HINTON, W.Va. -- A record crowd of observers spotted a record number of eagles during record warm temperatures in Saturday's Southern West Virginia Winter Eagle Survey in the Hinton area.
Nearly 100 volunteer observers scanned the skies, treetops and shorelines from 12 vistas along the New River and Bluestone Lake, four sites along the Greenbrier River, three sites along the Bluestone River and single viewing areas along Monroe County's Indian Creek and Moncove Lake.
When they gathered at the end of the day to compare notes on their sightings and the times at which they occurred, it was determined that 27 bald eagles, five golden eagles and two eagles of undetermined species had been spotted. It was, by far, the largest number of eagles seen since the winter surveys began eight years ago, nearly doubling last January's previous record tally of 14.
The big spike in eagle sightings can be attributed to a combination of "a growing population of eagles in the area, and having so many more eyes out there watching for them this year," said Pipestem Resort State Park Naturalist Jim Phillips, founder and coordinator of the winter surveys.
Warm temperatures and mild weather probably played a role as well, giving the eagles more flying time and the observers better viewing conditions.
"We could hear spring peepers calling and see active honeybees and blooming dandelions," Phillips said. The temperature reached 72 degrees at the Mercer County Airport on Saturday, surpassing the previous record high for the date, set in 2005, by 4 degrees.
Phillips began holding the surveys in 2006, after he and other southern West Virginia birders began seeing eagles routinely showing up in their Christmas bird counts, and later, exhibiting nesting behavior in the vicinity of Bluestone Lake.
"The first year, we saw four bald eagles and one immature golden," he said.
Since then, the counts have steadily grown.
"With the passage of time, we're getting farther away from the impact of DDT," Phillips said, in reference to the long-banned insecticide blamed for entering the eagle's food chain and interfering with the development of viable eggs.