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Great Lakes Article:

Blame it all on the weather: Bald eagle sightings down

03/15/2002

By Dave Lemieux

Chronicle staff writer

Bald eagle sightings in Muskegon and Ottawa counties dropped by more than half from last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources' annual midwinter survey.

The state totals were also down from last year, but that doesn't mean there are fewer eagles, according to the DNR. It has to do with the mild winter, which meant eagles didn't have to migrate so far south to find open water, officials said.

Volunteers reported 49 eagles in Muskegon County and 21 in Ottawa during the two-week survey Jan. 1-15. Last winter, 112 eagles were sighted in Muskegon and 148 in Ottawa during the survey.

In a normal winter, eagles move south in search of better fishing when the lakes and streams farther north freeze. They usually begin arriving in the area in late November.

Open water extended much farther north this winter, the state's warmest on record since 1896. The state's average temperature from December through February was 29.1 degrees, or 7.5 degrees above the 108-year average of 21.6 degrees, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.

Statewide, 990 eagles were reported this winter. That's down from the record 1,510 reported last year but still ahead of the 782 reported in 2000.

Bald eagle numbers are fine overall, said Eve Rolandson, a DNR re-source specialist. As recently as 1980, only 84 pairs were sighted in the state.

Rolandson said the weather was a factor in this year's count also because there was more snow last year, and more people were outside taking part in recreational activities, which allowed them to spot birds.

The 109 eagles reported in Muskegon, Ottawa, Newaygo, Kent and Allegan counties accounted for just under 17 percent of the 656 birds spotted in the Lower Peninsula.

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