Golden Eagle

All posts tagged Golden Eagle

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland is a popular location for naturalists in the winter.
Blackwater NWR near Cambridge, Maryland is a top location for winter wildlife watching on Delmarva. Photo by Ellen Sebastiani.

As the days shorten and leaf fall continues, birdwatchers begin to focus in on the legions of returning waterfowl and wintering raptors that fill the marshes and fields of the Delmarva Peninsula.  Few destinations are as unique and productive than Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, near Cambridge, Maryland.  Along with legions of Ducks, Geese, and Swans, the refuge hosts a tremendous number of wintering Bald Eagles – more than any other site on the East Coast, north of Florida.  But wait, there’s more!  Each year a few Golden Eagles find the vast, open habitats suitable for making a living during the winter.  In and around the forest, another distinct species keeps busy – the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel.  This large, grizzled-gray squirrel only makes it home on the peninsula in scattered patches of open forest.

Despite being well-known winter residents, experiencing the sights and sounds of thousands of Snow Geese in close proximity is exhilarating. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Once again, Delaware Nature Society is offering a trip to Blackwater on Wedneday, December 7th.  Groups will depart from both Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford and the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington.  Both groups will depart from their respective sites at 7:30am and return around 4:30pm.

Tundra Swans are one of Delmarva's largest bird species. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

We’ll stop briefly at the visitor’s center before beginning our tour.  We’ll then travel the wildlife drive auto tour, with periodic stops and short hikes in wooded areas.  After a short lunch, we’ll tour the refuge perimeter and open marshes that fringe the Chesapeake Bay area.  Time permitting, we’ll venture to the Cambridge waterfront to look for Canvasback, Redhead, and other bay ducks that winter in the area.

Golden Eagles, like this juvenile, regularly winter at Blackwater. Photo by Derek Stoner

Blackwater Wildlife Tour

Wednesday, December 7th

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center: 7:30am-4:30pm

Member/Non-Member: $22/$30

DuPont Environmental Education Center: 7:30am-4:30pm

Member/Non-Member: $22/$30

To register, contact Fiona Smith at (302) 239-2334 x. 134. Dress for the weather and bring a bag lunch.

By Cyrus Moqtaderi, Ashland Hawk Watch Coordinator

The field-mark for the Red-tailed Hawk is quite evident: rusty red tail along with classic wide buteo wings. Image by Derek Stoner.

It’s nearly impossible to go through life without noticing one ubiquitous denizen of the sky: the Red-tailed Hawk. We see them circling above our farm fields, and hunting from our telephone poles, and at Ashland we’ve watched our resident birds soaring and diving all season long. But, come November, we begin to see this common hawk in a new light. As northern populations of Red-taileds begin to migrate south en masse we find ourselves playing spectator to the stunning beauty of this bird. In the warm tones of the November sun, a flight of high Red-taileds on the move is a stunning thing. We’ve already tallied over 600 and have most of the month to go. November belongs to the buteos, and there’s nothing quite like watching a kettle of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks high in the clear blue sky.

A soaring Red-shouldered Hawk shows the distinctive white "window" crescents in the outer wings. Image by Derek Stoner.

There’s nothing quite like a kettle of Red-shouldered Hawks circling above on a bright November day. When the sun touches on their soaring wings, these birds shine like stained glass in the heavens. Two crescent-shaped portals and a bright banded tail make this hawk one of the most beautiful of the November migrants. Even more, this year brings the excitement of a possible record high, with our current count just a few shy of the past total of 331.  

A juvenile Golden Eagle flexes its massive, long wings as it glides by, leaving viewers slack-jawed. Image by Derek Stoner.

Simply whispering the words “Golden Eagle” on the hill is enough to bring a flurry of upturned heads and raised binoculars. This Western species stands as one of the highlights of a November day at the Ashland Hill. Once October turns, we find ourselves patiently scanning every far-off vulture kettle in the hopes of catching sight of an “odd-one-out.” On lucky days, such as we’ve had this October, one of these magnificent birds will stream overhead, seemingly close enough to grasp. We’re on an excellent start to our Golden Eagle season this year, already recording 7! This puts us 1 bird above our count at this time last year. With some luck, we’ll break our all-time high of 13.

A juvenile Northern Goshawk cruises by with powerful wingbeats. Image by Tom Munson.

This powerful hunter surely takes the prize for both the most sought after and most elusive bird of the Ashland Watch. This fierce accipiter (close relative of the more common accipiters, the Cooper’s and the Sharp-shinned Hawk) is a bird of the Northern woods, and we sit at the southernmost fringe of its range. Still, we’re blessed with a few incredible sightings each and every year at the watch, already having tallied 3! We’ve got a slight head-start on last year’s Goshawk numbers, with this year’s first sighting coming nearly two week early. With this, and a stronger than usual northern push, we should be really upping our chances at catching a glimpse of one of these incredible raptors!

Come to the Ashland Hawk Watch anytime before the end of November to enjoy the great late season raptor flights– and maybe catch a rarity like a Golden or Goshawk!   After this Sunday’s daylight savings time change, hawk watch hours will run from approximately 8:00am to 3:30pm. 

On Sunday, November 28, we will celebrate the end of the season at the Ashland Hawk Watch with a party!  Gather on the hill from 2:00pm until dusk and enjoy good company, snacks, and beverages.  After dark, we’ll head into the lodge for a great dinner featuring seasonal favorites.   Come join us to toast another successful season of hawk watching!

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

The change of season is marked by many things in nature.  Bird migration, and especially raptor migration, ranks as my favorite.  Actually seeing raptors as they head south is a physical rendering of summer changing to fall and then to winter.  Now, the raptor-watching season is officially over, and it is time for the winter season.  What a great raptor migration it has been!  In fact, it has been the best autumn at Ashland Hawk Watch in just about every way. 

Total numbers for the September through November Ashland Hawk Watch.

Total numbers for the September through November Ashland Hawk Watch.

First of all, we had 1,118 drop-in visitors at the hawk watch which is approximately the total from the last two years combined.  574 hours were spent counting raptors this year, which is another record.  We had a few true rarities fly past, including a Swallow-tailed Kite on September 6, and a Wood Stork on October 25.  Florida came to Ashland this year!  We also broke season total records for Black Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, and American Kestrel.  During mid-September, the Broad-winged Hawk flight of almost 7,500 birds was a dramatic spectacle of nature.   Breaking our total number of raptors…13,071, will probably be a difficult undertaking in the future. 
The Delaware Nature Society and the Delmarva Ornithological Societythank our official Hawk Watcher, Cyrus Moqtaderi for his skills with birds and people.  You made it an enjoyable experience to be on the hill.  Also, thanks go out to our volunteers who staffed the hawk watch this year…Bob Strahorn, Bob Rufe, Sally O’Byrne, and Carol Majors really kept things rolling on Sundays and Mondays.  Additionally, Derek Stoner, Bill Stewart, Judy Montgomery, Jonathan Stein, Carol Horning, and Alex Zorach volunteered to fill in the gaps and extend our coverage.  Jonathan, by the way, volunteered 80 hours at the Hawk Watch this year and will be using the experience as independent study credit at University of Delaware. 
Thanks for a great season, and hopefully we will see you next fall.

By Derek Stoner, Family Programs Coordinator


Running late on Wednesday to meet up with William Ryan, director of Bucktoe Creek Preserve, I turned onto Sharp Road and witnessed a stunning sight overhead:  an immature Golden Eagle flying at treetop level, circling tightly in beautiful sunlight.  I pulled the car over, grabbed the camera, and snapped off some photos as the eagle drifted to the southwest.   


Getting back to the car, I found my cell phone ringing.  William was watching the eagle from the top of the hill, where he’d witnessed the majestic bird glide across the hayfield in front of him, just  six feet off the ground! 


Golden Eagles are uncommon migrants along the East Coast, travelling through primarily in the months of November and March.  We have seen 12 Golden Eagles fly over the Ashland Hawk Watch so far this fall. 

 On rare occasions, a Golden will winter in the mid-Atlantic, usually in marsh or grassland habitat that offers plenty of small mammal prey.  The Golden Eagle’s smaller head, longer tail, and different flight style distinguishes this bird from the more-common Bald Eagle.  A Golden’s wingspan is an impressive 7 1/2 feet!

This Golden Eagle was a new bird for the long-running survey at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, and became species #190 for the list.  What an exciting sighting!