“Two years ago a pair of bald eagles nested on the lake for the first time in the history of the reservoir,” Clough said. “They raised one eaglet that fledged and flew away.”
Although bald eagles were spotted at the reservoir last summer, no nesting activity was observed, and the pair that successfully raised an eaglet in 2015 wasn’t identified.
This year, Clough says, observers believe the male half of the 2015 pair returned with another female. “They usually stay together,” Clough says, “so something probably happened to the (2015) female.
This year, he came back with somebody new.”
Clough says the return of the male, with a new mate, to the same nest is a good sign that Vermont’s bald eagle population is growing and extending their territory. Once a rare occurrence, bald eagle sightings in the valley have increased over the last several years. The return of the pair to Harriman Reservoir may indicate a more regular presence.
“Bald eagle numbers have been coming back up for the last few years anyway,” Clough says. “Harriman Reservoir has good habitat and there’s apparently plenty of fish out there, because they got two out of the nest this year. If they had been stressed (by a food scarcity) the larger eaglet would have killed the smaller one.”
Vermont initiated its bald eagle reintroduction program between 2004 and 2006, according to the Vermont Audubon Society, and released 29 eagles into the state. Last year, biologists counted 21 territorial pairs of bald eagles in Vermont, and, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Department, they produced a record 34 eaglets that survived to fledge. The previous record was 26 eaglets hatched in 2013.
Although statewide figures aren’t available for this season, the bald eagle pair at Harriman Reservoir produced two eaglets this spring, and both survived to fledge. “They’ve both left the nest, as of last week, and they’re cruising around the reservoir,” Clough said. “That family of four will stick together until the youngsters get the hang of things, but at the end of the summer, they’ll go their separate ways.”
Curiously, the nest is not in any remote or quiet part of the reservoir In fact, it’s located quite close to what may be one of the busiest points along the shoreline, the Fairview Avenue picnic and boat launch area. According to Clough and other observers, the eagles don’t appear to have been concerned about the human activity in the area, and activity at the nest went unnoticed by most people at the site. “There were times when there would be a ton of people down there with boats and jet skis, and I’d see an eagle fly up the lake with a fish and land in the nest, the babies all jumping around eating the fish, and nobody looks up. Nobody notices these birds with an 8-foot wingspan and a white head and tail.”
Some people do notice, however. Local photographer Nicki Steel has taken advantage of the opportunity to photograph the eagle family, and so has New England wildlife photographer Bill Dean. Steel says some people at the picnic area were unaware of the eagle activity even after seeing her there with her camera. “I was talking to a couple of teenagers who were there and they seemed unimpressed that there was an eagle’s nest,” Steel says. “Until I showed them the photos, then they were amazed.”
Clough, who keeps watch over the nesting site when it’s in use, says it has been interesting to watch the activity, and to watch the young eaglets develop. “One of the funny things to see, as they get bigger, is the nearly full size eaglets begging for food,” Clough says. “I remember seeing the eaglet two years ago, who was much larger than her father, out on a tree limb begging to be fed.”
With their success in raising a pair of eaglets this year, Clough says it’s likely the same adult pair will return next year to breed again.