The recovery of bald eagles in New Jersey is going so well that there are frequent sightings in places they almost never used to be seen.

The Mainland area of eastern Atlantic County is one example. Previously, you'd be very lucky to see a migrating eagle soaring so high you could barely make out the white head and tail.

Now, a pair of adult bald eagles is frequently seen wintering in the marshes east and west of Linwood, probably considering nesting sites in preparation of making the area their home.

Junetta Dix, of Linwood, sent a photo taken recently of the pair on an osprey nesting platform put up by husband Michael and his father.

The Cape May area sees a lot of eagles during migration - a record 459 bald eagles at fall's Hawk Watch in Cape May Point - but only this season has a pair nested there after many decades' absence.

Sightings are reported in just about every estuary in southern New Jersey, the preferred habitat for this fish-, fowl- and small-mammal-eating predator with an 80-inch wingspan.

The population growth has been quite rapid, thanks to people accelerating nature's leisurely pace.

In 1982, there was just one active bald eagle nest left in the state, in Bear Swamp near Dividing Creek in Cumberland County, and a brave state Fish & Wildlife worker climbed 80 feet to it to replace its DDT-damaged eggs with vital ones from a far north population.

Next came an eagle "hacking" program, in which the state raised hatchlings and introduced them into the wild in hacking towers in locations such as the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area.

By 1997, a survey of wintering eagles found a then-astounding 121 along the southern New Jersey coast.

Record numbers of eagles have been seen since, and last winter's statewide count found 282, the vast majority in this region. Nesting is way up, too, with a record 84 pairs counted last winter.

This month's count hasn't been confirmed and compiled yet, but 25 were seen on the Maurice River and 33 on the Cohansey River in Cumberland County alone.

And the Cape May Bird Observatory's Winter Raptor Survey on Jan. 23 - with one hour of observation at 14 coastal locations from Atlantic to Salem counties - counted 39 bald eagles.

At this rate, the question is whether eagle sightings will become almost routine.

"Wouldn't that be cool to live in an environment where we take eagles for granted?" Junetta Dix said.

That boggles the mind of us older birders, who remember when a good eagle sighting was a unique experience.

Contact Kevin Post:

609-272-7250

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