By Jenii Wallace, Visitor Services Technician, Sky Meadows State Park
Earlier this month, the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of the best known birds of prey in North America. Once widespread across the habitats found throughout the northern continents of the world, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas and retreated into the higher elevations. Despite being virtually extinct from some of its former range including local valleys and forests, the species is still fairly well known, being present in Eurasia, North America, and parts of Africa.
The camera traps have been set up at a variety of locations and will take photographs from January 1, 2011 to February 15, 2011. Once the footage is collected, a specially designed software package can identify individuals and those photographs can be treated as captures in a mark-recapture experiment and then used to estimate abundance. Sky Meadows was chosen as a test site based on recent sightings of Golden Eagles and the park’s location along avian migration corridors.
Upon camera setup, a list of outlined protocols must be adhered to in order for accurate data to be collected. Overseeing the experiment here at the park is DGIF Biologist Jeanette Parker. Assisting Jeanette is Sky Meadows’ Naturalist, Trish Bartholomew. Trish has been invaluable in assisting with this project and maintaining strict protocols for accuracy.
In the hopes of capturing some Golden Eagles, DGIF provided several deer carcasses and staked them down at a discrete location to attract some hungry birds of prey. During winter months when prey is scarce Golden Eagles, like many other carnivorous animals, scavenge on carrion to supplement their diet. The carcasses were staked so that eagles or large mammals could not drag them away from the camera site.
So far our Eagle-Cam has only captured Virginia State Parks’ volunteer website.