BARING, Maine — For years a pair of American bald eagles have been the premier couple in the Calais area, and soon bird-watchers can peek in on them from a new observation deck.
The eagles have been a tourist attraction Down East for nearly two decades, although last year the male eagle may have returned to the nest with a new partner, according to experts.
There is speculation that the first female, who was believed to be older than her male partner, may have died.
But regardless of whether they are the original pair or a new couple, the observation deck being built by the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge will present a bird’s-eye view of their nesting activity high atop a utility pole with a platform on top.
The first observation deck was built in 1996 on Route 1 and 9 across from the couple’s nest as a safety measure because birding enthusiasts would show up, park their cars along busy Route 1 and watch the eagles. Signs alerting tourists that it was illegal to get close to the nest were erected.
The acting refuge manager at the time came up with the idea of an observation deck after she noticed that tourists were ignoring the no-trespassing signs. That year, young people from the Maine Conservation Corps, a state-run organization that provides summer jobs for youth throughout the state, built the observation deck.
This year, refuge personnel decided to construct a new observation deck on Charlotte Road about 300 yards south of the old one because of safety concerns associated with the expected high volume of traffic on Route 1. A new multimillion- dollar bridge is expected to open in November moving traffic between St. Stephen, New Brunswick, and Calais away from the downtown Ferry Point Bridge and the nearby Milltown Bridge onto the new bridge.
The new deck, which cost $21,300, was designed to take advantage of the slope of the land and elevate eagle observers. “It is somewhat closer to the nest than the old structure, but the eagles have habituated to human activity close to their nest,” refuge personnel said in a prepared release.
Eagle biologist Charlie Todd of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said in the release that the eagle nest is the most well-known and most often observed eagle nest in the state, due to its location and the presence of the refuge’s observation deck.
The new deck is expected to be completed by the time the eagles start nesting later this winter. It is handicapped accessible and will have wheelchair accessible telescopes for viewing the eagles. The new deck offers an unobstructed view of the eagle nest and eventually will feature display panels describing the ecology of eagles and the history of the nearby Magurrewock Marsh.
The old deck is being dismantled and will be removed before the beginning of the eagle-nesting season in a few weeks.
Local contractor Rohde Builders of Robbinston is completing the construction and demolition work for Moosehorn in coordination with Mingo Construction of Calais.
And watching will be fun from the new deck — especially if there is a new female on board. Ray Brown, deputy manager of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, said Wednesday that Andy Slatter, president of the Friends of the Moosehorn, last year noticed a difference in markings on the female.
“It may have been one of the reasons that the birds did not successfully nest last year because there was a new pair bond that may have been formed, and they may not have fully understood each other as yet,” Brown said.
Not producing young was almost unheard of with the original couple.
Up until 2007, the original female had hatched 17 chicks. The mother had produced an average of one eaglet a year for 15 years.
One year, she produced two, and another year, she had three all within view of the public because in 1991, the couple had commandeered a high-rise platform built by refuge personnel for osprey. The platform was near the corner of the Charlotte Road and Routes 1 and 9.
In 2006, refuge personnel concerned about the quality of the perch built a new one nearby. The new nest was designed and constructed by refuge maintenance personnel working closely with the refuge’s biological staff, but the eagles ignored it and again set up residency on their familiar perch. They did the same thing last year and the year before.
It appears again this year that the couple has yet to decide where they want to live. According to Brown, they’ve been standing on both nests for the past few weeks. “There was one bird standing on the edge of the new platform today,” Brown said.
For more information on Moosehorn NWR and the eagle observation deck, call 454-7161 or visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/moosehorn/.