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Couple has Eagle eyes



Published: Sun, February 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The couple has been watching bald eagles locally since 1983.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

BLOOMFIELD -- Through a telescope a half a marsh away, the male bald eagle seems to briefly touch his beak to the female's -- to kiss -- before settling into the nest they share.

"They do. That's what we have seen," said Shirley Thomas, taking the binoculars down from her blue eyes under the parka's hood. "But don't say that, or they will say we are making them like people."

If Ohio bald eagles really do kiss, Shirley and her husband, Raymond, both 75, would know.

For the past 19 years, they have been watching American bald eagles on the same stretch of road in the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, several times a week, for several hours at a time.

"They spend an exorbitant amount of time doing this," said Tom Henry, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, who supervises their activity. "They know the birds almost intimately."

In the beginning: Ray, a retired steelworker, and Shirley, former attendance officer for the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, began watching their first bald eagle nest when there were nearly no bald eagles to see.

Ohio had only four bald eagles in 1979, the result of the steady reduction in the wetlands where they live and the effects of the insecticide DDT on their reproduction, Henry said. The DDT made the eagle eggs brittle, causing many to break during incubation.

In 1985, two years after they started watching a nest on their own, the couple was drafted by the division of wildlife to keep an eye on nests to alert the division when a climber could be sent up to band and draw blood from the chicks, or rescue an injured bird.

The department has scaled back those programs as the bald eagle population has rebounded. Still, the division has volunteers like the Thomases monitor nests and fill out reports. They turn two or three reports a week, from fall to spring.

"They will call up and they will complain about how two chicks are fighting in the nest," Henry said.

There are now probably 85 bald eagles in Ohio, Henry said, eight in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, including four nests in the Mosquito and three in the Shenango wildlife areas.

The Thomases take notes on the goings-on in all these nests but one.

New nests: State wildlife biologists expect another successful breeding season this year, with at least five new nests discovered.

Last year, a record 106 young fledged from 74 nests.

Over the years, the Thomases have discovered a half-dozen nests and watched adults mate and chicks hatch.

"I passed out cigars to everyone at the 'Y' and said I had grandchildren," Thomas said, bounding around the black Chevy Blazer the couple drive on the constant birding expedition.

Thomas, a thin man with eyeglasses and a balding head, jokes a lot.

He and Shirley recently moved from Warren to a Champion retirement community. They have no answering machine.

"I tell people to just look for us here," he said.




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