In recent years, one of the most scenic train journeys in America has been providing the opportunity for one of America's most breathtaking sights: a mature bald eagle soaring over the Hudson River in search of food or a comfortable perch.
In recent years, one of the most scenic train journeys in America has been providing the opportunity for one of America's most breathtaking sights: a mature bald eagle soaring over the Hudson River in search of food or a comfortable perch. During the winter months, when the bald eagle population swells with birds who have migrated south from colder reaches, it's not rare for an Amtrak conductor to announce an eagle sighting. Then passengers rush to look out the river-side windows and marvel at our national emblem, with its unique white head and tail feathers, using its six foot wing span to ride the air currents.
Bald eagle profile
Three decades ago eagle sightings were very much a rarity. In 1782, when Congress chose the bird as our national emblem, bald eagles numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But over the years, development, hunting, and the use of the pesticide DDT pushed the bald eagle to the edge of extinction. By 1970 there was only one active bald eagle nest in all of New York State, and that pair of birds didn't produce any young for years.
An aggressive program to restore bald eagles to New York started in 1976 when the Endangered Species Unit of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) began trapping Alaskan eaglets and fledging them for release in New York habitats. The program was very successful and it has become a model for other states. By 2004, a state DEC survey recorded 84 nesting pairs, producing a total of 111 young! The situation of the bald eagle has improved enough fo the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider removing it from the "threatened" species list, though strict rules would still protect the birds from human interference.
Bald eagle in flight.
Amtrak train routes generally follow the valleys, lakes and rivers that are prime habitat for nesting and feeding bald eagles. Traveling north or south along the Hudson River for 120 miles, passengers can catch sight of eagles perched on ice floes and trees or soaring over the river. A number of points south of the Albany-Rensselaer Station have yielded sightings. These include the area just south of the Berkshire Spur of the Thruway Bridge near Castleton Island State Park; Gays Point-Stockport State Park; Rogers Island; the Germantown area; Tivoli Bay and Cruger Island. Further south, observations of bald eagles are increasing, along the stretch between Kingston and Croton-on-Hudson.
After its long stretch along the Hudson, the Adirondack skirts the western shore of Lake Champlain for 75 miles of prime bald eagle viewing. North of Cayuga Lake, about half way between Syracuse and Rochester — the broad expanse of wetlands at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge often reward watchers with a glimpse of the noble bird.