The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: endangered bald eagle

Cooper Eagle 1BAmerican Eagle Foundation founder Al Cecere releases a rehabilitated bald eagle at Ijams Nature Center on Aug. 12, 2016. The foundation named her Summit in honor of UT Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit. Photo by Chuck Cooper.

Is the bald eagle's remarkable comeback fading down the stretch?

(Part one in a series)

It was a damp morning in early spring 2005 when Paul James and I met Linda Claussen at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge along the French Broad River in east Knox County. Heavy rains had fallen through the night, but the clouds were beginning to break. As we walked down Kelly Lane toward the river the vocalized yearnings of thousands of chorus frogs could be heard singing from the soppy floodplain along the river. Spring was definitely here.

The refuge itself was the brainchild of Linda’s late husband, Pete. In the late 1990s, he formed the Seven Islands Foundation, a privately owned land conservancy, and began setting aside property to be protected and restored to a variety of natural habitats. Most of the acreage had recently been fescue pasture maintained for grazing livestock and hay production.

Seven Islands State Birding Park is now the refuge the Claussens imagined 20 years ago. What typically strikes the casual visitor is the overall lay of the land because the narrow roadway opens up to a dramatic sylvan panorama with the Great Smokies off in the distance. It’s an excellent place to view the valley, but in early 2005, we were there for more than just a tour of the idyllic property, Linda was enthused for another reason. Of course, being enthused was an everyday occurrence for her; but on this day, she had something truly remarkable to show us.

Perhaps the wide river or the pastoral remoteness of the location itself attracted the refuge’s newest residents, for we had only walked about 10 minutes down the paved rural roadway when I spotted the first white head. We were at least 300 yards away, but its form was unmistakable. An adult bald eagle was perched on a bare sycamore branch 40 or 50 feet above the swirling water. It was looking upstream over the rich bottom land, surveying its territory. The regal raptor was not alone, for behind it, high in another sycamore, was a classic stick nest as big as a household stove, except conical, like a funnel. A second eagle hunkered down in the nest, incubating.

Much to my companions’ surprise, I whooped with the zeal of an 8-year-old. As the crow flies, Seven Islands is slightly less than 12 miles northeast of my Chapman Ridge home, practically my backyard. The nascent refuge had proven the wisdom to the “Field of Dreams” adage: “If you build it, they will come.”

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