Flying high again: Golden eagle returns to East Bay skies

Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Meet the golden eagle, affectionately known to scientists as #1196_4376. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

Last September, while working on an article for Berkeleyside, I took a short trip to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. My mission there was purely amphibious: to photograph western toads that the museum keeps on display.

The toads were cute, for sure.

But soon, my experience turned from amphibious to serendipitous.

For I was the lucky photographer who happened to be at the museum when a golden eagle was brought through its doors.


Western toads are among the many native animals on public view at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond]
Western toads are among the many native animals on public view at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

She (the eagle turned out to be female) was found earlier that morning, grounded, muddy, and suffering from a wing injury. She needed the kind of hospital care that the Lindsay Wildlife Museum provides.

Read more about wildlife in Berkeley.

What’s more, Lindsay staff invited me behind the scenes, into its busy hospital room, to photograph the eagle during the earliest stage of her treatment. I happily obliged and was allowed to set up my tripod just a few feet from the veterinary team at work.

The experience, like the eagle, was golden.

Inside the wildlife hospital room. A hood placed over the eagle’s head (on left) helped the bird stay calm. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Inside the wildlife hospital room. A hood placed over the eagle’s head (on left) helped the bird stay calm. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

In fact, the whole place was abuzz.


Of the more than 5,500 sick and injured animals that the Lindsay Wildlife Museum treats in its hospital each year, only 5 to 10 are golden eagles.

And this eagle, unlike most others, seemed to have a good prognosis.

I left the museum with my fingers crossed, hoping for a healthy outcome.

Another layer to the story developed when I arrived home and opened my email. According to the museum, the eagle was wearing a radio-telemetry pack — a device that scientists use to track the movements of wild animals — when she was found.

So this was not just “any” eagle. Somebody in the scientific community must have known this bird. Maybe that person knew the nest in which she had hatched or the flyways she had wandered. Most certainly, the person would care about what had happened.


I crossed the fingers on my other hand and eagerly waited to learn more.

Six weeks later, good news appeared in my inbox. Despite a serious liver infection, the eagle had made a complete recovery. And I was invited to photograph her release back to the wild.

The eagle was universally described as “feisty.” Here, she showed her enthusiasm over her final physical exam. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
The eagle was universally described as “feisty.” Here, she showed her enthusiasm over her final physical exam. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

I didn’t know what to expect. So I arrived at the release site — the beautiful Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon — very excited and very early.

Another early bird was Daniel Driscoll, biologist with the American Eagle Research Institute in Arizona.

He, in fact, “met” this particular eagle before, in 2013, when she was a chick in the nest. He was also the expert who had outfitted her with the tracking device.

The same bird! In this photo, the eagle was an 8.5-week-old chick. Scientists, like wildlife consultant Joseph DiDonato (shown here), knew her exact age, because they had been monitoring her nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
The same bird! In this photo, the eagle was an 8.5-week-old chick. Scientists, like wildlife consultant Joseph DiDonato (shown here), knew her exact age, because they had been monitoring her nest. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

From the device, biologists learned that the eagle had traveled far — from her nest in the Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Livermore, to the Transverse Ranges north of Los Angeles, to the Coast Ranges east of San Luis Obispo, and back.

By equipping the eagle with a new telemetry pack, scientists hoped to learn more about her flight patterns after she returned to the wild.

Daniel Driscoll (or right) affixed a new tracking device, as Doug Bell, biologist from the East Bay Regional Parks District, safely held the eagle. Onlookers included volunteers, children, and members from the multi-organizational team who coordinated the eagle’s care and release. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Doug Bell from East Bay Regional Parks (left) holds the eagle while Daniel Driscoll (with long hair) affixes a new tracking device to the eagle before it is returned to the wild. Onlookers included volunteers, children, and members from the multi-organizational team who coordinated the eagle’s care and release. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

Such information might help the human community find better ways to live in harmony with large migrating birds, like golden eagles.

This would be especially important in our region. The Coast Ranges of the greater San Francisco Bay Area (particularly the eastern area) are home to the largest population of golden eagles on earth, according to the Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Watershed.

Our area also presents serious, often fatal hazards. Wind-turbine strikes, for example, are by far the leading cause of golden eagle admissions to the Lindsay Museum’s hospital.

“Open wide.” Guthrum Purdin, D.V.M., assisted by Marianne Dominguez, conducts a final check before the eagle takes flight. Golden feathers on the bird’s neck give the species its name. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
“Open wide.” Guthrum Purdin, D.V.M., assisted by Marianne Dominguez, conducts a final check before the eagle takes flight. Golden feathers on the bird’s neck give the species its name. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
 To document the eagle’s age, biologists photographed her wing and tail feathers. It was thought that a white stain on one of the feathers had resulted from a skunk spray. Weeks later, her fragrance was still slightly pungent. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
To document the eagle’s age, biologists photographed her wing and tail feathers. It was thought that a white stain on one of the feathers had resulted from a skunk spray. Weeks later, her fragrance was still detectable. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

But this day was all about happiness. And I felt inspired, seeing all the people who cared.

Moments before release, eagle lovers gathered atop a grassy hill in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
Moments before release, eagle lovers gathered atop a grassy hill in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

They cared enough to say:

“Goodbye.”

“Good luck.”

“Days like today are why I do this work,” said Dr. Guthrum Purdin, the Lindsay Museum’s Director of Veterinary Services.
“Days like today are why I do this work,” said Dr. Guthrum Purdin, Lindsay Museum’s Director of Veterinary Services. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

The eagle, literally, has landed

The eagle’s first flight was magnificent but not long. She alighted in some dense brush, seemingly to hide out from a cackling “murder” of crows.

With my camera in hand, I waited, fixed on the brush, listening to the crows, for well over an hour.

Finally, the eagle re-emerged and flew into the distance. Her transmitter was visible on her back. Her photographer: awestruck.

The eagle flew. Spirits soared. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
The eagle flew. Spirits soared. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

Berkeley wildlife

The Lindsay Wildlife Museum serves the Berkeley area, too.

In 2104, the wildlife hospital treated 159 animals that were found in Berkeley, from songbirds and snakes to opossums and raptors. Twenty-five animals were released in Berkeley.

For more about the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, please visit its website. It is home to the nation’s first wildlife rehabilitation hospital and is celebrating its 60th anniversary next year. It is also accepting donations, since wild animals in need of care don’t have health insurance.

Related:
Going green: Frog conservation finds new HQ in Berkeley (10.13.14)
All aflutter: Berkeley insect lovers celebrate 40th year counting butterflies (07.24.14)
Friends in high places: Peregrine falcons soar above us (04.29.14)
Counting crows: Why are there so many in Berkeley? (03.28.14)
Darlings not Draculas: The bats that live in Berkeley (12.23.13)
In a Berkeley park a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Lynxes of the bird world: Cooper’s hawks nest in Berkeley (04.18.13)
The mystery and thrill: Shorebirds enjoy winter in Berkeley (03.21.13)
Sitting on the dock of the bay: Birds throng Berkeley pier 02.28.13)
Rare bluebird sightings bring happiness in a Berkeley park (08.07.12)
In Tilden Park’s Jewel Lake: Spotting a rare river otter (04.05.12)
Up close with Berkeley’s wildlife at Tilden Regional Park (03.06.12)

Elaine Miller Bond is the photographer for the book, ‘The Utah Prairie Dog: Life Among the Red Rocks,’ recently published by the University of Utah Press. She is also the author of ‘Dream Affimals: Affirmations + Animals’ (Sunstone Press, 2013) and Affimals (LIT Verlag, 2009).

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