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Arlington has front-row seat to eagles' resurgence

Posted by Leslie Anderson  January 14, 2010 09:33 AM

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It may surprise drivers along the Mystic Valley Parkway to see a bald eagle flying above them in an urban area, but residents in one Arlington neighborhood say they’ve grown accustomed to seeing members of the once-endangered species perching in trees near their homes.

For several years, residents around Beverly and Robinhood roads in Arlington say a bald eagle and sometimes two has been spotted flying above the Lower Mystic Lake and resting in a favorite perch local birdwatchers now refer to as ‘‘the tree.’’

‘‘It’s hard not to get excited about seeing a bird like that,’’ said Marj Rine, who lives on Robinhood Road and started the Menotomy Bird Club in Arlington.

Wildlife experts say Arlington residents are getting a front row seat to the resurgence of bald eagles in Massachusetts.

Every year the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife attempts to count all of the eagles in the state. Only eight were spotted in 1979, the first year the count was undertaken, but a record high 81 bald eagles were seen in Massachusetts last year, said Tom French, assistant director of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

This year, a two-day count conducted by the state found 71 bald eagles in Massachusetts. But French said low visibility on Jan. 8, one of the scheduled count days, may have prevented spotters from counting more eagles.

For the last seven or eight winters, bald eagles have been spotted in Arlington around the lake, which borders with Medford. They tend to perch on a tall tree in Arlington near the Medford Boat Club, Rine said. ‘‘They are very reliable,’’ Rine said.

Seeing a bald eagle that close to Boston is ‘‘amazing’’ said Kathleen Lucas, who recently traveled to Arlington from Woburn to photograph an eagle after fellow birdwatchers mentioned sighting the bird.

But Wayne Petersen, director of Massachusetts Important Bird Areas for the Mass. Audubon, said the rebound of bald eagles is making sightings in urban settings more and more frequent.

‘‘It’s increasingly reasonable to see them, and expect them, Petersen said.
Removed from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 2007, bald eagles are now commonly found in Massachusetts around Lakeville, the Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown, along the Merrimack River in Newburyport and along the Connecticut River, Petersen said.

‘‘We now have a substantial population,’’ Petersen said.
On Jan. 10, a bald eagle was even spotted along the Charles River near the Museum of Science in Boston, French said.

In Arlington, most of the bald eagle sightings occur in the winter, and Rine said she believes rugged weather, such as the really cold temperatures and frozen lakes further north, drive the birds into Arlington looking for food.

Al Franchi, who lives on Beverly Street next to the lake, said he’s seen eagles in the area for a couple of years during the winter. At times, Franchi and his wife Susan Franchi said they have even seen two bald eagles near their home.

Their most recent spotting was Monday when Susan saw what she believes was an adult male eagle.

‘‘He had a big wingspan,’’ she said.

Rine said she wonders if the eagle is the same bird that returns to Arlington every year because while it tends to perch in the same tree that the eagles have sought out in recent years, the eagle in the area this year tends to perch on a different branch.

‘‘There’s no way to tell if it’s the same bird,’’ Rine said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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