patiently waits during her GPS fitting prior to her 2013 release.
Winter is finally here, although looking at the forecast here in
Oklahoma, you might not know it. The first week of winter brings
a welcome warm spell with temperatures in the high 60s. That may
sound unusual, but it's on par with the rest of the year. Spring
gave us more than our total yearly rainfall in one season; summer's
green hung around well into fall; and fall seemed to just skip right
into winter. Our winters here rarely bring us picture-worthy snow.
But this time of year does bring migratory birds of all kinds, and
it signals breeding season for raptors, including eagles. This year's
winter in particular is the winter we have waited on since we started
sharing Wadasé Zhabwé's story six and
a half years ago.
Like a broken record, stuck on repeat, we kept saying, "One more
season of her telemetry data, and we will know where she nests."
In fact, there's a worn spot on the corner of our desk where we
superstitiously knock on wood during tours when we talk about how
long she's worn her GPS telemetry backpack. According to all the
raptor experts that write the books, eagles mature and should begin
breeding at 4 to 5 years of age, so we were positive she would nest
last winter. However, Wadasé , like the true modern
woman, is taking things slow. This spring she will be 8. When eagles
should have been laying eggs last winter, she was off touring some
of her favorite spots around the Washita and North Canadian Rivers.
One thing that we are absolutely sure of after all this time is
that eagle's do not read the books. Every expert we consulted with
when we released her said she would most likely go right back to
Florida. They said we would be lucky if she wore the GPS backpack
six months to a year. They all reminded us of the mortality rates
of juvenile eagles in the wild. But at each critical juncture, she
has proven them all wrong.
Wadasé 's last visit to the aviary was the first
week of September. True to her pattern over the last few years,
she visits late fall or early winter, briefly, as if to just check
in. Since then, she has been down along the Washita River just northeast
of Verden, Oklahoma. This area is just a few miles of where we expected
her to nest last year. In the early morning on Nov. 11, I went to
the office to check telemetry. When I downloaded the telemetry,
it was incomplete. I told myself it was just a glitch with the ARGOS
satellite or just too early and to give it a while. By late afternoon,
it was clear Wadasé 's telemetry had stopped transmitting.
Her last point was in flight along the banks of the Washita, midday
on Nov. 9, and then there was nothing. We always knew this day was
part of our journey with her. We had about a thousand questions
and fears all at once. What did that mean for Wadasé ?
Did the backpack battery wear out? Did it just fail? Did it fall
off? Did the frayed antenna prevent it from transmitting data? With
limited daylight hours, we planned to gather local landowner information
and leave the following morning to get to her last transmitted GPS
location. We called local game wardens and rehab facilities to be
sure no eagles had been found or reported injured. We also contacted
Rob Domenech from Raptor View Research in Montana, who fitted her
with the GPS, hoping he could share some insight about the lack
No eagles had been reported. The game warden reminded us about
deer season, so there are more hunters out in areas where she might
be spotted if something had happened. Rob reminded us of the unpleasant
areas to check, such as power lines and wind turbines in the area,
but he felt like the telemetry was most likely in the river, like
Mko Kno's, because the data had been consistent and then the next
hour there was nothing. At a certain depth in the water, the telemetry
data could not be transmitted.
The next morning's car ride to Verden was a very long hour and
a half. Once we got to the area of the river where she had been,
it was pretty clear why she chose that particular place. The road
disappeared at a hairpin curve in the river that had flooded recently.
We followed a trail through the field to avoid getting stuck or
ending up in the river. All around us was open pasture and a sod
farm. There were only a few houses in each mile section. Looking
toward the river in the direction of her last GPS, there was just
untouched wilderness. We gathered our camera and gear and headed
off to search the area on foot.
Jennifer spotted a juvenile bald eagle as it crossed above us from
down river. When the juvenile was out of sight, I lowered my binoculars
and movement caught my eye along the river. A large adult bald eagle
landed just ahead of us. A quick look through both camera and spotting
scope couldn't rule out the bird having a band. We moved to the
tree line for cover and worked our way closer, looking with the
scope again but with no luck. It was windy and cold, and the bird
sat with feet tucked under its feathers until it flew away just
as we both looked down to find footing in the muddy field. We continued
to search the area, and although we never spotted another adult
eagle, we did find a nest that was much too large to be a hawks.
Was that Wadasé ? Could this be her nest?
While we still have so many questions, we have answered one of
the most important questions. We found nothing to indicate Wadasé
is doing anything but thriving in the wild. Landowners we spoke
to were excited to learn about eagles around the area, and we have
recruited several of them to keep an eye out for eagles. We will
continue to monitor the nest site we found and others in and around
the area. Our best chance of locating her will be nesting season,
and with all the data collected over the years, we can hopefully
narrow down a search area. Six and a half years, a total of 2,398
days, or just shy of 79 months does not sound all that long. But
we've collected over 57,000 GPS points across a third of Oklahoma's
As this year comes to an end, we look back and count our blessings
and hope for those yet to come. We have been incredibly fortunate
to share Wadasé's journey with you all for so long,
and we hope to continue to do so with a little luck this winter
season. We encourage you to keep your eyes out for Wadasé
if you are near any of the areas she frequents. For more information
about CPN's Eagle Aviary or to read previous updates, visit potawatomiheritage.org.
Share your encounters with Wadasé , Mko Kno or any
other eagles or migrating raptors in Oklahoma or wherever you may
be with us at email@example.com.