Game commission: No chain seen on Bonneauville eagle

Liz Evans Scolforo
505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

A wildlife conservation officer spent three hours Tuesday morning closely monitoring the Bonneauville bald eagles at their nest site but was unable to find any evidence of a chain wrapped around one of them, according to the game commission.

"We can't come up with any clear-cut evidence that anything is ... wrapped around or impeding that eagle," said Bert Einodshofer, information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southcentral region.

"We're not ignoring the public's concern ... we've put a lot of eyeballs on it," he said. "But we cannot come up with any evidence that there is anything impacting these birds."

This bald eagle with a leg-hold trap on its talons was seen flying in the area of Bonneauville, Adams County, on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

Last week, one of the Bonneauville, Adams County, bonded pair of eagles made news when an eagle watcher took photos of it flying with a leg-hold trap clamped to its foot. The eagle was first seen with the trap on Feb. 3, according to local raptor expert Karen Lippy.

On Feb. 8, a bald eagle was spotted at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, also with a trap on its foot. The trap's attached chain was tangled in a tree, allowing the Gap's wildlife division to send someone up in a bucket truck to free the eagle from the trap, Einodshofer has said.

That eagle flew off after being freed, and game commission officials and biologists determined it was the same eagle as the one nesting in Bonneauville, about 60 miles away. Agency officials have said that's partly because the next time the Bonneauville eagle was seen, it no longer had a trap dangling from its foot and also because the trap on both eagles was the same brand name and type of trap and was on the same foot.

Lippy expressed doubt at the time, arguing an eagle that's in the process of nesting and mating would not fly that far from the nest.

Chain on eagle? Then on Saturday, Lippy — who monitors the eagle nest at Codorus State Park for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and who has authored books about the Codorus eagles — saw what she said appears to be the trap's chain wrapped around the body of the female eagle.

Was Bonneauville eagle the Lebanon bird freed from trap?

At first, the chain appeared to be loosely wrapped around the eagle's tail, but it has since moved up to the raptor's chest and appears to be tightening, according to Lippy.

The game commission sent out a wildlife conservation officer Monday, but weather conditions didn't allow for clear viewing of the birds.

WCO Cory Ammerman went out Tuesday morning and watched the birds for about three hours through a high-powered spotting scope, Einodshofer said. The officer was allowed to be on the private property where the nest is located, so he was significantly closer to the birds than the public can get, he said.

This bald eagle was seen in the area of Bonneauville, Adams County, with a leg-hold trap on its foot.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

Ammerman was able to zoom in closely and saw no signs of distress in either bird; he reported that both birds appear healthy and are flying without impediment, according to Einodshofer.

"I'm not trying to dismiss that Ms. Lippy has seen something," Einodshofer said, but whatever it is or was, WCOs had not been able to observe it.

And photographs submitted from people since Saturday aren't clear enough to definitively show anything, he said.

'Critical time': Continuing to go back to the nest site to watch the eagles could spook them, he warned.

"We're at a very critical time now," he said. "Any human intrusion could be detrimental to (their nesting cycle). ... Really, there's nothing else we can do at this point."

He noted that WCOs have placed carcasses and trail cameras in the area in an effort to monitor the situation.

Chain wrapped around Bonneauville eagle, expert says

Lippy said she's still "100 percent positive" a chain is wrapped around the female eagle. She said it was very difficult to see and said it's only visible in certain lighting conditions.

"We saw it Saturday morning when the sun hit it," she said. "It was as plain as could be."

Still, Lippy said she respects the game commission's determination and said she prefers to work with agency officials, not against them.

Lippy said she believes the Bonneauville eagles are sitting on at least one egg.

Einodshofer said anyone with evidence that one of the eagles is entangled in a chain or any debris should contact the game commission directly and immediately.

This bald eagle's foot is stuck in a leg-hold trap. He was seen on Feb. 5, 2017, flying with the trap on his talons.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

'Progressing normally': Travis Lau, the game commission's press secretary, said his agency at this point has no reason to rethink its determination that the Bonneauville and Fort Indiantown Gap eagles were the same bird.

"Until we receive a report to the contrary, and confirm it, we can only consider the nesting attempt in Bonneauville to be progressing normally and without any unusual risks for either eagle," Lau said. "We also have no reason to believe the eagle freed from the trap at Fort Indiantown Gap isn't the same one photographed days earlier (in Bonneauville). And we still never have confirmed a second eagle in a trap."

Bonneauville bald eagle has trap clamped to talons

It is illegal to put out a trap where bait is visible from the air — a law specifically crafted to protect raptors, Lau has said.

Anyone with information about this incident or any wildlife violation can call the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southcentral dispatch office at 814-643-1831.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.