MONCURE, N.C. (AP) — From a tree overlooking a foggy North Carolina riverbank, a bald eagle twisted its head, glared at the icy water, and dove, extending its talons. With a screech that echoed among the scrubby overgrowth, it snatched a prize fish and returned to its perch to feast.
The eagle is one of 50 or more that can be found in the cold of winter at Jordan Lake, a 14,000-acre reservoir in the heart of North Carolina's Triangle region. The miles of undeveloped shoreline are a natural habitat for the eagles. A dozen can sometimes be seen feeding from the frothy water of the Haw River below the B. Everett Jordan dam. For the national bird of the United States, the hunting there is good.
"I call it 'the gathering,'" veterinarian and biologist Ellen Tinsley said. "We're one of the few places that has a gathering of eagles in the winter on this coast."
The eagles can be found there year-round, but "the gathering" occurs among the usually territorial birds in the winter at the fishing hot spot, Tinsley said. "Their behavior absolutely fascinates me," she said.
Before being reintroduced by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in 1982, there were no known pairs of nesting bald eagles in the state. Since then, eagle populations have steadily increased — 200 to 250 nesting pairs are spread out in the state across the coastal, piedmont and mountain regions, according to an email from John Carpenter, a wildlife biologist with the state's Wildlife Resources Commission.
Jordan Lake has more than a dozen active nests this winter, according to Francis Ferrell, a conservation biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Bald eagle populations have increased in many parts of the country as a result of conservation efforts. The national bird is no longer listed as endangered or threatened in the continental U.S.
But spotting one, Tinsley said, requires patience and knowledge even as numbers are on the rise. As a wildlife photographer, she gives enthusiasts tips: "'Oh you want to see eagles? Let me show you how to do this.' People don't realize that nature doesn't dish it up like it is on your television."