Easter brought a surprise for my brother-in-law and his wife in southern Wythe County. They spotted a bald eagle, and they were able to photograph it. This eagle was immediately distinguishable from an osprey or a hawk because of its size; the eagle was about 200 feet from the road on the creek and may have just caught a fish as it was looking down towards its talons. Here is one of the photographs taken with a point-and-shoot camera:
I was surprised that there were any eagles in the mountains of Virginia. I personally have not seen a single bald eagle in the last 20+ years I have been hiking in the region. As of the time of this writing there are no bald eagles officially reported in Wythe County per the Virginia Bald Eagle tracking program of the Center for Conservation Biology. In fact, it looks like the only reported nesting areas in Southwestern Virginia are in Tazewell County and Buchanan County. This would mean that this bald eagle was either migrating from another region or was a native resident that came here naturally and without human introduction. For this reason—and in the interest of protecting it and the landowners—I won’t specifically identify where in the county it was seen.
The mountainous areas of Wythe, Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties would seem to be logical areas of reintroduction for bald eagles since there are still remote, larger wilderness areas (by Eastern U.S. standards) and an abundance of creeks and streams with trout and other aquatic life for the eagle’s food supply. While I have read they usually prefer large open bodies of water, it may be possible there are enough larger streams and lakes in Southwest Virginia to accommodate some of these animals.
Apparently the bald eagle’s plumage was not completely white; there were still some grey flecks visible. As you can tell in the above photo, it does appear that it was not completely white. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries bald eagle fact page, a bald eagle does not fully obtain the characteristic white plumage until it is five years old, when it reaches maturity. It is possible it was still a youngster, or it was wet and looked somewhat off-white. In any event, it’s a remarkable thing that this grand bird of prey may be back in part of Southwestern Virginia.