The staff of redbankgreen was out for a late-afternoon walk on Tuesday when we were astonished to see a bald eagle flying overhead.
We were just stepping onto the Cooper Bridge from the Middletown side when we saw the giant brown raptor, it’s head and neck cowled in bright white feathers. Flying east-to-west and pretty much following the northern bank of the Navesink River, it continued for several minutes in the direction of Shadow Lake before vanishing.
OK, so the picture isn’t great. Yanking a camera out of a shoulder bag and capturing a fast-moving animal before it disappears in the setting sun turned out to be a challenge we weren’t quite up to.
But hey: a bald eagle? In Red Bank-Middletown? At rush hour?
“Sure. All the time,” says Bob Henschel, a naturalist at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. “You can’t count on them being there” in an urban setting, says Henschel. “But yeah, they’re there.”
The Manasquan center, run by the Monmouth County Park System, is home to one of two known pairs of bald eagles in Monmouth County. The other nests in Colts Neck, on a spit of land abutted by the Monmouth and Swimming River reservoirs. In other words, just upstream from the Navesink.
You may have heard the eagle narrative before. Twenty-five years ago, New Jersey was down to a single pair of bald eagles, thanks to decimation from DDT poisoning and other perils. And that couple was having trouble reproducing. But a restoration program was set up, some babies were hatched with the help of some chickens, and a comeback was launched. Young eagles frrom Canada were also released in New Jersey.
Today, there are more than 50 pairs statewide. Their numbers “have expanded so successfully in the past few years that the trend is their friend,” says Henschel, a past president of the Monmouth County Audubon Society.
The pair at the Manasquan center, by the way, has been nesting on five or so eggs that are expected to hatch in the next three or four days. Visitors to the center can get a look at the nest via a telescope trained on it from about a half-mile’s distance, says Henschel. The image is displayed on a television screen. “This is the only place in the state where you can sit and watch the eagles,” Henschel says.
Henschel wouldn’t speculate on whether we’d seen one of the Colts Neck pair (a nest was first stablished there in 2002) or if it was an unattached adult.
Hey, wherever it calls home, it gave us a thrill after a long day chained to our desks.