A telephone caller told me she and her husband had seen twelve or thirteen bald eagles below the dam on the Salamonie River one morning earlier this month. Most were perched in the trees along the river below the dam, she said, though a few were flying. And that wasn’t all the eagles they saw that morning. From the dam they had driven west along the river to its confluence with the Wabash River and along the way they had seen five more eagles. Then they drove east along the Wabash for several miles and saw five more eagles.
They saw 22 or 23 bald eagles by the Salamonie River or near it in a couple hours one morning. I lived and worked at the Salamonie Reservoir for nearly 25 years. I drove across the Salamonie Dam hundreds of times. But I never saw an eagle from the dam. Nor did I ever see an eagle along the river below the dam.
I did see a bald eagle at Salamonie while I lived there. Twice. Both times upriver from the dam, one perched in a tree on Monument Island, one flying over the water of the upper end of the reservoir.
But changes occurred and were occurring that benefited eagles while I lived at Salamonie. The use of DDT was banned. This persistent pesticide, which predatory birds got from their prey, caused the eggs of those birds to have thin shells and break before they could hatch. A law was passed protecting bald eagles and later golden eagles. Finally, states that no longer had nesting bald eagles, including Indiana, got eaglets from states that still had nesting eagles, raised and released those birds to the wild. For the first time in over a hundred years bald eagles nested again in Indiana. Other states importing, raising and releasing bald eagles were Alabama, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Employees of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recorded sightings of eagles seen in the state. They flew surveys over the rivers of the state looking for and noting eagle nests. They got reports from all DNR employees and compiled a state-wide mid-winter eagle count each year.
In winter bald eagles gather along rivers where the current is swift enough to keep water open and fishing, for the eagles, is good. One such place is along the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa, between Dubuque and Keokuk. Iowa is my home state, the state where I was born and grew up. All my life I’ve heard about the eagles near Keokuk in winter. Often I’ve talked about going to see them. But I never have.
Now, however, there is apparently an eagle winter gathering place at Salamonie, closer to where I live than Keokuk was to my home in Iowa. An eagle gathering is called a convocation and a few days after being told of the convocation of eagles at Salamonie my older daughter and I went to see them.
The weather was beautiful the day we went to see the eagles at Salamonie. It was cold but the sky was clear, the sun bright. Bald eagles, big and boldly colored with their white heads and tails, would be easy to spot, perched in trees or flying or on rocks in the river or on the bank eating fish.
We didn’t see an eagle. Not one. Calling later and talking to the person who had told me about the eagles I learned she had been there early in the morning, soon after dawn. We were there early in the afternoon.
We did see bald eagles that morning. Three of them. We saw them as we were driving on the highway, starting home. All were flying, high above the trees in the direction of Salamonie.