By Errol Castens | NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
SARDIS – There was a day when America’s feathered symbol seemed on its way out, but today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says bald eagles inhabit all 48 states in the continental United States.
Their numbers have recovered sufficiently – from fewer than 500 known breeding pairs in 1963 to nearly 10,000 breeding pairs in 2007 – that the species is no longer on the Endangered and Threatened Species list.
Volunteers are invited to see the white-headed raptors and their mottled-brown young offspring Saturday morning at Sardis Lake’s 31st annual Bald Eagle Survey.
“We’re going to start off with breakfast and a little presentation to give them the basics of the bald eagle,” said Kyle Donlevy, a park ranger at Sardis Lake. Volunteers will be assigned to accompany Corps personnel and document the birds’ presence from sites along the reservoir’s shore and in surrounding lands.
“It’s the same spots every year and the same time – the first Saturday in January, usually,” Donlevy said.
While some birds may be seen on long-dead trees in the lake, others will sometimes be found on isolated shoreline pines that offer good views both for fishing and for keeping people at a distance.
By noon, the teams will reconvene to eat lunch, receive commemorative T-shirts and compile their estimates of the bald eagle population at the lake, which covers some 98,000 acres in Lafayette, Marshall and Panola counties.
Donlevy said while bald eagle numbers are consistently up nationwide, visitors shouldn’t expect guaranteed sightings at any particular place.
“There’s a lot of variability here,” he said, noting that the weather not only at Sardis but in more northern lakes helps determine how many of the raptors overwinter here. Weather conditions the day of the survey obviously also affect the number of birds seen. Even so, the survey has become increasingly popular, drawing more than 50 volunteers last year.
Volunteers should report to the Sardis Lake Field Office by 7 a.m. Saturday, dressed warmly and equipped with binoculars. For more information, call Ranger Cody Scruggs at the Sardis Lake Field Office at (662) 563-4531.