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Elusive Golden Eagle…flying free in Shady Valley

Shady Valley is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, which provides ample appeal for the natural enthusiast. On any given day the passerby could expect to see some of the more common creatures in any of the various kingdoms. From mammals such as black bears and deer, to the less noticeable reptiles and amphibians, Shady has a varied ecosystem, but perhaps one of the most rare and notable creatures in the area is of the bird family, namely the Golden Eagle.
This large migratory bird of prey has recently been captured on film in Shady Valley, thanks to the efforts of local resident Todd Eastin and the Golden Eagle Research Project. Utilizing wildlife cameras and a road kill deer carcass as bait, Eastin was able to get photographs of one of the majestic birds in a small pasture on his property.
According to Eastin, “When I first started this project I was skeptical. I have lived here 39 years and have never seen a golden eagle, and I am just so glad that we actually got one.”
Eastin became interested in the Golden Eagle Research project through the Bristol Bird Club last year. Although the eagle has been greatly studied there are still many unanswered questions including the complete range of its migration, which is one of the major goals of the project. Research is conducted through wildlife photography stations placed at various locations in the Appalachian range. Golden Eagles typically migrate north in the spring to find suitable nesting locations and return south during the winter. Just how far south is one of the questions that the project hopes to answer.
At the time Eastin became interested in the project the farthest research station south was in Russell County, Virginia. Stations stretch all the way into Quebec, Canada in the North but researchers are hoping to extend down into North Carolina and Tennessee into the Great Smokey Mountains. The eagles typically stick to high mountain ridges along the Appalachians, away from human settlement, and Eastin’s location proved to be ideal.

After selecting a good location on his property, the cameras were installed and bait was placed to draw in the bird. The deer carcass was secured from the state highway department and by February 16th Eastin was ready to take pictures. Typically volunteers for the project have their cameras set up in mid December and keep them up until mid March. However, even though he was getting a late start Eastin was excited to see just what types of wildlife might be in the area and proceeded even if he might not have caught the eagle.
Having heard coyotes there was an expectation that they might take an interest in the deer but surprisingly none were caught on camera.
Equally surprising was the lack of bear or vultures. In fact, only one turkey vulture visited the site during the whole month of documentation. The most regular visitor to the deer turned out to be another raptor, the red tailed hawk, which would sometimes come more than once a day. Also visiting were a very cautious fox, a bobcat, various dogs, a few crows, and one very special golden eagle.
Looking through the photos taken on February 22, Eastin’s eyes immediately went to a shape that was distinctly avian. Expecting to see another vulture, the excitement only grew as the image became clearer, revealing the goal of the project. After that Eastin only grew more excited with each picture. “The first pictures had it landing, feet up wings down, but I couldn’t see its head. Then it turned and I knew what it was.” The eagle fed for about 30 minutes, enough time for the camera to snap dozens of photos and providing the only visit during the documentation.
The pictures taken will be sent off to be analyzed by members of the project who spend a great deal of time looking at each picture, trying to locate identifying marks that may reveal something about the bird.
For Eastin the project was a great success and he plans to do it again next year. Other cameras were also set up lower in the valley by the Nature Conservancy and there is great hope that there may be even more pictures next year.

For such a rare and beautiful bird to take up even a temporary residence in Shady Valley is truly amazing and only adds to the uniqueness of the area’s ecosystem. Although man has played a very detrimental role in the survival of the species, it is welcoming to know that groups such as the Golden Eagle Research project and local citizens like Todd Eastin care about the continued perseverance of this amazing species. Hopefully these efforts will bear fruit and animals such as these will continue to grow and prosper to amaze and inspire future generations with their power and beauty. Thankfully the knowledge gained from research such as in Shady Valley may hold the keys to making this possible.