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Eagle-eyed naturalist spots a rarity

Naturalist Franklin Klock has seen a lot of birds in his 30 years of working with raptors.

Klock was out working with the bird pens Tuesday at the Carbon County Environmental Education and Wildlife Rehabilitation Center when he looked up and spotted a juvenile golden eagle.

Though he works with raptors every day, this magnificent bird was the second in flight that he’s ever seen.

Klock saw one in the air at Hawk Mountain in the early 1990s.

The one at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday was the first immature he’s seen.

Golden eagles migrate through the region, but do not stay here. Klock said people who think they are seeing a golden eagle are often seeing an immature bald eagle.

It’s early in the year for the golden eagle migration, which is why Klock was surprised to see one in February.

It’s normal for bald eagles to be here already - they are on the nest and laying eggs.

The bald eagle at the environment center, Rennie, laid an infertile egg over the weekend. She lays two eggs every year.

A golden eagle at the center, Miss Charles, or “Goldie,” came in 2001 after being shot by a high-powered rifle in Sullivan County. Miss Charles lays an egg too. But it’s not time yet.

On Tuesday, Klock went to get his binoculars from the car to get a better look. “It’s big,” he exclaimed as he ran to the car.

“There isn’t much that makes this 60-year-old run anymore.”

Naturalist Jeannie Carl said she was in the center when she saw Klock running to his car and heard him yell.

She grabbed her binoculars and ran out.

“Watching this bird swoop over the field at the center just mesmerized me and I was captivated by the moment. We see birds at the worst times of their lives, battered and bruised so to see this bird majestically soaring overhead was thrilling,” Carl said.

Klock knew it had to be an eagle, but bald eagles have thinner, flatter wings. This bird had curves with trailing edges, more compact wings than a bald eagle.

“This was a big bird. It easily had a 7-foot wingspan.”

It was banked into the sun and looked like a red/brown color.

“You’ve seen so many birds you knew what it wasn’t,” Klock said.

It wasn’t a bald eagle, or any vultures.

“I couldn’t wrap my brain around it,” Klock said.

He ran inside to look at his Sibley Guide to birds.

He saw a wide white stripe in the tail of the golden, which are the white wrist patches or “wing windows.” The patches were prominent on the bird he saw Tuesday, he said.

“Still, there was doubt in our minds, since goldens are so rare in our area. After 30-plus years of experience looking to the sky’s for raptors (longer for some of us) we still doubt what we see sometimes,” Klock said.

He contacted Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which confirmed other lookout spots have seen golden eagles already this year.

The guide at Hawk Mountain said the goldens are coming up the coast and turning west to their natural habitat in fields. The one Klock saw was heading west.

It was an exciting moment for Klock, but he’s also happy about what it means: Spring is coming.

Klock said with the lack of snow cover this winter, the ground is heating up. The warm air rises, giving way to thermals to make it easy for birds to cruise at high altitude.

A still from the security camera at the Carbon County Environmental Center shows Franklin Klock and Jeannie Carl watching a juvenile golden eagle migrating through the area. A golden eagle in flight is a rare occurrence this early in the year. It's a sign that spring will be here soon. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Miss Charles is a golden eagle at the Carbon County Environmental and Rehabilitation Center. She is about 25 years old and has been at the center since 2001. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO