Written by Bryan Watts & Elizabeth Mojica
In the early spring of 2008, CCB biologists traveled to Highland County Virginia to trap a golden eagle and deploy a tracking device. The successful deployment on subadult eagle, later named Virgil Caine, was the culmination of a partnership between CCB, the Virginia Society of Ornithology, and a grass roots effort by local citizens to learn more about golden eagles in the southern Appalachians. For more than a century controversy has waxed and waned over the breeding status of golden eagles in this part of the country. Observations of birds during the breeding season and old accounts of possible nesting sites have lacked definitive evidence. The recent rise in the number of goldens during the winter along with the documentation of adult-plumaged birds during the breeding season has rekindled interest in this unresolved question. Pressure from the wind-power industry to establish wind farms within some areas used by the population has also heightened concern for the species in the region.
In 2006, a network of citizens in Highland County Virginia began to survey eagles within their county and document observations. This initial effort lead to a fundraiser to purchase the technology required to track a bird to learn more about its local activities and broader movements beyond the county.
The golden eagle was trapped along with a subadult bald eagle on March 13 using a rocket net baited with a deer carcass. The eagle stayed in the mountains of Virginia until April 4th when it initiated northward migration. The migration path followed the Appalachian Mountains through West Virginia all the way northeast to the Canadian coast in New Brunswick. After approximately 4 weeks of travel, the eagle settled in the mountains of northern Maine for most of May and June. In late June, she moved into Quebec south of the St Lawrence River.