
Office Phone 2: 518-946-2428
Fax: 518-536-9015
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