"And this is such a great area for eagles to live in, since they depend so much on fish and waterfowl for their food," he continued. "We have the New, Bluestone and Greenbrier rivers and Bluestone Lake," with large expanses of them preserved as state parks and wildlife management areas.
The one confirmed nesting site in the survey area lies at the south end of the New River Gorge National River, now occupied by a pair of bald eagles for the fourth consecutive year.
"We haven't seen any eggs in the nest yet this year, but there's still time," said Wendy Perrone, director of the Three Rivers Avian Center, and a long-time volunteer on the winter nesting surveys.
While some eagles migrate south or eastward to the Chesapeake Bay to spend their winters, the New River Gorge eagles remain near their nest year-round. "So far, they've never left," said Perrone.
Phillips said he suspects there are at least three additional eagle nests in the Hinton area.
In early March, a second survey will be held in an effort to find new nesting sites. Observers in canoes will scan the shorelines of Bluestone Lake and the New, Greenbrier and Bluestone rivers to find eagle nests, which are built from sticks, often used year after year, and can weigh more than a ton.
About 20 bald eagle pairs nest in West Virginia each year, mainly in the Potomac River watershed.
The 98 volunteers taking part in last weekend's survey were a blend of experienced and inexperienced birders.
"Jim did a fine job of pairing up newbies with people who have been doing these eagle surveys for years," Perrone said. "Thanks to all the people who wanted to help, we were able to cover a lot more area this year."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.