DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BUCHANAN DAM — The most popular Buchanan Dam-area residents are making it tough on Annette Gardner of the Buchanan Dam-Inks Lake Chamber of Commerce.
In any given winter since the famous couple began arriving — or at least setting up residency in view of the public — they drew quite a bit of attention.
“They bring us more phone calls and traffic than wildflowers,” Gardner said. “They’re a huge draw. But this year, well, it’s been a bit rough.”
Gardner is referring to a pair of nesting American bald eagles that created a large fan following more than a decade ago when they built a nest within sight of Texas 29 between Llano and Buchanan Dam. Though the nest sat on private property, it was in easy view of people pulling off Texas 29. Over the years, one nest failed, forcing the couple to rebuild, but they still did so within sight of the road. The state even built a pull-off near the nest to give people a place to stop.
But in August, the tree holding the latest nest collapsed.
“When (the eagles) returned later, we all got excited because we could see them carrying sticks,” Gardner said.
The hope was the pair would rebuild in view of the road. But as days passed, nobody could see any signs of a new nest. Then, Gardner spoke with the landowner, who confirmed the birds rebuilt — out of view from the highway.
All is not lost for those wishing to get a look at the eagles. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Dale Schmidt said people making the effort to arrive at the pull-off early in the morning might catch a glimpse of the eagles perched on one of the big trees or flying around as they hunt.
“So, it’s still possible to see them,” he said. “It’s just not as easy as it was when they had the nest right off the road.”
While the new nest could last the birds’ lifetime (which is 20-25 years), the Texas 29 couple’s track record is to rebuild every four to five years as the tree either gives out or the nest collapses. Gardner pointed out that the eagles don’t just stop building the nest after the first year but continue to add on to it year after year. All those twigs and branches tacked on each year put a lot of stress on the tree if it’s not strong and healthy.
“When the first nest collapsed, it weighed over 800 pounds,” she said.
And it’s not just the Texas 29 eagles that are tough to see this year. Each winter, the upper Lake Buchanan area draws many other bald eagles as well as other raptors such as golden eagles. They winter along the canyons of the Colorado River above Lake Buchanan. Gardner said they have returned again this winter, but because of the low water and inflows, the Vanishing Texas River Cruise and other boats can’t make it up into the river and canyons.
“We have about 15 pairs of bald eagles and two pairs of golden eagles up there, but we can’t see them,” she said.
Shawn Devaney of the Vanishing Texas River Cruise and a few other volunteers usually float from the Colorado Bend area down to Lake Buchanan for the annual mid-winter eagle count. This year, the low water on the Colorado River made it impossible to conduct the regular journey for the count and limited their efforts in the main lake. Devaney said it’s the first time in 32 years they couldn’t float from Colorado Bend down through the canyon for the count.
On the lake, they reported spotting six eagles this winter for the mid-winter survey.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough year for eagle watching,” Gardner said. “But we know they’re here.”