Wichita birders hope for eaglets

It was the end of January when Wichita birder Paul Griffin spotted the pair of bald eagles at Twin Lakes.

They were ... umm ... perhaps feeling amorous.

"Much to my surprise... while sitting on a limb out in the open, the nesting pair of bald eagles mated," Griffin wrote Jan. 31 in an e-mail to area birders. "I just happened to be videoing them at the time. They were about 150 yards away and that is obviously to far to be certain, but it sure looks real to me."

Since then, Griffin — who goes daily to the parking lot across from the island at Twin Lakes to watch the eagles — has noticed other signs of mating behavior. The male constantly brings the female food, mostly fish and ducks, after she calls to him.

All good signs.

Within the next few weeks, birders and biologists should know whether the eagles' love has taken. That's when eggs could be laid.

"I am optimistic," said Bob Gress, director of the Great Plains Nature Center. "We still don't know for sure, but their nest has been rebuilt; it looks good."

But there is also a chance nothing could happen.

After all, last year at this time the Twin Lakes eagles were going through similar motions — and nothing came from their nesting habits.

It could have been because one or the other was immature or one of the pair is infertile. But, Gress said, we should know more about the pair this year.

"The average egg-laying time for eagles is mid- to late February, although some eagles have already laid some eggs and some won't get started until March," Gress said. "This is the time — within the next few weeks, we expect things to be started."

If baby eaglets hatch, it would be a first for Wichita.

"I doubt if eagles nested here, even in pre-settlement, because there probably wasn't enough water to attract them,'' Gress said. "Now, we have more lakes and reservoirs.

"There have been none in recorded history."

In recent winters, more eagles have been spotted at Kansas lakes and particularly in downtown Wichita, along the Arkansas River. The birds migrate from the northern Great Lakes to Kansas lakes and rivers, where they search for open water, fish and waterfowl.

In December, about 230 bald eagles were counted at the annual Quivira National Wildlife Refuge Christmas Bird Count in Stafford County.

In recent years, nesting pairs of eagles have been reported year-round in Kansas. As of 2010, there were 40 nesting pairs in the state, said Mike LeValley, field supervisor of Kansas Ecological Services, a program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Of those 40 nests, 70 eagles fledged,'' he said. "The number of fledglings increase each year."

With the recent snowstorm, the eagles hunkered down, Griffin reported.

"The snow was coming down and was very heavy in a strong wind," Griffin wrote to birders in an e-mail on Tuesday.

"The temperature was 10 degrees F, and I can only imagine what the wind-chill was," the e-mail said. "They were visible when they had their heads up, but when they tucked their heads under their wings, they would mostly disappear into the blowing snow flakes and become part of the black and white winter scene."

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