“Dad, look, a bald eagle!”
My daughter’s announcement while we returned to our home along the Penns Creek jolted me out of a mental fog – an internal debate session where I weighed the pros and cons of an impending life-changing decision with long-reaching implications for my family.
“I don’t see it,” I replied while blinking and refocusing to where she was pointing.
Then, suddenly, I spotted the bright white head and dark body of a mature bald eagle perched in the canopy of tall trees along the creek. A few branches over sat a second bald eagle, scanning the surroundings with a stoic, determined gaze.
Between the two eagles, a “nest” – although that word doesn’t truly do the creation justice.
It was basically a massive beaver hut suspended in the air – an interwoven collection of branches, grass and other natural materials expertly crafted to provide a safe place to start a feathery family. The logistics of building such a structure, one twig at a time, fascinated me.
How did the eagles know how to place each piece without the whole thing collapsing in Jenga-like chaos? How long did it take to create? How did I miss this nature-based miracle of a construction job along a stretch of road just a mile from my house?
The reality is that these sort of phenomenal feats occur quite often within the ecology of the Valley’s diverse outdoors-based resources. We struggle to turn away from our busy schedules, electronic-induced distractions and social media splurges long enough to appreciate some of the miraculous moments around us – and commit to the changes necessary to protect those resources.
The timing of my family’s nest-centric discovery was no coincidence. It occurred in the midst of an offer to take over as the executive director of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association. After 14 years of building a life for my family via journalistic opportunities at The Daily Item newspaper, I found myself at a difficult crossroad.
My church, friends, family and I prayed for God’s guidance, and He answered with an eagle nest.
The bald eagle is a poster child species for how we can impact the environment without realizing it. Due to a variety of circumstances, including the usage of DDT-based insecticides in the 1950s and 60s until its eventual ban in 1972, the bald eagle population was nearly eradicated in the United States.
According to numbers from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, by 1980, the state's known nesting population numbered only three pairs. In 1990, there were eight active nests, 48 in 2000, and the growth has exponentially skyrocketed to more than 270 active nests in 2013.
As is the case for every wildlife species in our region, clean water is crucial for survival.
The Middle Susquehanna Watershed covers at network of more than 11,000 square miles of springs, streams, creeks and other waterways that eventually feed into the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River. An issue in even the furthest reaches of the watershed can have huge ripple effects not only further down the river, but also within the delicate ecological balance between species.
Moving forward, my passion as the Middle Susquehanna’s Riverkeeper is to protect and promote our river-based resources, including the interwoven network of tributaries and the species that rely on the water that flows through them.
Help us financially via Raise the Region through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, by clicking here.
You can help the cause by volunteering to be eyes and ears throughout the watershed, and we are encouraging everyone connected to the region to take the 2020 Susquehanna Survey found here. You can report concerns, share ideas and offer financial assistance via the website, the Riverkeeper hotline (570-768-6300) or email (email@example.com).
The team will also be offering educational programming designed to engage watershed neighbors of all ages – especially our younger generation – as we help people reconnect with nature to find their own “eagle nest” moments on the trail to becoming better environmental stewards.
For updates, follow the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Facebook page and presence on Instagram and Twitter – as long as you promise to take a few moments between reading posts to get outdoors, explore and share your discoveries with us.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.