Bald eagle spotted in area

By: Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer     
South Brunswick Post, 05/27/2004

Chance sighting at Sondek Park

South Brunswick resident Mark Halmo called his meeting with America's symbolic bird "chance."

That because when he returned to Sondek Park, the American bald eagle was nowhere to be found.

Mr. Halmo had been walking the family dog with his son, on April 27, when at about 5:45 p.m., he saw what he described as a "very large bird" flying toward them. It was a bald eagle, a bird that the state had no idea nested in Middlesex County.

Mr. Halmo told his story to the crowd at the Route 92 public hearing May 20 at the Radisson on Route 1. He, like many other residents, voiced their concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed highway.

"With a white head, white tail and leggings and a wingspan 5 to 6 feet across, this was an adult to be sure," Mr. Halmo said. "To further add to this remarkable sight, in its talons it clutched a rabbit. I am doubtless as to the identity of this magnificent creature, as I have had several other experiences with eagles in flight, namely at Merrill Creek Reservoir and Preserve in Sussex County."

Mr. Halmo's bald eagle sighting wasn't the only one made in recent weeks. Kendall Park resident Linda Bezek said she spotted one on the patio of her Wheeler Road home on May 15. She said she and her husband were in their backyard when a large bird flew over head with a squirrel in its beak.

"It sat in the tree for 30 to 45 minutes," Ms. Bezek said. "We kept thinking it was a vulture, but said a vulture is not that pretty."

She described the bird as large with brown feathers and a white head and tail. Her daughter video taped the bird before it dropped the squirrel and flew away.

Mr. Halmo of Julia Way in Dayton mentioned the bird spotting during the Route 92 hearing because he is concerned about the impact construction of the highway would have on the environment, most notably on a bird that was considered endangered not long ago.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Division, in 1970 only one eagle nest remained in the state. The bald eagle was listed as endangered under New Jersey's Endangered Species Act in 1974 and listed as federally endangered throughout the lower 48 states in 1978.

Prior to 1982, the number of bald eagles fell statewide with fewer than 10 bald eagles observed in the first annual survey in 1978. The DEP said mid-1900s pesticide use decimated the population. Fish and Wildlife tried to breed a new population of bald eagles by acquiring 60 bald eagles from Canada.

In April, the DEP announced that bald eagle numbers in the state are increasing due to the efforts of volunteers who monitor bald eagle nests and report critical data concerning incubation, hatching and fledging dates, when the birds develop necessary feathers flying, according to DEP wildlife biologists.

There are 49 nesting areas throughout the state, mostly south near Delaware and Pennsylvania. There are even nests in Monmouth County, but none reported in Middlesex County.

Since the sighting, Mr. Halmo, who considers himself to be an avid birder and outdoorsman, said he has had no luck finding the bird, which flew southwest after the initial sighting. He said that because of the rabbit the eagle carried, it was likely headed back to its nest to feed its young. He could not find the nest.

The DEP says there are usually two adults and two fledglings, or young eagles, per nest. The eagles reach adult size by the time they can fly. With age, their colors change and their size can increase to a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet in males. During their fourth year, bald eagles begin to appear as we know them on our national symbol. This is when they are transitioning from juvenile to adult and appear for the first time with white head and tail.

According to the DEP, bald eagle habitats consist of forests associated with bodies of water.

Historically in this state, the birds have lived in forests near the Delaware River and Bay as well as rivers that empty into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

These large birds require a nesting location that is safe from human disturbance, the DEP says. The eagles build their nests among the taller trees in a wooded area, enabling them to move in and out of the nest with ease. In the northern part of the state, eagles can nest in trees that are on a slope because of the hilly and mountainous terrain.

DEP spokesperson Karen Hershey said that anyone who wants to report a bald eagle sighting or nesting area can visit the NJ Fish & Wildlife Web site . Click on the wildlife tab on the left side of the page, which brings up a menu. On the menu, click endangered and nongame species. On the endangered and nongame species page, click on report a sighting of an endangered or threatened species in New Jersey, under the resources heading.