For seven decades, military explosives have been researched and developed on the property of Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that over the past seven years an American icon has made a stand on the property, part of a resurgence experienced across the Volunteer State: bald eagles nesting and fledging their young.
“We’re starting to see some new eagle nests in the area, 20 to 50 miles away,” said Bruce Cole, HAAP natural resource manager. “I’ll make the general assumption they’re the same eaglets that hatched here.”
A pair of adults has raised 11 eaglets on HAAP grounds since 2005, with two hatched this March. Each season they add materials to their nest, positioned in a tree on an island in the Holston River.
“Both the adults and young typically leave, or at least are not seen on a regular basis, in August,” said Cole. “The difference being that the adults do return and are commonly observed in November or December, and the eaglets are typically not seen again.”
Considering their short absence from HAAP grounds, Cole believes the adults are staying in the region. The 6,000-square-acre property, with restricted access to the public and ample sources of food, seems to make an ideal habitat.
One morning in mid-June, the eaglets were atop a tree near their nest. Cole says they’re just beginning to learn hunting tactics, while each flight lasts slightly longer, venturing just a bit farther from their nest.
The eaglets spot their human observers from several hundred yards away. They grow antsy, flap their wings, belt out a few screeches.
“Wow, they’re flying much better,” Cole said as the eagles lifted off. “That’s very impressive, that they’re flying that well after being out of the nest one week. I’m surprised.”
Bald eagles seem to be doing equally well elsewhere. Scott Somershoe, ornithologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said there are 175 confirmed active nests across the state — up from one in 1983. The TWRA reports most bald eagles remain in the state year round. Peak numbers are estimated at 300 to 500 individuals in late January to mid-February, as northern breeding populations migrate to Tennessee for the winter.
Somershoe expects those numbers will continue to grow.
“As immature birds mature, they return to the area where they fledged and establish their own territories,” Somershoe said. “We’ve seen a continual growth in the population with nests and pairs showing up in new locations over the last few years. I see this pattern continuing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 200 pairs nesting in the state now.”
Bald eagles were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. The species is still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The TWRA began reintroducing bald eagles in 1980, with such “hacking” operations continuing at Douglas Lake.
But there are still concerns for bald eagles’ long-term success in Tennessee, with the main threat coming from development along lakes and rivers across the state.
“Eagles typically don’t nest too close to homes and areas that are frequented by people on land,” Somershoe said. “So development pushes birds out of these areas, and we may ultimately see declines in some areas of the state.”
Northeast Tennessee, according to Somershoe, does not fall into that category of concern, and numbers in the region should “continue to increase slowly.”
“I think in 10 years we’re going to have, thankfully, enough in the area that the average person is likely to see them,” Cole said.
|Johnson City Christmas Parade|
|The Annual Christmas Parade In Downtown Johnson City, December 3rd 2010.|