Friday, January 21, 2011

It is Never Too Cold for Western Catskills Eagles

Okay, so it is going to be damn cold this weekend.

I know - I know, it is winter in the heart of the Catskill Mountains after all, what else should I expect? The forecast I have seen for Sunday is a high of 7 (that ain’t Celsius folks…) and get this – a low of -12 degrees below zero.

Now, I have camped at 20 degrees below zero in the Catskills -something I am not too anxious to repeat. Of course I have also sat through frigid days at Big Pond ice-fishing – highs around 10 degrees and windy (sitting still in the middle of a wind-tunnel-like vast open space).

So what is there to do when it is this frigid? Knowing the Ski Plattekill die-hards, well they will be out there having a blast - but what should the rest of us sane folks do?

Obviously the answer for western Catskills’ residents and visitors is not to stay indoors. On Sunday the Jets aren’t on stage until 6:30 so there is plenty of time to get out of the house. In fact, the Jets are really the lucky ones - they will get to play outdoors in balmy (predicted to by 15 degrees) Pittsburgh!

If downhill, cross-country, snowshoeing, or ice-fishing isn’t your cup of tea this weekend, I can’t blame you. What will I do? Well, after attending a birthday in appropriately-named “Winter Hollow” in New Kingston – I plan on taking a drive with the wife and kids down along the East and West Branches of the Delaware River.
Why? Every winter 150-200 bald eagles visit the Catskill Mountain region. The southern and western Catskills are like the Florida Keys for eagles. Bald (and some Golden) eagles from Canada seek a reliable food source (meaning partially-thawed waterbodies) and undisturbed habitat so they can survive the cold winter months. Open water on the Delaware and Hudson Rivers provides a source of fish and the vast expanse of forested landscapes provide a great habitat. Apparently some bald eagles travel 900 miles to winter in this region! That is similar to tourists coming from Madison WI, Atlanta, GA, or Nashville, TN to over-winter the Catskills. That’s dedication; however if I had to live in Georgia I would surely make the 900-mile trek each year!

Over the last decade I have seen a ton of bald eagles – and the vast majority right here in the Western Catskills. I will say that my “at one time” record for eagle sightings was 20 – which occurred in Sullivan County at the Mongaup Falls Reservoir. While this area is certainly a hotbed for eagle sightings, you not need to venture that far.

Between Fleischmanns and Margaretville along the Bush Kill (in the sycamore trees by the Delaware & Ulster RR – see image) is a great place to see them. Even by the Freshtown supermarket in Margaretville, and certainly driving around the Pepacton Reservoir (NYS Route 30 west towards Downsville) will serve you just fine. One winter I drove from Downsville to East Branch (along the East Branch Delaware River) and spotted no less than five mature bald eagles perched above the river.

Or course driving along NYS Route 10 between Walton and Deposit will surely work too. A couple pairs even make this portion of the Catskills their permanent home. If you are truly dedicated to eagle-spotting, I am confident that you’ll see them – especially this time of year.

There are numerous breeding pairs all throughout the Catskills that remain year-round for residents to observe. To learn more about the winter eagles that visit the Catskills, check out the NYSDEC 2008 NY Bald Eagle Report at: and for upcoming events and do’s and don’ts for eagle observation, visit the nearby Eagle Institute’s website.

So, if you deem it too cold to be out, why not take a drive spot this majestic creature? Be sure to bring a camera, but more importantly the binoculars. If you are lucky enough you’ll get to see this comeback species not only in flight, but also pick off an un-suspecting trout. Happy hunting!

- Aaron Bennett

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