Photo: Alex Demas/USGS

Blackwater Refuge Closes Trail for Nesting Bald Eagles

Across the Chesapeake region, bald eagles are busy making final preparations for nesting season. And that’s especially evident at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), home to the largest East Coast breeding population north of Florida.

The 20,000-acre refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland has announced its Marsh Edge Trail will be closed until further notice because of its proximity to nesting bald eagles. To minimize disturbances, the trail will not reopen until nesting is finished and eagle chicks have left their nests.

In early January, eagles are tidying up the nest, like expectant parents hurrying to finish the nursery before baby arrives. It’s a critical time to avoid distractions for the birds of prey, Blackwater says.

The Friends of Blackwater are leading a mid-winter eagle survey this week. President Rick Abend says a few nests are visible from the Wildlife Drive at Blackwater, but there are many others throughout the refuge.

At the refuge’s most recent eagle nest survey, done in 2010, more than 30 bald eagle nests were counted on, and immediately adjacent to, the refuge. That’s according to Matt Whitbeck, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist for the Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex.

“Pretty amazing,” Whitbeck tells Bay Bulletin. And the strong numbers aren’t just at Blackwater.

“Bald eagles seem to be doing very well here in the Chesapeake,” Whitbeck explains. “We not only support a substantial nesting population, but also non-breeding migrants from north and south.”

If you want to sneak a peek at the bald eagles’ Blackwater breeding ground this winter, while the trail is closed, you can tune in to the Friends of Blackwater’s eagle cam. Last month, Abend says, the group successfully installed two cameras on a new nest that fledged two chicks last year.

But there’s no guarantee exactly what you’ll find on the eagle cam: currently, a pair of great horned owls appears to be trying to take over the nest.

“That’s nature!” Abend exclaims.

Find out how it will play out by tuning in to the eagle cam at friendsofblackwater.org.

-Meg Walburn Viviano