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Dale Hollow Lake’s Eagle Watch cancelled

dale hollow lake eagle watch
An American Bald Eagle is perched on a tree limb on the shoreline of Dale Hollow Lake, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District. USACE photo by Lee Roberts

NASHVILLE, TN – The annual Dale Hollow Lake Eagle Watch is cancelled in January 2021 due to COVID- 19 and concerns with space limitations on the barge that transports visitors during this event.

“We regret not being able to engage our community in our environmental education programs,” said Stephen Beason, Dale Hollow Lake resource manager. “However, we encourage the public to enjoy the environment and natural resources of Dale Hollow Lake while staying safe and healthy.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District usually organizes these annual trips on the lake because of the natural resources staff’s role it played in carrying out a conservation plan in the late 1980s to restore the nation’s symbol to the upper Cumberland region.

From 1987 to 1991 a total of 44 eagles were transplanted from nests in Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin and then reared, tagged and released on the shoreline of Dale Hollow Lake near Irons Creek. The team utilized a technique called “Hacking” to care for then release the birds of prey in hopes they would someday return to the vicinity of where they first took flight to nest and reproduce.

American Bald Eagles
Jonathan Three young American Bald Eagles stand in their cage on a hacking tower at Dale Hollow Lake in Allons, Tennessee, Aug. 22, 1988. The Corps of Engineers conducted an Eagle Restoration Program between 1987 and 1991 in hopes they would return five years later to reproduce and nest all year long. (USACE photo)

Eagles declined in Tennessee between the 1950s and 1970s because of the insecticide DDT, which caused infertility or thin eggshells that would break under the weight of adult birds.

A lot of different agencies and people were involved with the logistics of locating and obtaining young eagles, transplanting them, site preparation and building the hacking tower at Dale Hollow Lake, caring for eagles, and tracking them initially upon their release to ensure a smooth transition into the wild.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, Tennessee Tech University and the staff at Dale Hollow were extremely involved in monitoring and caring for the eagles in the hacking tower that allowed observers to see them through a two-way mirror, and to easily water and feed them. Students were involved with caring for the eaglets on a 23-foot tower 24 hours a day for up to six weeks. They fed them with fish and sometimes meat using drawers from the observation area.

Beason, the current resource manager, attended TTU in the 1980s and as a student actually took part in the Eagle Restoration Program.

“My job as one of the students was to observe, monitor, feed and document the actions of the eagles that were placed in the tower,” Beason said. “It was exciting to watch them grow from the time they were four weeks old till they were fledglings and actually took their first flight.”

American Bald Eagles
The public returns from a past Eagle Watch on Dale Hollow Lake. This year’s event is cancelled due to COVID-19 and concerns with space limitations on the barge that transports visitors during this event. (USACE photo by Lee Roberts)

He said he spent a lot of time looking through the two-way mirror and writing down notes about the eagles’ feeding habits, if they were active or still, if they were preening, which is grooming themselves or one another with their beaks, and whenever they flapped their wings.

In 1987, two eagles were released. In 1988, six eagles were released. In 1989, 11 eagles were released. In 1990, 13 eagles were released. In 1991, 12 eagles were released Today the American Bald Eagle nests at Dale Hollow Lake and surrounding waterways and can be seen flying overhead all year.

The American Bald Eagle is one of the most iconic and recognizable birds of prey in the world. Its striking white head and tail feathers make it difficult to mistake for any other bird. This bird is not actually bald but is named for the white feathers on its head. The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and can be found in Canada, the lower 48 states, northern Mexico and more than half of their population lives in Alaska. These birds can be found soaring, nesting and feeding around most major bodies of water. Eagles become old enough to lay eggs around four to five years old. They usually lay one to three eggs every year in late winter.

The staff at Dale Hollow Lake has sponsored annual Eagle Watch events annually since reintroducing the American Bald Eagle to the region, so it’s no small thing that the staff regretfully cancels this year’s event. The public is encouraged to observe the Dale Hollow Lake Eagle Cam this winter in lieu of being able to participate in Eagle Watch.

Park Ranger Gregg Nivens, who worked with the wildlife management program at Dale Hollow Lake during the project, said in the 1980s most people didn’t see the American Bald Eagle flying over the lake unless they were fishing in the winter when eagles would come to feed. That isn’t the case today as hundreds of eagles nest and call the Cumberland River Basin home.

“You see the big white head up there and you’re mesmerized when you sit and watch a bald eagle,” Nivens said.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website, on Facebook and on Twitter. The public can also follow Dale Hollow Lake on Facebook.

Published December 10, 2020

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