The bald eagles of the Great Sacandaga Lake

Photo courtesy Bill Trojan via Stephen George

Spring is no longer silent, and the eagles have flourished throughout the United States and especially locally in the Land of 44 Lakes, Fulton County.

Growing up, if someone saw a bald eagle, it was news that spread far and wide since they were so rare. Occasionally, one would seen as it made its way up and down the Delaware River outside of Port Jervis or over the New York City reservoirs in the Catskills. Now, we have the enormous pleasure of seeing these majestic and powerful birds almost on a daily basis. Over the years, bald eagles have made the Great Sacandaga Lake their home, right here in our back yard.

The reason bald eagles were rare was due to the use of a common pesticide, DDT. The chemical was first developed in 1874 by an Austrian chemist and its use to kill insects was realized in 1939. DDT was used to control malaria and typhus toward the end of World War II. In fact, the chemist who applied it to control these diseases was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his discovery and its application to save human lives.

In the mid 1940s, DDT was available for public use and it was used extensively for agricultural purposes. In the early 1960s, its connection to the demise of bird populations and increased cancer rates in humans was brought to light.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring” focused on the loss of wildlife, especially birds, as a result of the widespread use of the insecticide and other pollutants in the environment. As a result of the grass roots action and scientific research, in 1972 DDT was banned in the United States. Biological research had linked DDT to the softening and thinning of egg shells in birds. When a mother bird sat on her eggs, the eggs broke and the chicks inside died.

Due to the low population of our nation’s symbol, in 1940 the bald eagle was listed as Endangered and the Bald Eagle Protection Act was created. This was to protect the eagle from direct physical harm and the use of any of its body parts, including feathers.

In 1963, it was estimated that there were only 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 of the United States. Since the discovery of the effects of DDT on egg shells and its ban, in the 1970s the eagle started a strong recovery. Soon eagle sightings increased across the United States and Canada. As bird numbers increased and bird-to-bird encounters increased, breeding rates increased dramatically and nests were being built on lakes, rivers, and along the coast all over New York state.

In 2007, the bird was delisted as endangered and/or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Fortunately for us, these incredible examples of resilience and fortitude have made our local lake home for many years. At this time, I believe there are three separate nests on the Great Sacandaga Lake and for those that frequent the lake, encounters are common place. At this time, it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 breeding pairs of eagles in the lower 48, pretty cool.

Recently, I had the pleasure of taking Bill Trojan, a local professional photographer, out on the lake in search of eagles. Since these birds utilize the same nest year after year, I knew where to start the search. After a while of surveying several islands and shoreline, the distinct white head and tail against a dark green background of white pine revealed a perched adult eagle.

Since these birds have been on the lake for many years, they are accustomed to boats so getting fairly close for someone with a good telephoto lens was easy and Bill was able to get some great shots of the birds.

As the eagles moved around from tree to tree, we followed at a distance that would not make the birds too nervous. As we slowly moved from location to location to capture photos, one of the adult eagles spotted a yellow perch that was floating on the surface of the water not too far from the boat. As we passed the floating fish, the eagle that was perched high in a tree on the nearby island set its wings and soared down and picked up the fish. It’s one thing to witness this in the wild, but to have it happen 30 feet behind the boat was awe inspiring. Not only did we see two different adult eagles, but one of the juveniles flew near us and perched 70 feet up in a tree.

Its shrill call was a signal for us to either find another fish for a dinner, or for its parents to share its meal with him, who knows? There are a lot of other birds that were photographed that include cormorants, a variety of sea gulls, mallard ducks, and some shore birds. All make the GSL their home throughout the summer.

I was so excited not only to be part of Bill getting some photos of eagles on the lake, but he captured some absolutely amazing images of the birds up close and in action. Bill was using a Nikon SLR, 25 megapixel camera with a 200 mm zoom lens. His experience and expertise behind the lens are obvious, as can be seen from the photos. Anyone interested in purchasing any of his prints, as I did, can contact Bill at (518) 369-8866.

While cell phone photos are nice, these images are worth purchasing for anyone who spends time at the lake or is just a nature lover. Anyone that is interested in a tour of the lake to see the variety of wildlife and some amazing sunsets, can contact me at: [email protected] and a trip can be arranged. Bill and I are willing to take any budding wildlife photographers along so they can learn from a pro on how to take expert wildlife and outdoor photographs.

For those of us that like the other bird that almost became our national bird, the DEC is seeking help in estimating wild turkey populations.

Be part of the DEC’s wild turkey sighting program and help the DEC Biologists figure out what is going on with the turkey population this year. As you are out hiking or just on your way to work, make notes of the birds you see and fill out the sighting form that is available online at: This is only for the month of August. ¬†Please share with friends and family as this is a fun way to observe and participate in a wildlife survey.

By Patricia Older

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