Yesterday I ticked off my first target bird of 2008, Golden Eagle. As readers may recall, Golden Eagle is on the list of 14 most likely bird species I can observe to hit 300 Ohio species. I went out yesterday to The Wilds, an area of reclaimed coal mining lands in Muskingum County that has been turning into a rolling grassland, and has somewhat of a Pleistocene feel to it, as it is home to large fauna such as bison, bactrian camel, native white-tailed deer, Przywalski's horses, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs and the like (The Wilds is a 10,000-acre wildlife conservation and restoration facility). Of course, the African species aren't out and about in the winter, but the effect is still there. As a side effect, the Wilds habitat is highly attractive to grassland birds, and in the winter is known for its high numbers of Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks. In the past five years or so, it's attracted a couple rarer birds to Ohio: Prairie Falcon and juvenile Golden Eagles. The Prairie Falcon was a one (possibly two)-year wonder, but Golden Eagles have become regular visitors, albeit challenging to get good looks at. Since 2004, I've tried at least 15 times to see the Golden Eagle at the Wilds, and failed every time.
Not so yesterday! I arrived at the Wilds about 9 am and drove the roads, enjoying the singing Eastern Meadowlarks and the aerial displays of harriers and "roughlegs". About 10:30, I was at the birding station overlooking a large section of the Wilds and got my scope on what appeared to be a dark raptor with a large wingspan as it flew away and disappeared behind a hill. My fellow Avid Birder, Jay Lehman, showed up at this moment and we spent about 20 minutes scanning the skies until we found the bird again. It soared high into the air and about all we could say was that it sure looked like a Golden Eagle, but not 100%. The bird then flew north and descended to the level of the hills and headed back south. This allowed us several excellent looks at the bird in full sunlight, and we were able to clearly see the golden color to the plumage of the head and upper wing surfaces, as well as the white feathers at the base of the tail. Juvenile Golden Eagle - no doubt about it!
As an added bonus, Jay noted an early Osprey on the nesting platform at the pond below the station. This could be the first Osprey reported for Ohio this year, but I'll need to check. All in all, a fine morning, and mission accomplished!