Golden eagles a rare sight locally

As someone who does not have a regular, full-time job, I must be creative to stay busy and keep some cash flow going.
Throughout the year, I do all kinds of fishing and hunting guide trips—the staple of my business. I also have sponsorship agreements with several brands that not only help me out with my equipment, but give me opportunities to do promotional work for them.
I do a significant amount of writing and photography for several outdoor publications and websites, and during the summer months I fish tournaments nearly every weekend.
It has created a fun lifestyle that takes me on many adventures.
Due to the explosion of the wolf population across Sunset Country in recent years, I have been guiding American hunters on wolf hunts over the past two winters.
Our best tactic for catching a glimpse of a wolf has been to bait them with deer and moose scraps left over from the fall hunting season. We freeze these baits into small beaver ponds or anchor them to trees so they are not dragged away.
I use trail cameras on the baits to monitor the activity and both years I’ve been lucky to capture plenty of photos of wolves, as well as a assortment of other critters like foxes, fishers, raccoons, and even a lynx.
Birds visit these sites, as well, and I have found several photos of golden eagles—a bird that’s seldom seen here in Sunset Country.
The first golden eagle picture I came across really stood out. I knew what the bird was right away, even though I had never actually seen a golden eagle before.
The head was clearly gold in colour, similar to how the head of a bald eagle is white.
When I first told a friend I consider a person knowledgeable of birds about my find, he told me right away that I was mistaken and that I was just looking at an immature bald eagle. After all, bald eagles don’t get their characteristic white head until after they are four or five years old.
Needless to say, I was proud to send him the pictures I had to confirm my identification.
Recently, I caught up with MNR employee Leo Heyens to learn more about golden eagles and what they might be doing in Sunset Country during the winter months. Heyens is as close to a bird expert as anybody I know, and I learned some interesting facts.
Depending on the light, it can be very difficult to distinguish between an immature bald eagle and a golden eagle. The best field diagnosis aside from the colour on top of their head, explained Heyens, is to look at the feathers on the legs of these birds.
On a golden eagle, the feathers go past the knee joint right to the ankle. On a bald eagle, the feathers stop at the knee joint.
Physically, they grow to a similar size and are tough to distinguish that way.
The interesting thing about the golden eagles that are visiting our region is they are not known to live here. They are migrating through the area, with Heyens believing they likely are part of the northern Manitoba or Saskatchewan population and spending a portion of the winter here.
There are two known nesting locations in Ontario, located on the James Bay-Hudson Bay coastline, and these birds my be headed there in the coming months. Unlike bald eagles, which nest in large trees, golden eagles are cliff nesters.
Heyens has participated in the annual Kenora Christmas Bird Count for many years and noted to me that they documented very few eagles in Sunset Country in the 1980s. Throughout the ’90s, it was common to see about a half-dozen birds each winter and in the 2000s, it’s been common to see a dozen or more bald eagles wintering in the Kenora region.
Aside from the population increasing, it is suspected a high number of road-killed deer have helped to keep the eagles around during the winter, as well as slightly warmer temperatures (though I would argue that fact this winter!)
Across North America, bald eagle populations are rebounding since the banning of the pesticide DDT in the U.S. and Canada in the ’70s. Though populations still are not great everywhere, we certainly have a healthy population here in Sunset Country, with more than 250 nests located on Lake of the Woods alone.
Look for more bald eagles to begin returning the region in the coming weeks to start re-constructing their nests for another season.

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