Saturday, January 10, 2015

Carcass Camera In Somerset County State Forest Targets Eagles

On an isolated hill on Laurel Ridge in Somerset County, golden eagles take flight to grab an easy meal of venison and have their images captured for a research project.

Bill Powers of PixController of Murrysville, who set up cameras recording the bald eagle nest in the Hays neighborhood of Pittsburgh, got permission from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to take single shots of the golden eagles being studied by wildlife researchers.

The pictures are being shared with anyone with Internet access.

“This is the first time they're really letting the public in with this,” Powers said of the agency. “I think the success we had with the Hays camera ... they were seeing the benefits to do that and the desire.”

Powers and Cory Wentzel, Forbes State Forest assistant manager, set up the equipment Dec. 22 on state land. They positioned deer carcasses that were picked up along roads at the test site to entice the elusive raptors.

The mobile camera has a built-in motion sensor, night-vision capabilities and a solar-charged battery.

A golden eagle had not appeared as of earlier last week. But Powers, Wentzel and wildlife biologists Todd Katzner and Trish Miller, who have been studying the raptors for years, hope they will return to the site.

“It gives them an idea of how many eagles there are, where they go and where they roost,” Powers said. “A lot of people don't know we have golden eagles, especially this close to Pittsburgh.”

Similar studies are taking place on Chestnut Ridge in Fayette County, Mt. Davis in Somerset County and other locations in Pennsylvania.

The golden eagles, which can weigh up to 13 pounds, migrate south from Canada late each year. They leave the frigid temperatures of the eastern provinces of Canada and come to the Appalachian Mountains region for the abundant food each winter, Miller said.
“To them, this is the Bahamas,” Wentzel joked.

The experts are looking at several different aspects of golden eagles, including their health and DNA characteristics, Wentzel said.

“We want to better understand distribution and abundance of golden eagles in the northeast United States,” Miller added. “They don't breed east of Mississippi.”

Golden eagles last reproduced in the East in the 1980s, she said. Pesticides and lost habitat are most to blame for the curtailed numbers, the raptor expert said.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 golden eagles soar the skies in eastern North American, fewer than their bald eagle counterparts, Miller said.

Miller and Wentzel put a transmitter on a 2-year-old female golden eagle that visited the Laurel Mountain site in 2012.

They patiently waited in a tent blind and flipped a remote switch to trigger a cannon net that caught the raptor. They put a solar-powered transmitter, hidden inside a backpack-shaped receptacle smaller than a smartphone, on the eagle's back. They then set her free.

Miller has been tracking the female ever since. The bird flies to Quebec each summer, then returns to winter in West Virginia.

About six golden eagles have come to the Laurel Ridge site, Wentzel said.

The carcasses attract a menagerie of animals. Bald eagles, bobcats, fishers, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, owls and ravens regularly converge at the deer carcasses.

“The camera gives the chance to see a lot of predators we don't get to see,” Powers said.
But the eagles are the focus.

“I think it could be a positive thing — educational,” Miller said of the Internet view. “People like the nest cams.”

Wentzel likes that people can view the photos.

“I think it just tickles a nerve with people. They want to see the pictures,” Wentzel said. “We're glad to be involved with the project.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or

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