By Jenii Wallace, Visitor Services Technician, Sky Meadows State Park
Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in partnership with several other organizations including West Virginia University’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, began placing cameras throughout the northern and central Appalachians for their Golden Eagle camera trapping. One of the locations is Sky Meadows State Park.
The goal of this project is to estimate the population size of Golden Eagles wintering in the Appalachians. The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of the best known birds of prey in North America. Once widespread across the habitats found throughout the northern continents of the world, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas and retreated into the higher elevations. Despite being virtually extinct from some of its former range including local valleys and forests, the species is still fairly well known, being present in Eurasia, North America, and parts of Africa.
The camera traps have been set up at a variety of locations and will take photographs from January 1, 2011 to February 15, 2011. Once the footage is collected, a specially designed software package can identify individuals and those photographs can be treated as captures in a mark-recapture experiment and then used to estimate abundance. Sky Meadows was chosen as a test site based on recent sightings of Golden Eagles and the park’s location along avian migration corridors.
Upon camera setup, a list of outlined protocols must be adhered to in order for accurate data to be collected. Overseeing the experiment here at the park is DGIF Biologist Jeanette Parker. Assisting Jeanette is Sky Meadows’ Naturalist, Trish Bartholomew. Trish has been invaluable in assisting with this project and maintaining strict protocols for accuracy.
In the hopes of capturing some Golden Eagles, DGIF provided several deer carcasses and staked them down at a discrete location to attract some hungry birds of prey. During winter months when prey is scarce Golden Eagles, like many other carnivorous animals, scavenge on carrion to supplement their diet. The carcasses were staked so that eagles or large mammals could not drag them away from the camera site.
So far our Eagle-Cam has only captured Common Ravens, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures and a few curious deer and fox. But with sightings of Golden Eagles in the park reported as late as November, our hopes are high that they may visit the food cache soon. Everyone here at Sky Meadows is proud to be a part of the continuing protection and conservation of the Golden Eagle and look forward to the day when these magnificent predators are once again abundant in the region. If you would like to do your part in helping conserve our regions’ wildlife by volunteering your time at a local state park please visit the Virginia State Parks’ volunteer website.