The Capture of V98: March 9, 2004
By Peter Nye and Kathy Michell

Hello again Students and Eagle Lovers!

Eagle V98 with backpack satellite unit

We have some good news to start off this week. Not only are some of our eagles on the move now, but we have a new one to follow.

First, the story of our new eagle, V98.
Usually, March is not a particularly good time for our migratory eagle trapping efforts; many of the wintering birds have already begun to move around, and water is opening up making it more difficult to attract eagles to our bait, since they have more and more of their preferred habitat available. Nevertheless, last Tuesday, March 9th, Kathy Michell and I decided to try again, along the Delaware River in southeastern NY (our border with Pennsylvania). As usual, I left home at 2:30 am, drove for 3 hrs, met Kathy at our trap-site and got the bait and net all set up before dawn, which at this time of year is coming before 6 am!

When we arrived, we found that our deer-carcass bait had disappeared; for how long we don't know, but likely dragged off by a coyote or a bear. We almost always have a "fresh" deer carcass in the truck at the ready, and today was no exception. This new deer was a large one, and once skinned back a bit, the exposed, red flesh sure looked attractive to us!

By 7:15, we had immature bald eagles all over the carcass, on the ground nearby, and in the trees above; probably 6-8 young eagles in all. We were thoroughly enjoying watching the antics of these young birds, fighting for position and a piece of this windfall. One large, likely female, eagle was very good at keeping the deer to herself, until she became full and let others in. As I said, all this was enjoyable to watch, but I was somewhat concerned that we had no adult eagles in sight; our real quarry.

Then, a little after eight-o'clock, I spotted a large adult gliding toward our trap site from up-river, on a direct line toward the carcass. This bird came out of no where, and perched in a tree right about the carcass for about 5 minutes, watching the squabbling immatures on the carcass, until it finally decided it wanted in on the action. Our hearts were pounding as we watched this beautiful adult land on the carcass, take over, and begin feeding. This appeared to be a large and dominant bird, several times chasing off immatures that ventured too close. This is a tense time for us as eagle-trappers. We, of course, want this bird, but we also want to be sure it has settled down into a good feeding posture before we fire our net. At first, eagles landing on the carcass are very tentative and alert; we want them to be focused on their feeding, with their back to the net and head down. So, it's a tense time waiting for this and hoping in the meantime the bird doesn't get spooked off. This usually takes about 10 minutes. As I said, we were lucky today. Kathy held the firing unit out the window, antenna extended and power on, while I watched carefully through our spotting scope. When everything was just right, I quietly said, "fire", and a quick blast of smoke down by the carcass told me the net had deployed. The shot was a good one, and our adult prize was securely contained as we ran up to the net.

Pete and V98
Kathy and V98

"V98" turned out to be an unbanded female, and she now carries our satellite unit # 03116. This satellite radio also contains a small vhf radio transmitter, allowing us to track this eagle locally. Given the late date, and our trapping location (not far from some existing eagle nesting territories), I was wondering whether we caught a resident breeder or a migrant. It didn't take long to find out. We released V98 by 10:15, and by noon I was driving along the river searching for her signal. In 3 hours of driving, I never picked her up, nor did Kathy the following day, March 10th. By the time I received the first satellite data on March 10th, it was clear V98 was a migrant, as she was already well to the north of the capture site. Since then, as you'll see from the data, she has moved even farther north, into our Adirondack region: she is clearly headed north. It appears that we must have been in the right place at the right time and simply caught her as she was migrating. From where and whether our capture area is her wintering area will have to wait until next winter to determine.

How far will she go ?
Time will tell! I hope you find following her as exciting as we do!

Regards, Eagleye

Peter E. Nye, Leader
Endangered Species Unit
Wildlife Diversity Group