A wonderful article by Paul Post of The Saratogian in an interview with our very own Gary Hill, Park Naturalist.
By Paul Post, The Saratogian
MOREAU, N.Y. >> Gary Hill, the state of New York’s longest-tenured employee, has seen quite a few changes during his nearly 55 years on the job. One of the most rewarding is the resurgence of bald eagles, which began with the 1972 ban on DDT, a harmful pesticide that almost drove the bird to extinction in upstate New York.
Hill, 78, a former state wildlife technician, was involved with a project that monitored eagles brought in from Alaska, to re-establish local populations in the 1980s and ’90s.
“Now they’re all along the Hudson River, from Mount Marcy all the way down to New York City,” said Hill, a Moreau Lake State Park naturalist. “Some hang around here year round, while others migrate back to Newfoundland in summer. Eagles like cold weather.”
On Friday and Saturday, he’ll be leading three-hour outings as part of an annual state survey to monitor eagle health and numbers. Similar events are scheduled across New York. The public is welcome. Participants should bring binoculars and meet at the park office, 605 Old Saratoga Road, at 9:30 a.m. both days. Plans call for making several stops along the Hudson River, on Spier Falls Road, where eagles like to perch in search of fish in open water.
“I’ve seen two adults and two immature birds recently,” Hill said.
However, eagles are prevalent throughout Saratoga County from Great Sacandaga Lake to several points along the Hudson River including Stillwater and Peebles Island in Waterford. One well-known local nest is atop a telephone pole on Route 4, south of Fort Edward. “It was an osprey nest, then eagles took it over,” Hill said.
Previously employed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Hill worked on an eagle tagging effort that tracked birds imported from Alaska. Eagles, in addition to catching fish, are also voracious scavengers that quite often feed on road kill. To tag eagles, DEC workers would place a dead deer carcass on the ice, and catch the birds with air cannon-fired nets.
When released, transmitters would reveal their movements and habits. Eagles also hunt waterfowl such as ducks, mergansers and an occasional goose. “They’re very protective of their food supply,” Hill said. “One time I saw a coyote try to take part of a dead deer carcass. The eagle came down, lifted the coyote up by his back, with its talons, and scared him away.” Survey participants might not see anything quite so dramatic, but simply spotting eagles is a memorable experience.
Hill works year-round at the park, leading fishing and kayak trips, and fish filleting demonstrations in summer. Retirement isn’t on the horizon. “I’m doing what I like to do, as long as they’ll put up with me,” he said, smiling. “One of these days I’ll hang it up. You never know.”
For those who can’t attend this week’s survey, Hill leads eagle watches throughout the winter. The next is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20. For more information, call (518) 793-0511.