Admittedly, I have one of the best jobs in the world. As a member of the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS), I have worked on the Channel Islands bald eagle restoration program on California’s Channel Islands since 1997.
Over the years, I have been privileged to witness a number of firsts: the first successful nesting by eagles on the Channel Islands in 50 years; the birth of their first chick in 2006; and, this year, the first nests of the offspring of this pair. This is a real milestone for our program — the first attempts of this second generation to produce offspring of their own.
Since partners IWS, the National Park Service, the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program and The Nature Conservancy first joined forces to bring bald eagles back to the northern Channel Islands in 2002, we now have a key indication that the program has really taken root. The eagle population is beginning to expand on its own without human intervention. Nothing could be more gratifying.
What’s more — the 2012 nesting season has already exceeded our expectations. This year we will have about 15 active nests, including seven nests on Santa Cruz Island — nearly twice as many as 2011 — along with six nests on Catalina Island, two on Santa Rosa Island and one on Anacapa Island. We will also have a record number of chicks — a total of 15 chicks have hatched to date, and several pairs are still incubating.
For the past 15 years, the Channel Islands bald eagle program has been an exciting journey, if a long one — in many cases, literally. Just getting access to the areas where eagles nest can be tremendously challenging. Because of the islands’ rugged terrain, we often have to go on these death-defying hikes that take over half a day to check up on the eagles’ progress or to band new eaglets. We’re constantly scrambling over dicey footing and up and down steep mountains.
This year’s no different — the eagles have kept us on our toes, as it were, as they continue to build their nests at the tops of giant trees that sway with gale-force winds, on the sides of crumbling cliffs, or in the middle of dramatic, inaccessible ravines.
Luckily, for the 2012 season, we have webcams trained on two nests on Santa Cruz Island. Although we’ve had live footage from one webcam since 2006, this is the first time we’ve been able to observe two nesting pairs — the first eagles to breed on the northern Channel Islands as part of our restoration program, K-10 and K-26, who are caring for one chick, and now A-27 and A-40, who are tending two healthy eaglets. Some great eagle action has also been captured in video.
The webcams are indispensible to scientists cataloging the movements of these raptors; they help us continually improve the restoration program. They also open up the world of the bald eagle to fans all over the globe, who are able to follow these fascinating birds on camera and through the Channel Islands Live! discussion board.
The growing excitement over the eagles and the growing population of the eagles themselves both portend a brilliant eagle future in the Channel Islands. In the coming years, we will look forward to more firsts — such as an exponential increase in breeding pairs on the current islands and an expansion to other areas, including San Miguel, Santa Barbara, San Nicolas and San Clemente Islands.