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North Dakota Game and Fish Courtesy Photo Biologists conducted the 2013 midwinter bald eagle survey along the Missouri River and counted 61 bald eagles.

NDGF conducts midwinter bald eagle assessment

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Penning an outdoors column each week may seem daunting to some, but even with 52 opportunities in a given calendar year to generate topics and information to pass along, at times I actually wish I had more time and room.

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Here's a few items of recent interest:

North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists conducted the 2013 midwinter bald eagle survey along the Missouri River, and counted 61 bald eagles. This number is slightly above average since the survey started in 1986, but was well below the 108 counted in 2012. Conversely, 44 were counted in 2011.

Patrick T. Isakson, conservation biologist with the Game and Fish Department, said the survey route from Bismarck to the Garrison Dam is conducted at the same time each year, and in coordination with other surveys nationwide.

"Conducting the surveys close to the same day throughout the nation reduces the number of eagles that may be counted by other surveys as eagles tend to move around," Isakson said.

The Missouri River from below Garrison Dam to about Bismarck still held large numbers of waterfowl in early January, and that's why the eagles were hanging around, as ducks and geese are an important food source during winter. The numbers can change significantly in just a few days if severe winter weather moves in and forces the waterfowl southward, Isakson said.

Eagles are relatively easy to spot as they prefer to perch in large cottonwood trees along the river. Adult bald eagles have a white head and tail and a dark brown body, while immature bald eagles are brown with irregular white plumage. Golden eagles, which are also counted, are dark in color and have a gold cap on their head.

Moving on, North Dakota citizens with an interest in supporting wildlife conservation programs are reminded to look for the Watchable Wildlife checkoff on the state tax form.

The 2012 state income tax form gives wildlife enthusiasts an opportunity to support nongame wildlife like songbirds and birds of prey such as eagles, while at the same time contributing to programs that help everyone enjoy all wildlife.

The checkoff -- whether you are receiving a refund or having to pay in -- is an easy way to voluntarily contribute to sustain this long standing program. In addition, direct donations to the program are accepted any time of year.

To learn more about Watchable Wildlife program activities, contact the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at 701-328-6300; or ndgf@nd.gov.

One last note, while ice fishing and fishing itself never closes in North Dakota, March 15 is the deadline for removing permanent fish houses from state waters. Anglers can continue to use shelters after March 15, but they must be removed from the ice daily.

And lastly, winter so far hasn't been too hard on resident wildlife like pheasants and deer. We're not out of the woods yet, and some parts of the state have had more snow than others, but with spring in sight, people starting to smile a little wider.

Those March, early can be disruptive and destructive, so we'll hope for the best when spring officially arrives.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com

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