“This is the first time I’ve ever seen an eagle in Ottawa County,” he said.
He was one of about 30 people attending an “Eagles of the Grand” Program Saturday afternoon at Connor Bayou County Park.
The Grand Haven resident moved back to the area after years away.
He said he’s seen many eagles over the years, but he enjoyed finally seeing one in his own back yard.
Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Curtis Dykstra was a little surprised that one of the magnificent birds was in the area due to an almost completely ice-covered Grand River.
He was conducting a question and answer portion of his program inside the Connor Bayou Lodge, when some of the attendees spotted the bird and everyone rushed to the window.
The eagles like open water, Dykstra said. And it’s more likely that they would be seen near the mouth of the river or in open areas of Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, during a winter such as this.
Dykstra grabbed his spotting scope and placed it on the deck of the lodge. He focused on the eagle and gave everyone a chance to look at the bird.
Martin Blanchard gave the youngest attendee a boost so he could look through the scope.
Connor Gilmore, 8, of Zeeland added a lifer to his list that day.
“I’ve never seen an eagle before,” he said excitedly.
Viewing eagles in Michigan was not a common occurrence even as recently as the 1980s, Dykstra said.
There was a large decline of bald eagles due to trapping, shooting and poisoning, starting in the 1930s, he said.
DDT – used to kill mosquitoes in the 1940s and 1950s – was a big culprit, Dykstra said. The chemical worked its way through the food chain and was consumed by the eagles.
Dykstra said the chemical weakened the eggs and reproduction stagnated.
The Bald Eagle Protection Act was put into effect in 1940.
In 1961, there were only 52 pairs of nesting eagles in Michigan with 34 young.
DDT was banned in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act was put in place in 1978.
The birds started making a comeback and were taken off the endangered/threatened list in 2007.
“There are 684 breeding pairs in Michigan as of 2012,” Dykstra said. “718 young were produced.”
There are still continued threats to the birds through loss of habitat, absorbing lead shot through the prey they eat and collisions with tall structures such as cell phone towers or wind turbines.
Dykstra said creating the greenway along the Grand River and Macatawa River in Ottawa County is one way wildlife can be helped locally.
The naturalist said there are six breeding pairs of eagles nesting in Ottawa County.
One of the nests is on the Grand River Ravines property. One is across the river from the east end of Riverside Park and another one is on Crockery Creek.
Dykstra said kayaking is probably the best way to see the eagles.
“If you paddle a 5-mile stretch and don’t see an eagle, it’s probably because you had your eyes closed,” he said.
“Right now Lake Michigan is great – especially Port Sheldon near the (Consumers Energy) power plant,” Dykstra said.