Due to a heat index exceeding 90 degrees, the Millennium Trail and Elm Lick Trail will remain closed until further notice.

Harper is a Free Bird – Golden Eagle Update

By Andrew Berry

GoldEagle_closeupThis blog showcased the journey Harper, the Eastern Golden Eagle that Bernheim tracked during the spring of 2015 after fitting it with a GPS satellite transmitter.  Bernheim partnered with the help Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Beckham Bird Club, for this first of its kind research in the state aimed to shed some light on the mystery surrounding these majestic birds.  Look below at how the story unfolded.  Thanks for the memories, Harper.

Harper Returns. Motion detecting cameras in Bernheim’s forest were able to photograph Harper and identify him by his leg band. This marks the third consecutive winter Harper has nested in the Wilson Creek Valley area of Bernheim.

Harper is a free bird. The transmitter has lost power, indicating that it has fallen off and is no longer able to recharge or transmit locations. Harper’s movements up to this time show that he is healthy and busy hunting and occupying his nest site in Wapusk National Park. It is possible that his mate may have helped to remove the transmitter, but we will never know. We have learned an extraordinary amount of information from this project and will continue to interpret the data and release our findings. We greatly appreciate Harper’s participation in this study, and want to acknowledge the sacrifices that individual animals like Harper endure in the name of research. I must admit that a part of me is happy to know that he is now free and wild as ever. This fall, when the golden eagles return to Bernheim, we will be looking closely for the big one that wears a leg band. Let us know if you see him and say hello for us.

Harper is back is in Wapusk National Park. He has been wandering between the thousands of lakes that dot these lowlands of the Hudson Bay. Some are as large as 500 acres with extensive wetlands, bogs, and islands that are very favorable for breeding waterfowl. He seems to be using an area about 15 miles across as his home base. It got cold again in Churchill with highs in the 20’s and lows in single digits tomorrow. Temperatures should rise again in a few days. It seems to me that he’s comfortable in this environment and may end up in Wapusk for the summer.

Harper has continued to move within the Hudson Bay Lowlands. He traveled about 100 miles southwest on a trip upstream along the Churchill River. From there he detoured into the highlands where he flew over a 2000 acre lake and spent a day at the outlet of a 60 acre lake. Canada has more lakes than any other country in the world with as many as three million dotting the glacier carved landscape. These lakes and streams are probably experiencing a great deal of outflow from melting ice and snow. The temperatures in the region have been warming over the past few days with a high today in the mid-50’s. The melting of these lakes will also bring in the migratory waterfowl that will begin arriving over the next few weeks. During his travels the past week Harper flew as far as 70 miles in a day, as fast as 42 miles per hour, and as high as 1900 feet above the earth’s surface. He has began moving back northward and was last approaching the western border of Wapusk NP. Stay tuned as we wait to see how Harper responds to these warmer temperatures and the arrival of waterfowl during May.

Harper Bernheim has traveled over 2100 miles since he left Bernheim Forest on March 12th. His journey has taken him through the Midwestern section of North America and led him to the Hudson Bay lowlands in northern Manitoba. Since April 6th he has spent time in the vicinity of Churchill, a small town located on the western coast of the Hudson Bay. The land here still has 75% snow cover and the Hudson Bay is frozen solid. Harper has made several trips into Wapusk National Park where he is spending increasingly more time. His movements indicate he is visiting shorelines of lakes and wetland. His travels between familiar locations suggests that he may be settling in for the breeding season. In May this area will see a huge arrival of waterfowl on these lakes and wetlands for the summer. This will include snow geese, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, and numerous other species of ducks and geese. Over the next month we will learn much about his behavior as breeding season begins. Some big questions remain to be answered, including:

1) Is the Churchill area his final destination for migration?
2) What kind of situation will be chosen for building a nest?
3) What kinds of habitats will be used during the summer months?
4) Will he return to Bernheim Forest in the fall?

Thank you all for your support and interest as we continue this unique research project. Stay tuned to the Bernheim website for weekly updates on the life of Harper Bernheim.

The eagle has now been on his migration from Bernheim for 1 month (March 12 – April 12). He has most recently been spending time in the Churchill area around Hudson Bay. From here he has made several trips into Wapusk National Park. Wapusk NP is an incredible destination for its wildlife and remoteness. The park protects one of the largest known polar bear maternity den sites in the world. This time of year the polar bears have emerged from their maternity dens with cubs and have gone onto the Hudson Bay sea ice to hunt for seal pups. Caribou and wolves are abundant and I imagine there are ample scavenging opportunities this time of year. This is one of the largest waterfowl breeding areas in North America, although most species won’t arrive until mid-May. We’re not sure if this is a stopover until weather improves further north, an opportunity to meet up with a mate, or a chance to refuel and rest with abundant food sources. Stay tuned as this epic migration continues.

Our eagle has now crossed the Nelson River in northern Manitoba and is getting into the tundra interface that extends south along Hudson Bay. This region, known as the Hudson Bay lowlands, is dominated by numerous lakes, expansive peat bogs (sphagnum moss and lichen muskeg) and islands of stunted trees. Over the past few days he passed very near the town of Gilliam, MN as he traveled north but has recently took a short detour south off his route to presumably rest and feed around several small lakes. The weather was been cold with strong winds out of the northwest for past week which may explain some of his stoppage. Today the high is -2 deg F and low of -20 F tonight, wind chill at -24 F with gusts to 22 mph. It is supposed to warm up next week so we’ll see what he does during better weather. He is getting close to Churchill, known for its concentration of polar bears, and the Nunavut border. Stay tuned.

Our eagle is now taking a break from migration and hanging out along the Karloske River, a tributary of the Hayes River, which is in the Hudson Bay watershed. He has been hanging out there for the past 4 days, moving up and down the valley and likely still hunting (sitting in trees waiting for prey to come by). He is perching on trees that overlook wetlands on the main river valley in an area about 1/2 mile long. It may be that he is waiting for weather to improve before moving north into the tundra. Stay tuned.

Our eagle has crossed over into Manitoba! He is still traveling through the great boreal forest but rapidly approaching the tundra of far northern Manitoba. He is about 180 miles south of Wapusk Provincial Park, known for its polar bear population that utilizes the frozen Hudson Bay for feeding. Right now the weather is 12 degrees up there and expected to hit -10 degrees F tonight.

The eagle is migrating fast and has now made it to northern Ontario in an area known as the Canadian Shield and heading for Manitoba. I am thinking he will still end up as far north as Nunavut or even as far west as Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories. Its a vast and snowy wilderness up there. Communities are of the First Nation peoples and mostly fly in but some ice roads to get in supplies in the winter. The Canadian Shield is a land of boreal forest, lakes, wet meadows, exposed granite, and cold. Despite the snow and ice covering the ground and lakes our eagle continues to push on to the north and its breeding grounds.

The eagle has flown just off the western tip of Lake Superior through the town of Duluth, MN. Our friend is now about 100 miles from the Canadian border and Voyageurs National Park. He has made it through the agricultural lands of the Midwest and is now entering the boreal forest. During his flight through Wisconsin and Minnesota he reached heights of 3100 feet and spent time resting and feeding in wooded areas.

I was wrong last prediction of heading towards Michigan but now feel like he will go into north central Canada, between Great Slave Lake and the barren grounds of Nunavut. That would mean he has traveled approximately 1/3 of his total migration that may be as far as 2200 miles. Lots of snow up there still so he may want to take his time.

The eagle was traveling through southern Wisconsin on March 18th after spending some time in south Chicago. Our friend has reached heights of 3500 ft. above the earth’s surface and speeds as high as 40 miles per hour as it navigates the agricultural lands of the Midwest.

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