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Nations' symbol back for the winter

Adrenaline rushed through Mike Noland’s body as he spotted a bald eagle flying over Ray Roberts Lake on his way back from the store.

Noland, a park host for Ray Roberts Lake State Park, was on his way back to his camper from the store when he noticed our nation’s bird hovering over a lake 150-200 yards from his campsite.

Noland camps at the Quail Run area of the park with his wife.

“I saw an eagle diving into the water catching fish, so I grabbed my wife and my camera,” Noland said. “I could see it setting up on tree so I took a couple of pictures and then all of a sudden I saw a second one fly up and snapped a shot of it.”

Noland said now he can check an item off his bucket list.

“I’ve never seen both of them to where I could take a shot of them like that,” he said. “That was pretty exciting.”

Noland is pretty sure of where the eagles are nesting, but he’s hesitant to go find out.

“I’ve got an idea of where they’re at and I’ve been meaning to go out there and look, but a part of me doesn’t want to find [the nest], ‘cause then people will know where it’s at.”

Bald eagles frequent Ray Roberts Lake State Park a lot more than you’d think.

“They’ve been wintering on our lake for quite a few years now,” state park interpreter Rick Torres said. “Bald eagles have been spotted by park rangers for at least 10 years. This is a regular eagle hotspot.”

Officials can confirm one pair of nesting eagles is currently at this park, Torres said.

When they’re not in the south for the winter, eagles live in the Rocky Mountains, Canada or other northern areas.

“The winters up there are pretty harsh so they don’t stick around somewhere they’re not comfortable – just like us – so they head down this way. The great part about North Texas is that we’re a part of the central flyway so a lot of birds, including eagles, are passing through North Texas on their way down south.”

Bald eagles usually arrive in Texas in November and stay until March before they head back north.

Ray Roberts Lake is a prime destination for bald eagles because it’s a great source for hunting and nesting.

“The main source of food for a bald eagle is fish, so they like to hunt in large bodies of water. They also like to nest in heavily wooded areas,” Torres said. “Bald eagles are massive birds that have enhanced eyesight that allows them to spot fish while they’re hovering in the air. When they spot a fish, they dive down and use their huge talons to grab the fish.

“Each of their talons are about the size of a human finger; they use that and grab the fish straight out of the water. The texture of their talons is like a leather glove and that helps them secure fish, which can be slimy and hard to grip. Bald eagles can lift up to four pounds with their talons. They’re pretty powerful birds.”

Torres said that anyone looking to spot a bald eagle should start with the eagles’ habitat.

“Large bodies or water or densely wooded areas where eagles would build nests are the best place to start looking,” Torres said. “Those areas are where eagles would like to set up shop.”

Despite the bald eagle being our nation’s most celebrated bird, there was a time when they were an endangered species.

Torres wants people to know that bald eagles are a “conservation success story.”

“Everybody knows them as the national symbol, but in the 1950s and 1960s, their numbers dwindled to the point where they were an endangered species. That was mainly due to the pesticide use of DDT,” Torres said. “After conservation efforts banned the use of DDT and other pesticides, their numbers went back up and in 2007, bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list. The fact that we almost lost our national bird is a pretty big deal, but it’s an even bigger deal to know that people cared enough to bring this animal back. We could do that with a lot of other animals as well, not just the bald eagle.”

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