Eagles at Lake Monroe
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Since 2001, Indiana's premier eagle-watching and birding event
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15th Annual Eagle Watch Weekend
Fourwinds Resort and Marina
Bloomington, IN January 23 - 25, 2015
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At 10,750 acres (summer pool level), Lake Monroe is the largest man-made impoundment in Indiana, and is the site of the state's bald eagle reintroduction program from 1985 - 1989. Although an eagle nest was found on the lake in 1988, it would to be another 3 years before an eaglet would hatch - the first from Indiana's reintroduction program and the first to hatch in the wild in Indiana since 1897. The successes, since then, are unmistakable. In 2008, yet another record number of eaglets hatched from yet another record number of nests in the state. Lake Monroe today is the birding and eagle-watching capital of Indiana, with more than 300 documented species of birds as well as year-round resident pairs of bald eagles and many more from points north that claim Lake Monroe as their winter home.
In these pages we'll look at the biology of eagles and Lake Monroe's "Top Ten" viewing sites for bald and golden eagles. You'll also want to visit the eaglesatlakemonroe.com e-Store. Proceeds from our e-Store are used to bring you Indiana's premier eagle-watching and birding event - the 15th Anniversary Eagle Watch Weekend. Check back often for announcements, brochures, and registration for the upcoming event.
Lake Monroe is located about ten miles south and east of Bloomington. The dam is on Salt Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of the White River. The lake area lies in Monroe County with smaller areas in Brown and Jackson Counties. Lake Monroe, accessible from State Roads 37, 46, 50, and 446, provides a wide range of multiple-use recreational and scenic opportunities.
Monroe is nestled in the rolling hills and woodlands of south-central Indiana. A number of other state and federal recreational areas surround the property, including Morgan-Monroe, Yellowwood, and Jackson-Washington State Forests, and Hoosier National Forest, including the Deam Wilderness Area. Brown County, McCormick's Creek, and Spring Mill State Parks are all within an hour's drive of the lake.
Lake Monroe is operated primarily for flood control and low-flow augmentation in the Salt Creek and White River watersheds. The project also forms an integral unit of the comprehensive flood control plan for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The lake is maintained at or near permanent pool level, except when excess waters are stored for flood control. Other functions of the property include resource management, recreation, and water supply to surrounding communities.
The project was dedicated in October 1964 and opened in 1966. Lake Monroe and its environs comprise a total of 23,952 acres. Of this amount, 23,508 acres are leased by the federal government to the State of Indiana for management, with the remaining 444 acres owned by the state. At the summer pool level of 538 feet above sea level, 10,750 acres of water form the lake. The land areas, an additional 13,202 acres, are managed for wildlife and recreational uses. Over 1.5 million visitors come to Lake Monroe annually.
Lake Monroe has two swimming beaches, nine boat ramps, 323 campsites, six hiking trails, four marinas (including the Fourwinds Resort and Marina, the largest in the Midwest), numerous picnic areas, and an Interpretive Center.
Lake Monroe's Bald Eagle Reintroduction
The reintroduction of the bald eagle in Indiana brought a species back to the state that had been absent for nearly a hundred years. Most blame the demise of the bald eagle on the pesticide, DDT, which caused thinning of the eggshell to the point where they would break when the adults attempted to incubate. But that was not the case in Indiana. DDT was not even known as a pesticide until the 1930s and wasn't widely available until the 1940s. The last native eaglet documented to have hatched in Indiana was in 1897 - long before DDT came on the scene. The problem with eagles in Indiana was the same problem that now ranks as the number one cause of species declines worldwide - the loss of habitat.
Historically, most of the eagle nests in Indiana were in the area of the Grand Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. Nearly all of the half-million-acre wetland was drained to make way for agriculture in the late 1800s. It was not until a series of nine reservoirs was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, beginning in the 1950s, that habitat suitable for the production of bald eagles was once again present in Indiana. Monroe Reservoir, built in the 1960s, was the largest of these impoundments and was destined to become the site of the reintroduction of bald eagles in Indiana.
You can't simply take eagles from one area and turn them loose in another and expect them to take up residence. You must go through the process of hacking - the taking of eaglets from their natal grounds before they learn to fly to a new area and releasing them there. The thought is that an eagle considers the area where he (or she) first flies to be home. And it is in this area that they will set up housekeeping when the time is right. So the first task was to build a hack tower to house the eaglets and care for them until they were ready to fly off and fend for themselves. From this structure the eaglets will make their first attempts at defying gravity - attempts that don't always succeed.
The hack tower at Lake Monroe was ready for occupancy in 1985, and for the next five years (1985 through 1989), eagles would be brought from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska (and a few from Wisconsin) in an attempt to rebuild Indiana's bald eagle population.
Over the course of the program, 73 eaglets were released from the hack tower in south-central Indiana. It was these birds that would be relied upon to build today's population that includes 44 active nests in 2004. Those nests, most of which are in the southern two-thirds of the state, were responsible for the production of 66 eaglets in 2004, far above the reintroduction's plan of having "five successful pairs by 2000."
The first nest was discovered on Lake Monroe in 1988, but it would not be until 1991 that the first eaglet would be produced as a part of Indiana's reintroduction program. Since then literally hundreds of bald eagles have been raised in Indiana's nests and, once again, bald eagles can claim the skies of Indiana as home.
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Bald eagle portrait image by Hammond Photography. Other photos courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
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