CAREY, OHIO Keeping eagle's eye on birds
Two of the volunteer eagle watchers are from Trumbull County.
CAREY, Ohio (AP) -- Kim Fredritz can sit outdoors in the January cold for three or four hours, and somehow call it therapy. She can stare through a viewing scope, see the slightest twitch a half-mile away, and call it magical.
Fredritz is one of about 150 volunteer eagle watchers, most of whom live in Ohio's rural areas and near the waterways where the eagles prefer to build their nests. They are trained to be the eyes and ears of the Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, which monitors the protection and progress of the now burgeoning eagle population.
To her, time and temperature are of no consequence when it comes to caring for five bald eagle nests in Wyandot, Seneca and Hancock counties.
Two of the huge birds are preparing to raise their young in each of those nests. While they are the parents, Fredritz is the mother hen.
"They are my adopted-extended family," said Fredritz, who lives near this northwest Ohio community. "They are fascinating and beautiful, and it is very easy to lose track of the time while you are out there watching them soar overhead or prepare the nest for their young.
The six new nests in Ohio this year were all found by volunteers, said James O'Connor, who coordinates the eagle watcher program from the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County.
Ohio's eagle population was almost wiped out by pesticides in the food chain.
When the state conducted its first midwinter survey in 1979, there were just six eagles throughout Ohio. By a year ago, there were 304 adult eagles counted, and they hatched 105 eaglets from 88 different nests, all monitored by the volunteers.
A new survey last month counted 95 nests in 57 Ohio counties and 352 eagles.
The eagle watchers monitor the nests for the arrival of mating pairs and the start of nest building activities that indicate they will likely lay eggs, the incubation of those eggs and the hatching of young.
From their home in Champion Township, Ray Thomas and his wife, Shirley, monitor five nests in Trumbull County, along Mosquito Creek and Pymatuning Creek. They joined the program 18 years ago when there was just one nest in that northeast corner of the state.
"I guess it's a patriotic thing first of all, since this is our national symbol, and you want to see it flourish," Thomas said. "And since we almost lost it, it seems like we should do a good job of protecting it now for future generations to enjoy.
"We get an awful lot of enjoyment out of it, too, just watching them fly, then watching them teach the chicks to fly."
Once the eagle watchers see the female sitting on the nest for extended periods of time, they record the date and start to monitor the activity more closely. The male will bring her food, and the nest will rarely go unattended for the 35 days or so it takes to hatch the young eagles.
"I've seen them bring back fish, squirrels, turtles, raccoons, ground hogs and rabbits," Thomas said. The eagles nest in the tops of large trees, normally sycamores and cottonwoods.
If the incubation cycle is interrupted or the nest watchers do not see chick activity within 35 days after the female starts to sit on the nest, they report this to the state wildlife officials. The nests are sometimes inspected to determine what might be wrong.
"They become like family," Thomas said of the eagles. "We get excited when the little ones are on the way, and we mourn when we lose one.
"I always tell everyone that I'm a grandfather to all of those little eaglets -- but after so many years I've lost track of how many grandkids I have."