In 1963, the bald eagle population was its lowest ever, when fewer than 500 pairs were scattered throughout the lower forty-eight states. Its survival was in doubt.
In the 1960s, I was employed by the Rochester Telephone Corporation. My duties involved troubleshooting service issues in four villages in New York: Atlanta, Cohocton, Spring Water, and Wayland. I had use of a company vehicle and purchased most of the gasoline from a service station where Jerry Hemmer happened to be the bookkeeper. Oftentimes, Jerry assisted me and eventually we became good friends. Jerry and his wife were amateur ornithologists.
One day, Jerry told me he had heard there was a nesting pair of bald eagles near Hemlock Lake, north of Springwater in Livingston County. “Where do you think they might be?” I asked. I’d always been interested in this majestic bird that was on the verge of extinction. He thought they were most likely in the swamp area at the south end of Hemlock Lake.
The following Saturday, I took my tripod, spotting scope, and binoculars to the lake. I found a good place to sit down against a stump where I had an excellent view both south and north of the western slope. This area was an ideal habitat for bald eagles—no cottages or homes and the hills were covered with virgin forest.
After watching patiently for several hours, in the distance I saw a large bird flying along the shoreline of the lake about 150 feet above the water. It kept coming toward me. Its white head came into view. As it flew by, I knew it was a bald eagle; no mistake about it. Boy, was I happy! It flew into a clump of tall trees and out of sight.
I wanted to see more; so I worked my way along the creek and into the forest of mature trees. To my surprise, there before me was a large eagle nest. Two adult bald eagles were perched nearby; I could easily see them. This discovery made my day! I could not believe my good fortune. The last known nesting pair of bald eagles in New York State was watching me.
This day began my study of bald eagles (an obsession that lasted several decades). Because the bald eagle is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government, one of the first things I did was notify John Waters, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in charge of New York State in Albany, about the eagles’ location. Soon thereafter, John and I visited the nesting area. He was impressed. He asked and I agreed to keep him updated on their progress.
While the location of this pair of eagles and their eyries are now locally known, to protect them from unnecessary disturbances when I first started my observations, I said that the location was at a medium-sized lake in western New York. In the past few years, the welcomed increased interest in endangered wildlife has resulted in the nesting area being posted against trespassing during the nesting season. This particular location is rather inaccessible, so it is ordinarily free from human molestation. And placing raccoon shields around the nest trees protected the nests.
For the next thirty years, I gathered information from books, magazine and newspaper articles, conversations, and personal observations. In addition to being a summary of what I learned and how the bald eagle was rescued from near extinction, this book also provides information about the natural history of the species and some historical background for other researchers and bald eagle enthusiasts.