Event continues each Saturday in January and February
By Miriam Raftery
January 27, 2013 (Ramona ) – A Ferruginous hawk, the largest hawk found in San Diego County, hunkers down on a treetop at the Ramona Grasslands preserve. In a field nearby, volunteers with the Wildlife Research Institute give visitors an up-close look at another of these magnificent birds (left), which winter in our region after migrating south from the northern U.S. and Canada.
Rainfall moved the event indoors, where a Peregrine Falcon and a Screech Owl were shown off next. “We’ve never cancelled a single time,” WRI executive director Dave Bittner notes. Later, as the weather cleared, Bittner displayed a golden eagle outdoors; a special report by the WRI warns that “our last remaining Golden Eagle territories in San Diego County are being threatened.”
Since the 1950s, 43 Golden Eagle territories--nearly 50% of zones documented as eagle nesting areas-- have been extirpated and never reoccupied. Only 9 active Golden Eagle breeding pairs remain in the entire county.
The WRI report lists extensive trail systems in wildlife preserves as the worst threat to eagles. ECM has asked Bittner why wind turbines are not listed in his report as threats to local eagles.
The WRI accepts money from wind developers to conduct research on eagle habitat at proposed wind energy sites, including three in East County. Wind turbines have had devastating effects on golden eagles elsewhere, notably at the Altamont Wind Farm, where thousands of golden eagles have been killed by the whirling blades. At the existing Kumeyaay wind facility in Campo, a witness has reporting seeing a car full of large, dead raptors, though no records are required to be disclosed to the public of bird kills at the facility on tribal lands.
Three new projects proposed: Tule, Shu’luuk and Jewel Valley wind, are all in or near areas where residents have long reported eagles foraging or nesting. The federal government has recently begun issuing take permits allowing the inadvertent killing of eagles by wind developers.
The WRI has recently established an Eagle Fund for the research, preservation and protection of eagles and other raptors.
Recently an exciting discovery was made at the Ramona Grasslands preserve: a pair of bald eagles has built a nest at the site. The pair is one of just two nesting bald eagle pairs confirmed in San Diego County.
The facility includes a visitors’ center with a variety of interesting exhibits and souvenirs. Guests learn many important facts about how to help protect raptors, or birds of prey.
Rat poison and other pesticides wreak havoc on raptors, causing severe neurological damage or even death, a medical professional at the facility explained. Property owners are urged to use traps instead to control rodents such as ground squirrels and gophers.
All birds on display have suffered injury or illness that prevents them from being released into the wild. A small screech owl is blind in one eye from being struck by a car.
Outside, kids could enjoy additional activities, including handling snakes (favorite prey of raptors), viewing educational displays, and getting a close-up look at a barn owl (left)
Hawk Watch events continue each Saturday in January and February at the Ramona Grasslands in Ramona, starting promptly at 9 a.m. For more information, visit http://www.wildlife-research.org/hawkwatch.html .