A Golden Eagle remains one of the most thrilling species of birds to see no matter where one is encountered. In New Jersey, the local hawk watches are the most likely viewing places at the right time of year as well as some southern New Jersey locations in winter.
A September record for Golden Eagle in Morris County is noteworthy, unexpected and possibly unprecedented. Golden Eagles usually pass through Northern New Jersey from mid-October into November. What makes the following record all the more interesting is that it was not viewed at all by any Homo sapiens but was tracked via a transmitter with her location (yes, it is a female given the name “Freedom Hills”) determined by coordinates.
As the eBird record reviewer for Morris and Somerset Counties, this writer sees all of the species flagged as rare in both of these counties. Golden Eagle is, of course, filtered as rare. Seeing a Golden Eagle entry from Hedden Park in Randolph Twp. a few days ago caused an eyebrow or two to be raised. A letter ensued to the observer, Scott Somershoe, and his fascinating account is excerpted below.
From Scott Somershoe:
“We are working with the Eastern Golden Eagle working group and have been trapping wintering Golden’s and attaching GSM transmitters in Alabama and Tennessee. This particular individual (named “Freedom Hills”) is a second year female and she’s already in southern West Virginia! She didn’t go far north this summer. This bird has a transmitter funded by my buddies in Alabama…With these transmitters we get a data point with date, time, lat-long (accurate to 1 m at times), speed, and altitude every 15 min during daylight hours, which is very detailed info on migration routes. I can access the data daily after the transmitter sends data via cell towers (if they are in range of a tower). I’ve been putting in a few records for these birds along their travels south, mostly for this bird since she is fairly early and I figure it may be of interest to local records committees (I’m a regional compiler for middle TN records) and birders (although the bird has long since passed by on its way south). Nice data point to know a Golden has already passed through your neck of the woods though!”
Scott replied when asked how far north the Golden Eagle traveled this summer: “She spent the summer in the Gaspe Peninsula of southern Quebec with some time in New Brunswick to the immediate south. She wandered over the entire area. Being a second year bird, she has no territory or anything, so the young ones move around a lot. The Gaspe has the southernmost known breeding Goldens, but maybe there’s a pair or two in Maine somewhere…We’ve opened a big can of worms with Goldens in TN. Maybe 4-5 get adequately documented each winter, but at one of our bait sites (trail camera) last year on the TN/AL line we had SEVEN different birds in 5 days. I’m still working on trying to estimate a minimum number of goldens at a couple of our bait sites, but in that neck of the woods west of Chattanooga, I have no doubt that 75-100 goldens winter and pass thru there on migration. There’s lot of data behind my theory.”
Scott manages a web site describing the Tennessee Golden Eagles:
Keep looking up.