By Chris Martin, February 3, 2020
We finally did it! This year, for the first time in four decades of counting, we surpassed 100 Bald Eagles seen on New Hampshire’s Mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey. Our 2020 Count Day (NH’s 40th annual) tallied 101 Bald Eagles – plus 2 Golden Eagles!
The weather on Thursday January 9th for the Lakes Region count was windy and bone-chilling cold, but visibility was good, and the eagles certainly weren’t dissuaded from flying by the wind. Just two days later, on Saturday January 11th our Statewide count featured Spring-like record warmth that had some surveyors outside in just tee shirts! A total of 100 volunteer observers participated in this year’s NH Mid-winter Eagle Survey, and they found a record-high 101 Bald Eagles on Count Day, 6% higher than 2017’s previous record-high total of 95 birds seen. Top regional honors for most eagles seen on Count Day 2020 go to the Lakes Region, where 31 Bald Eagles and 1 Golden Eagle were tallied on a single day. The Connecticut River watershed was close behind with 29 balds, followed by the Great Bay/Seacoast area with 15 balds, and the Merrimack River watershed with 14 balds and 1 additional Golden Eagle. The other regions had lower numbers.
Statewide Count Day Results: This year we found 101 Bald Eagles (74 adults, 25 immatures*, 2 unknown age) and 2 immature Golden Eagles in New Hampshire on Count Day. For Bald Eagles, the 74 adults were the most we’ve ever tallied on this count. (See graph showing Count Day results for the 40 years since 1981.) As a clear sign that our Bald Eagle population continues to rise, the top six Count Day totals in NH since 1981 have all occurred in the past six years (2015-2020). As for Golden Eagles, this was the very first time we’ve documented more than one Golden Eagle on Count Day, only the third time in 40 years of mid-winter surveys that a Golden Eagle had been tallied (previously in 2012 and in 2019).
Statewide Count Period Results: The official “Count Day” occurs within a more inclusive two-week “Count Period,” which this year spanned the interval from January 4-18, 2020. We also keep track of eagles seen during this time period. Any additional individuals that are reported during the Count Period (those obviously different from Count Day birds either by plumage or location) are added to our overall Count Period total. During this year’s Count Period, we documented a grand total of at least 123 individual Bald Eagles (87 adults, 34 immatures, 2 unknown age). They were distributed as follows:
Androscoggin River – Total of 8 Bald Eagles seen, including 6 individuals (6 adults) seen on Count Day (7 observers), plus 2 additional Bald Eagles (1 adult, 1 immature) confirmed during the two-week Count Period.
Connecticut River** – Outstanding total of 38 Bald Eagles seen, including 29 individuals (23 adults, 6 immatures) seen on Count Day (16 observers counting for NH’s total), plus 9 additional Bald Eagles (6 adults, 3 immatures) confirmed during the two-week Count Period.
Great Bay/Coastal – Total of 18 Bald Eagles seen, including 15 individuals (7 adults, 8 immatures) seen on Count Day (15 observers), plus 3 additional Bald Eagles (2 adults, 1 immature) confirmed during the two-week Count Period.
Lakes Region – Outstanding total of 35 Bald Eagles seen, including 31 individuals (24 adults, 6 immatures, 1 unknown age) seen on Count Day (23 observers), plus 4 additional eagles (3 adults, 1 immature) confirmed during the two-week Count Period. One immature Golden Eagle was photographed in Warren.
Merrimack River – Total of 18 Bald Eagles seen, including 14 individuals (11 adults, 2 immatures. 1 unknown age) seen on Count Day (32 observers), plus 4 additional Bald Eagles (1 adult, 3 immatures) confirmed during the two-week Count Period. One immature Golden Eagle was photographed in New Ipswich.
Saco River/Ossipee River, and from elsewhere across NH – Total of 6 Bald Eagles seen, with all 6 individuals (3 adults, 3 immatures) seen on Count Day (7 observers).
[A FEW NOTES ON TERMINOLOGY:
* Following the standardized rules of the National Mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey, all sub-adult plumage eagles (including those displaying almost full adult plumage but with minor remnants of immature plumage – often called “dirty adults”) are counted as “immatures” rather than as “adults”.
** To avoid double-counting, VT and NH “partition” the Connecticut River the same way each year, with VT credited with all eagles seen upstream from Wilder Dam, and NH credited for all eagles seen downstream from the dam, regardless of which state’s volunteers see the birds, or which state the bird was flying over or perched in.]
So, what lies ahead …
With NH’s Bald Eagle population continuing to expand, we have decided that NH will join a growing list of states that have stopped doing these annual mid-winter eagle counts. Other raptor monitoring work is being given higher priority; for example, NH Audubon is now coordinating a new monitoring project on NH’s state-endangered Northern Harriers for NH Fish & Game. We are also making some significant changes to how we do breeding season eagle monitoring. We have divided NH into five Bald Eagle breeding season monitoring zones. We plan to intensively monitor just one zone per year, on a rotating basis, thereby covering the entire state intensively over the course of five years. In 2020, we will focus our attention on the North Country zone. I want to encourage folks to continue to watch ‘your’ favorite eagle pairs, and to report key breeding details (new pairs, nesting activity, # young seen) to eBird. Prior to surveying eagle nests in a particular monitoring zone, we will be reviewing all such reports.
A salute to all our volunteers who have contributed time and birding skill to our 40 consecutive years of Mid-winter Bald Eagle Surveys!
NH Audubon monitors Bald Eagle abundance and distribution in New Hampshire as part of an annual contract with NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Bald Eagles are currently listed as “Special Concern” in New Hampshire since their official removal from NH’s Threatened and Endangered Wildlife List in March 2017. Contributions directed to NH Audubon’s Conservation Department in support of this work are always welcome, and are greatly appreciated!