WARREN, Maine — He didn’t intend sarcasm, but that’s how the crowd took it.
“How great it is that we can get out here at 6:45 in the morning to see some eagles,” said David Farmer, a board member for the Georges River Land Trust.
Huddled and shivering in a frigid bank parking lot on Route 90 in Warren, 35 people who turned out for the land trust’s fourth annual Eagle Watch burst into laughter. But when the morning light began to pierce an overcast sky, their attention turned from the weather to a steady stream of eagles making their way through the St. Georges River Valley.
“There goes one!” said Don Reimer of Warren, a bird enthusiast who served as the resident expert for Saturday’s flight of the eagles. “I guess it’s time to start looking for eagles.”
In the next 45 minutes or so, the group witnessed 52 eagles — about nine birds for every degree above zero on the thermometer — flap by on their way to feeding grounds in the river and around a nearby turkey farm.
According to Reimer, who volunteers for the land trust and the Mid-Coast Audubon Society, these majestic birds of prey probably roost overnight in towering pines further up the river. After coming south for a day of feeding, they usually head back to their roosting grounds in the afternoon. Like most everything in nature, though, it can be a little unpredictable. One woman who lives near the river has reported seeing more than 150 eagles fly by one day and less than six the next.
“There he goes,” said Reimer, pointing to another eagle as the crowd observed through cameras and binoculars. “Just look at him glide! That makes 32.”
Eagles are big and require a lot of food. Reimer said a coastal bird’s diet is as much as 75 percent other birds and small animals and 25 percent fish. Those numbers are reversed for eagles inland. Reimer brought with him a collection of the remnants of eagle feeds, including everything from bird skulls to turtle shells to the bones of larger animals.
Though some in the crowd said eagles have always been commonplace in the midcoast region, Reimer said overall their population is on a major rebound. There are an estimated 500 nesting pairs in Maine, compared to less than a half dozen a couple decades ago.
Despite their abundance, it’s still a treat to see them, said Mary O’Connell of Camden.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to see this many at once,” she said. “There are people who would die for this. I have friends on the James River in Virginia and they’re happy seeing just eagles’ nests.”
The Georges River Land Trust, which oversees 2,400 acres of land, most of it in conservation easements, and maintains some 740 miles of trails, has made an annual tradition of the eagle watch.
There were some who traveled a great distance to see the eagles. Kay Fiedler of Waterville left her home at about 5 a.m. to make the trip to Warren.
“I’m not really a birder, but how often do you get the opportunity to see so many eagles?” she said. “It’s pretty special.”
Reimer agreed, even though he has seen hundreds of eagles in and around Warren.
“It’s just nice to see them, especially as their numbers rebound,” he said.
Correction: An early version of this story erroneously stated that eagles who live inland typically eat 75 percent birds and other animals and 25 percent fish, and the opposite for coastal birds. The correct numbers, according to bird enthusiast Don Reimer, are that inland eagles make up 25 percent of their diet with birds and other small animals and the rest fish. Coastal eagles’ diets are about 25 percent fish.