Golden eagles part Catskills study

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By Brian Sweeney
A number of area residents recently got quite a surprise when they opened an e-mail and saw a request asking for road kill locations.

Ironically, the e-mail from Halcott Center residents Peg and Michael DiBenedetto was “dead” serious. The DiBenedettos are involved in a Golden Eagle study and deer carcasses that have been killed by vehicles are an ideal bait to lure in the eagles.

Peg explained that she and her husband became involved with the Golden Eagle project last fall after she met Tom Salo of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society (DOAS). He and Todd Katzner, a professor at West Virginia University, are conducting the study. When the DiBenedettos learned about the project, they decided to get involved.

Peg explained that the study involves “camera trapping” — a procedure in which the carcasses are set out in strategic locations and motion-activated “game cameras” are set up to document the various diners who show up to enjoy a free meal. Every few days, project participants visit the site, resupply the carcasses and check the camera.

She noted that Eastern Golden Eagles breed and summer in northeastern Canada. The majority of the birds migrate through the eastern seaboard en route to wintering in southern Appalachia. They then fly north again for the breeding season.

Protected species
Peg said that Golden Eagles are not listed as an Endangered Species (as are Bald Eagles), but they are a protected species. She pointed out that the study’s purpose “is to determine over-wintering populations of Golden Eagles in the Appalachian plateau.”

A secondary goal of the project is trying to determine if there is a genetic difference between Eastern Goldens and those of the western states.
The study was started in January and will continue until mid-February. Peg said the research has already yielded useful data.

“Our site is the most easterly site in the DOAS area, and has yielded some interesting information. Along with a few Bald Eagles, Red Tail Hawks, ravens and crows, at least three Golden Eagles – adult and immature – make frequent appearances. We also have seen a repeat a downy woodpecker that often shows up at 4 p.m.,” she noted.

“Golden Eagles are typically more aggressive eaters and rarely tolerate other species at the table. But this site has uniquely shown Goldens and Balds feeding together and with ravens and crows,” Peg explained.

Peg said that Michael has obtained a license from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that allows him to pick up and transport deer carcasses. The need for carcasses will expire soon, she said. In the meantime, anyone who would like to contribute some road kill for the sake of science is welcome to contact the DiBenedettos at: vlywaterman@gmail.com

Online information
For additional information on the Golden Eagle project, please visit appalachianeagles.org. The site provides additional information and also photos from a Delaware County eagle project from 2010.
Peg, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology, has worked for more than a decade in land management for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. Michael is retired from his long career as a science teacher at Margaretville and Andes. He and his family operate Vly Mountain Spring Water, a company that supplies drinking water to homes and businesses throughout the Catskill Region.