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In Search of Golden Eagles

By John Weiss, April 18, 2023

Three horses running in the snow surprised me. They looked like a scene in a Chinese painting. (Photo by John Weiss)

In Search of Golden Eagles

HOUSTON COUNTY — The day for finding Golden Eagles was gray, overcast, with many trees frost-silvered. January 21 was my third or fourth time volunteering to look for the eagles amidst the bluffs, streams and fields of northern Houston County.

This region is known for its bald eagles that have made an incredible comeback from several decades ago when chemicals thinned their eggs and few young hatched. But every now and then in winter, we’d see goldens. We assumed they were coming from the west but Scott Mehus, education director of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, wasn’t sure. Instead, he found a way to capture a few, put transmitters on them and sit back and see where the birds went in summer. Surprise! They went north to the Hudson Bay area and north of the Arctic Circle. To find out more about them and their numbers down here, he started the Golden Eagle Watch 19 years ago.

He has dozens of routes in southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa, adding Arkansas this year. We volunteers drive around slowly, looking, hoping. The goldens are hard to see because they are all brown, don’t perch as high in trees as bald eagles do and hang around below the tops of bluffs. The trick is to find places where they will have a large field below the bluff side where they might feed on rabbits, turkeys and other prey.

I’ve seen them twice, both times on Cork Hollow Road west of Brownsville, so I didn’t get excited until I reached there after slowly driving from Hokah to Brownsville. I drove even slower on Cork Hollow. It was early in the day, and very little was moving. The first surprise was a flock of male bluebirds on some wire. I noted that and moved on, coming to a place with horses where a brown one with white markings on its head has always been curious and comes to say hi. That day was no different – the horse put its head over the top rail of the fence. I took it’s picture.

A friendly horse with a white patch says hi. (Photo by John Weiss)

This time, no goldens.

From there, I went to Ridgeview and Sanden roads. Again, nothing but I did see a rough-legged hawk and two bald eagles.

After lunch, I went back to Cork Hollow and other roads and began seeing a lot of turkeys and deer out feeding.

But no goldens.

After more than four hours, it was getting late and goldens tend to not hunt that late. It was time to head home.

I had little to report but I renewed my interest in that part of our region that is becoming more familiar, almost like a home, to me.

I was disappointed but I said hi to that horse and hope to be back in the spring.


John Weiss was a full-time reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin for 41 years and wrote the Back Roads column for more than 10 years. His passions include hunting, fishing, birding, nature photography, hiking and just kicking around.

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