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Bands all here for the eagles.

Byline: Mary Anne Magiera

COLUMN: Outdoors

It's always risky to drop in unannounced on a new family.

Pushing the envelope is when about 25 people converge on a small submarine-shaped island to view the only offspring of the first pair of eagles to have successfully nested at Wachusett Reservoir. Wednesday was the coming out party for the 4-week-plus-old eaglet who was removed from its nest and fitted with two metal leg bands that give it unique identifiers that will help track it the rest of its life.

The adult eagles took the whole affair in stride. They circled the island from time to time, but kept a distant and silent vigil. Left to deal with the humans on his own, junior proved to be a really good sport. For those of us on the island, there was more than a little drama, a dose of education and a rare chance to share a moment of pride with the state agency personnel that have helped restore the bald eagle population in Massachusetts.

Resembling a mini beaver hut, the eagle's nest was cradled near the end of a bend formed by new growth at the top of a 60-foot white pine tree. The whole configuration leaned into the 15-mile-an-hour northeast blow churning up the reservoir on Wednesday morning.

Kurt Palmateer brought to life a page from a Patagonia mail order catalogue- which regularly features spectacular photos of rock climbs- as he inched his way up the tree toward the nest using a series of rope swings that he had carefully pinned. Branches and dead sticks fell to the ground as he moved up the belays. Three other expert climbers with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife assisted him from below.

Palmateer is assistant fish culturist at the state's McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown. He and other members of the climbing team, who also have other jobs with MassWildlife, volunteered to help with the banding.

"We have probably five people capable of climbing. There was a question regarding the integrity of the tree, so we went with the best. But, it's not part of anybody's duties to do this," said Bill Davis, MassWildlife's Central District director.

Soon, Palmateer called for the bag that would carry the eaglet from his perch to those waiting below.

Davis placed the bird on a small piece of canvas which was quickly encircled by the group that had been brought to island to witness the banding.

He determined the eaglet to be male, using the proportionately large size and thickness of the beak and the size of the talons to make that determination. The bird weighed in at exactly 8 pounds.

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles held the young eagle while Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game Mary Griffin placed the silver federal leg band on its right leg. Griffin then held the bird, while Bowles attached the copper state band. The band markings can be read with binoculars.

The Wachusett eaglet is one of more than 200 young eagles that have been banded under a MassWildlife bald eagle restoration project begun in 1982. The reservoir became one of 25 breeding territories identified by the agency throughout the state. Banding is an important tool for measuring the projects success, enabling scientists to gather information about survival rates, how far birds disperse, when they leave the nest, habitat preferences and causes of death. In addition to Wachusett, this year's eagles nested at Quabbin Reservoir and other Central Massachusetts locations, the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers, and in Plymouth, Bristol, and Berkshire counties.

Davis gave the bird a quick physical, first checking its crock, a bulge below the beak where ingested food is stored to be gradually assimilated.

"Feel this," Davis said to Bowles, "It's the size of a tennis ball, so he's eaten well this morning."

The young eagle uttered a few half-hearted sounds during the banding and exam, looked up at the circle of humans from time to time, but didn't squirm or otherwise protest.

"He really is not developed enough or coordinated enough to do anything harmful," Davis noted. The parents, he said with a grin, are keeping their distance, "because they recognize us, we've been doing this for years. Luckily they're not aggressive like peregrines or other birds."

Davis then checked the bird's throat and extended his right wing - which reached nearly two feet - to show how the feathers develop. The eaglet can eat up to two pounds a day, Davis noted, and, in as early as four weeks, the eaglet will be testing his wings in flight.

A small bag of items also came down in the bag: the backbone of a gull or duck and eagle feathers that the adult eagles had molted. The food remains will be analyzed, the feathers will be given to Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.

The eaglet went back in the canvas bag and the returned to Palmateer to be returned to his nest. Palmateer eventually climbed safely to the ground.

The most difficult part of the climb, Palmateer said, "was getting around the nest."

"We were concerned with the size of the wood and whether it was going to be stable with the sweep in it. You got up there, and it was about this big around," he said making about a four-inch circle with the index fingers and thumbs of both hands.

The eaglet was not very concerned about him, Palmateer said. He just laid down in the nest next to a partially eaten fish that the parents had left.

"I had to work above my head to put him in the bag, flip him over, and send him down," he recalled.

Palmateer said volunteering for the project, "gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride. To come here and be able to this work is great. I enjoy it."

In 1982, MassWildlife, with its federal and private sector partners, brought young eagles from Canada and Michigan and raised them in cages overlooking the Quabbin. Through a wildlife management practice known as "hacking", the eaglets came to view the reservoir as their home turf and, after fledging, some began breeding territories there.

In 1989, eight decades after the last "wild" bald eagle nest was observed on Snake Pond in Sandwich, the first three chicks fledged from two Quabbin nests.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: ALEX WITKOWICZ PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (PHOTO 1) Clockwise from left: Officials from the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife weigh the 4-week-plus-old eaglet; (PHOTO 2) the eaglet is fitted with two metal leg bands; (PHOTO 3) Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game Mary Griffin and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles pose with the eaglet; (PHOTO 4) Kurt Palmateer descends from the eaglet's nest using a series of rope swings that he had carefully pinned.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 15, 2007
Words:1138
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