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Opinion

Essay: Grateful for the return of the bald eagle to LI

A bald eagle with an eel it pulled

A bald eagle with an eel it pulled from the mill pond in Centerport, NY, in April 2018. Photo Credit: Bruce G. Adams

On a fishing trip off Eaton’s Neck perhaps 10 years ago, I steered my 20-foot Boston Whaler close to shore among boulders of Huntington Bay in search of striped bass. A hook with a worm trailed about 30 feet behind the boat. I looked up to the top of a dead tree above a cliff and noticed a bird of prey that seemed unusual. I thought that it was an osprey or red-tailed hawk, but the white crown gave it away. It was a bald eagle.

I returned to that place many times that year, always under the gaze of that magnificent bird. A year came and went, and I saw an eagle the following spring! This time it had a mate. In later years, I saw pairs in different parts of the bay, closer to Huntington village. In the winter of 2017, while driving by the mill pond in Centerport, I noticed an eagle pulling an eel out of the mud at low tide. The following year, a mating pair established a nest off a main road there.

I walked by the pond from time to time to observe them. Wildlife photographers came to capture images of them in flight. One was Lorraine “Rainy” Sepulveda of Selden, whose passion for eagles comes through in vivid detail in her photos. She hopes to release a book showcasing this pair. At first, only a handful of respectful photographers set up their long lenses on the pond’s bridge. They waited patiently for the eagles to come into view.

A local resident created a Facebook page for the pair, drawing nearly 11,000 followers to view photos and reports. The disclosure of the location brought many people to the area. They were mostly respectful observers, from amateur photographers to families with children, all wanting to witness these beautiful raptors. Regretfully, a few people trespassed on the large parking lot of a local hotel. The proprietor posted signs that the lot was for guests only — and police now patrol there to shoo away bird lovers.

In February, word spread that the eagles were nesting. On a blustery cold day I walked to the pond and saw two photographers. One was Sepulveda and the other was Nancy James, a retired schoolteacher from West Babylon. James said she knows of six mating pairs of eagles on Long Island, but has traveled to Centerport since March 2018. “These are the most accessible ones,” she said. “There is a pair in Connetquot [River State Park], but they are skittish.”

We talked about the majesty of the birds, as the women focused their lenses on a circling juvenile eagle. We shared our love of nature and agreed that these eagles are nature’s gift.

This spring, the photographers have gleefully posted photos of the Centerport eagles with at least two chicks. This is very exciting, but we need to respect the return of the bald eagle to Long Island, and admire them for their nobility. Let’s keep our distance and respect the property of others. I hope the eagles stay in our area. Hopefully, they will not be a rarity.

Reader Anthony Vernola lives in Centerport.

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