Once endangered bird gives paddle boarder a surprise
On Sunday, Chris Dunn paddled for 30 minutes to get to the end of Houston Lake and clear some fallen limbs with a chainsaw.
His hard work paid off with a photo to treasure.
That day, Houston Lake was still partially lowered for maintenance. Dunn wanted to take advantage of that to clear limbs that blocked the path of boats. He does not live on the 150-acre lake but he does enjoy paddle boarding on it and goes there about three times per week.
Although the lake is owned by Houston Lake Country Club, it has a public access ramp. The spot Dunn wanted to clear is at the other end, so he paddled all the way there, standing on his paddle board with a chainsaw and camera strapped to it.
Dunn took his waterproof Nikon camera in case he saw something worth shooting, and that turned out to be a good move. As he got toward the end where he wanted to clear the limbs, he looked over and saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree. It was the first time he had ever seen one.
"I was amazed that it was actually out here," he said, as he stood at the boat ramp of the lake Thursday and recounted the siting. "I had heard of them being in Middle Georgia but not as far as Houston County."
He had been on the lake the day before and a couple of kayakers said they had seen two bald eagles, but Dunn said he still wasn't expecting to spot one when he went back Sunday.
If there are two eagles, it could mean there is a nest. Dunn said he didn't see a nest but wasn't really looking for one either. He said he may go back this weekend to see if he can spot the eagle again and look for a nest. If there is a nest, people are supposed to stay at least 300 feet away.
Bob Sargent, eagle biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said there are only two known active bald eagle nests in the area, and both of those are in Bibb County. At one point in the 1970s there were no known active nests in Georgia, but last year the state identified a record 218 nests statewide, he said. About a third of those are in the six coastal counties, where the eagles are drawn to the marsh habitat.
"The bald eagle in Georgia is a true conservation success story," Sargent said.
He formerly was wildlife manager at Robins Air Force Base, and he said bald eagles had been spotted there. He had not previously had a report of a bald eagle seen around Houston Lake.
John Trussell, a Houston County outdoors writer and wildlife advocate, said he has never seen a bald eagle in the county.
Sargent said Houston Lake could be a potential nesting site as bald eagles like to be near water to hunt fish. Although homes are around much of the lake, Dunn said it is uninhabited in the area where he saw the eagle. He saw it sitting in a tree, and quietly got his camera and started taking pictures. It then flew off over the woods and Dunn got a few shots of it in flight before it disappeared.
He posted his photos on social media and it has gotten a lot of reaction. One of the photos posted on the Facebook page "Houston County Highlights" had nearly 500 likes as of Thursday and more than 200 shares.