By Paul Steven Schmees
Photos by Paul Steven Schmees
Taken April 11, 2013 #0645
To see a bald eagle for the first time is an experience you won’t soon forget. In that picture perfect moment you will understand why the bald eagle was selected as our national symbol back in 1787. I liken the experience to a heartfelt patriotic moment when goose bumps gather over your forearm and you stand breathless as your eyes take in the beauty.
The bald eagle is majestic bird revered by native Americans and honored by early settlers. It now gracefully soars the ridges of Roan mountain on Watauga Lake. The Cherokee National Forest and the clean fresh waters of Watauga Lake teeming with fish are an inviting habitat for the eagle. The plentiful conifer trees are a favorite for nesting. They build the largest nests called “eyries” of any bird in the country. A typical new nest is 2-3 foot deep and 4-5 foot across. If left undisturbed they often continue to breed their young in the same nest year after year. They begin nesting in the Fall and by late February lay 1-3 eggs. After 35 days of incubation the eaglets hatch in early April. The eaglets will grow with lightening speed reaching a foot tall in just 3 weeks and adult size by 6 weeks. By 12 weeks they begin fledgling and are ready to take practice flights. In 6-9 weeks they will leave the nest. The young eaglets will lack the beautiful white feathered heads and tails of their parents. They will be dark and will white blotches (Mottling) over predominately dark feathers. Immature eagles are often mistaken as golden eagles because of their dark feathers. At maturity in 4-5 years they will resemble the iconic look of their parents.
Once an endangered species the bald eagle has rebounded and new sightings are becoming more frequent. According to Scott Somershoe, ornithologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency by 2007 some 175 documented pairs of bald eagles are nesting across the state and more are being recorded each year. In 2013 the first ever were recorded in Johnson and Carter county. The story of the bald eagle is such an inspiring one. With all the challenges we face in these tough times both individually and collectively as a nation, I remain optimistic and hopeful each time I witness our majestic eagles soaring across the sky.