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Bald eagles becoming more common along Fox River

Jennifer Calabrese Oswego says she's out regularly capture wintering American bald eagles thare congregating along east bank Fox River Oswego.

Jennifer Calabrese, of Oswego, says she's out regularly to capture the wintering American bald eagles that are congregating along the east bank of the Fox River in Oswego. | photo by Linda Girardi~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 3, 2014 2:12PM

As many as 25 bald eagles have been spotted in recent weeks along the east bank of the Fox River in Oswego and Montgomery.

“It actually reminds me of Starved Rock. It is the biggest concentration of eagles I have ever seen,” Oswego resident Jennifer Calabrese said.

On Saturday, people walking the Waubonsie Trail along Route 25 south of Boulder Hill Pass were captivated by the majestic beauty of a pair of eagles soaring over the river in search of fish.

Calabrese said she grew up in Chicago and never thought she would ever see an eagle in the wild.

“I find them utterly amazing and beautiful,” the avid photographer said.

Field Superintendent Kim Olson of the Kendall County Forest Preserve District said the increased population of the wintering American bald eagles is considered the “holy grail” that means that local environmentalists and land conservationists are doing something right.

“The eagles have been known to winter here, the wonderful part is that the eagles are now summering and breeding here, which they have not done in Kendall County for about 90 years,” Olson said.

Olson attributes the healthy population to environmentally-conscious practices (specifically the banning of the pesticide DDT) and the cleanliness of the Fox River, as well as the conservation of open spaces.

“In the 1960s and 1970s the river was so polluted it was almost declared dead, but now the quality of the water is obviously attracting the eagles,” she said.

Olson is hopeful the eagle population is more than a temporary phenomenon and bird enthusiasts will continue to see the eagles for years to come. She said five years ago the forest preserve district recorded its first verified eagle nest. The American bald eagle is no longer considered a threatened or endangered species, but it is still considered protected.

“This is the payoff ... these are majestic creatures in the sky. They take your breath away,” Olson said.

Brian and Sandrine Lichy said they, too, have seen a remarkable population of eagles in Oswego recently.

“We were just sharing with our children how the eagles were nearly extinct when we were young,” Sandrine Lichy said.

“It is amazing to think how the eagles have traveled all the way from Alaska and Canada. We will be in town and all of a sudden there are two eagles flying above us,” Lichy said.

The wintering American bald eagles arrive in Illinois in December and then migrate back north in March.

Tom Clay, executive director of the Illinois Audubon Society, defined the resurgence of the American bald eagles over the years as an American conservation success story.

He said the healthy population of eagles in Alaska and the provinces of Canada tend to move south, particularly in harsh winters when northern waterways are frozen.

“The wintering eagles need to eat and if their waterways are frozen in habitats further north, they will continue to move south to open waters,” Clay said.

“The cold and icy winters in the north help to increase the eagle population in Illinois,” he said. “You are seeing a combination of residence and winter migrants that will head back to points north in the spring.”

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