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We’re Living in Our Own Private EagleFest

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For the birdsBy Brian Kluepfel  

The annual Teatown Hudson River EagleFest was celebrated last weekend, and though limited in pandemic times, it remains a crucial Hudson Valley event marking the preservation of our national bird and nature in general.

Saw Mill River Audubon Executive Director Anne Swaim did her usual fine job of educating in her staple Raptors for Rookies class.  

Just across from Croton Point, in our Eagle Bay eyrie, we had our Own Private Eaglefest (with apologies to director Gus Van Sant for nicking the title).  

On Saturday and Sunday morning we watched multiple bald eagles fly past our windows and down the river. The groups were up to five in number and included immature eagles, which don’t have the distinctive piebald coloration of adult birds (Thanks, Anne, and Raptors for Rookies!).

Among the sights we witnessed were two birds cartwheeling in what may have been a courtship flight and one adult bird trying to make off with a freshly-caught fish while a trio of others harassed it. (The final outcome played out behind the trees at Mariandale Center.)  

Another birding event we’ll gladly participate in from the warmth of our kitchen is next weekend’s Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual National Audubon Society event since 1998. Hailed as the first online citizen science project, you can now use a favorite birding app, eBird, to enter your sightings (and have a chance to win a pair of binoculars).

This data helps track bird populations from year to year, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home. I’d personally consider it a success if we can count more than 10 species in a somewhat narrower winter birdscape.  

During the winter months I sometimes opt to stay indoors and read about birds. I picked up a 1923 treasure, “Bird Biographies,” by Alice E. Ball, which was illustrated by a painter from the American Museum of Natural History and explains the habits of common East Coast avian life. I found a nice passage on the purple martin, a lovely bird.  

“Martins are so useful that they should be protected and encouraged wherever possible. A friend of mine told me that she was never obliged to have her trees sprayed while the martins remained. They feed on wasps, bugs, and beetles, several varieties of which are harmful, and they devour many flies and moths.”  

Ball’s passage brings me to my final point – and an upcoming Saw Mill River Audubon program. We often feel paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of problems in the world, be they environmental or otherwise. In a case like the purple martins, we can help their population and encourage natural pest control by building them nests; hollowed out gourds were the preferred method of Native Americans and early settlers and still work just fine. There are many varieties on the theme. (There’s a great example of a functioning martin colony at the Croton Point Nature Center.) 

On Feb. 24, Becca Rodomsky of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will present a program on how property owners can cultivate native plants to encourage dwindling bird populations. She’ll help answer this question: What differences can we make in our yards or on any property in our communities that might help birds? You can register for the class at www.sawmillriveraudubon.org. Then you’ll be part of the solution in a global struggle to restore and rebalance nature.  

It’s hard to see past the current clouds of negativity and name-calling. But every day you can take a positive action on behalf of yourself, the natural world and the world at large. We at the Saw Mill River Audubon invite you to part of that conversation, and part of the healing.  

Brian Kluepfel is a former board member of the Saw Mill River Audubon and an author of the acclaimed Lonely Planet travel guides. He is also a contributor to BirdWatching Magazine when he is not craning his neck to watch eagles from his kitchen window in Ossining. Check him out at thewritingkoop.com.