ABIQUIU LAKE, N.M. – More than five dozen volunteers spent the first Saturday of the year at Abiquiu Lake helping to count eagles during the annual Midwinter Eagle Watch.
The annual Abiquiu Lake Eagle Watch, Jan. 4, 2020, was considered by rangers to be a successful event, with 66 volunteers assisting from three stationary positions on shore and two boats on the lake.
Three mature bald eagles were spotted and recorded.
“The Abiquiu Eagle count is part of a nationwide survey, so even though we only saw three eagles, that is added to data from all over the country,” said Abiquiu Lake park ranger John Burman.
“While 2020 saw the lowest number of eagle sightings recorded, it is still an important piece of information to track bald eagle migrations across the nation,” Burman said. “If they counted a larger number of eagles than usual to the north or west of Abiquiu, it could show changes over time to where eagles are spending the winter.”
Before the volunteers started the count, Alex Patia, with the New Mexico Wildlife Center, gave a short presentation on the history of the survey, how to identify immature and mature eagles, and what other birds may be out on the lake at this time of year.
Rangers and volunteers then broke into groups and went to the shoreline stations and boats to begin the survey.
The basic objectives of the survey are to index the total wintering bald eagle population in the lower 48 states; to determine eagle distribution during a standardized survey period; and to identify previously unrecognized areas of important winter habitat.
We only see a tiny piece of the total information which is why it's very important for us to conduct the survey every year at the same time, regardless of our individual outcome,” Burman said.
The information collected this year will be added to the data taken by other sites around the country during the same period to provide insight into the population trends and migratory habits of eagles.
The annual midwinter survey represents a unique source of long-term, baseline data. Unlike nesting surveys, it provides information on both breeding and non-breeding segments of the population at a potentially limiting time of year.
The count became a national tradition in 1984, and is an annual event at Abiquiu Lake. In addition to providing information on eagle trends, distribution, and habitat, the count has helped to create public interest in the conservation of our national symbol, the bald eagle.