Conserve Wildlife Blog

Found! Duke’s Tracker Reboots

December 29th, 2021

by Barbara McKee, NJ Eagle Project Volunteer

“Duke” December 19th, 2021 by Barb McKee

A year ago November I began tracking Duke. I was fortunate to see and photograph him more than a dozen times and wrote two blogs for CWF about these adventures. 

See “Duke’s Homecoming” and “Playing Hide and Seek with an Eagle”.

I joked in my blogs about the human disadvantage of playing hide and seek with a sharp-eyed eagle, even one with a tracker which revealed his location every 24 hours.  Then, three months ago, in early September, that one advantage disappeared, the tracker stopped functioning! Or so we thought!  The assumption all along was that it was an equipment malfunction and not the loss of an eagle!  Much to our relief the tracker began reporting again recently, confirming that the problem had been a loss of power: It appeared that in September, battery power had plummeted instantly, and at that time the tracker stopped downloading data after September 10.  For three months we lost Duke!  See my third blog, “Where’s Duke”

At first I checked daily, then weekly, for possible data downloads.  On December 14, I was out on my bike watching the Three Bridges eagles when I got a call from Kathy Clark who said, “Duke downloaded today!”  Excitedly, we discussed where he appeared to be now—still in my area!  I hurried home to check out the data.  Sure enough, Duke was on the same field where he had hunkered down during hurricane Ida in early September, about 10 miles south of where he had been when his tracker went dark!  Had he been in Pennsylvania near the NJ border all of this time?  Had he also crossed the Delaware into his home state?  Where had he been between Sept. 10 and Dec. 14?  We will never know!

“Duke” Ridgeback Golf Course, December 18th, 2021 @ Barb McKee

The updated data showed that after two months of registering nothing at all, his solar battery slowly, regularly, regained enough charge to finally start functioning again.  We have no idea what caused this sudden malfunction.  Even more puzzling is how a sophisticated, complex piece of electronic equipment repaired itself!  The next day Duke returned to NJ.  I searched for him along roads very familiar to me from my cycling, but he was winning once again at hide and seek.  In August, I was looking forward to leaf-fall so I would be better able to spot him, so I persisted, searching leafless trees in the area of his “last known position”.

Saturday, December 18 was a gray, rainy day, but Duke was very near a road along a creek that I knew well!  I found him there, perched next to a lake and took the first photos of him since August 1, an equally gray day! 

Sunday, the 19th was sunny.  Duke had moved south.  Right before his data was due to download, I went back to the previous day’s perch and roost next to the lake, but when I received his download, I had to quickly punch in the new GPS coordinates and drive about 20 miles south.  There he was, along with an adult, two other juveniles (a 1 year old and a 2 year old), and a sub adult about 4 years old.  These eagles had found a dead deer and were “sharing” with 5 ravens!  What a thrill to see him clearly again and be able to take photos which show his almost-three-year-old beak turned mostly yellow and also his plumage which has changed from a year ago.

“Duke” December 19th, 2021 by Barb McKee

His solar tracker appears to be securely fastened, clean, and undamaged. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could track him until he chooses a mate and a nesting territory in 2 or 3 years?!  It is so good to know he is well fed and appears to be healthy and thriving. He has remained in Central Jersey and has roosted across the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side in a very small, undeveloped park where he spent quite a few nights in June.  He has revisited some of his “favorite” hang outs from earlier this year including the small chain of lakes on which one of the nests I monitor is located!  One place he hasn’t visited since his “return” is Duke Farms lakes where he spent a good deal of time last winter and spring near his natal nest! 

Duke interacting with adult eagle over a deer carcass, December 19th, 2021 by Barbara McKee

Certain protocols were put in place which will hopefully conserve battery power and to enable it to retain enough charge to keep functioning.  It means we will receive location information less frequently, but will still see where he roosts, and where he is 4 times during the 24 hours between data downloads.  Fingers crossed that the battery regains a full charge and full function.

As of the 28th, Duke continues to be in New Jersey. To follow his travels go to New Jersey Eagle Trax

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4 Responses to “Found! Duke’s Tracker Reboots”

  1. Helen Trammell says:

    What a Joy! Finding Duke and having his data keeper self repair. He’s a handsome fellow indeed.May 2022 be a fine year for Duke and all eagle observers!

  2. MIchael says:

    Ms. McKee. Great post, thank you. I want to let you know that on 12/26/2021 I spotted an adult eagle in a field off Homestead Road in Hillsborough, NJ. When I first drove by the adult was unmistakable and there was a darker smaller bird next to him which I thought was a vulture. They were feeding on a deer carcass not fifty feet from the road’s edge. Was the darker bird Duke perhaps? I went home, got my Nikon and returned to the field. The adult was still there feeding. I got about six shots of him/her with a 300mm lens. The other bird had left. It was late in the day and my challenge was trying to focus directly into a low bright sun. I had hoped to get a picture of the eagle in flight but could not due to light conditions.
    What a treat it was to see this event and be able to capture it on camera.
    I hope you can use this small piece of a puzzle to aid in your research.

  3. Donna Poolake says:

    Good News! Thank you for the update!

  4. Barb McKee says:

    Michael, carrion is an important source of food for eagles during the winter months when live prey is scarce, especially for young eagles not as adept at hunting. They are often seen on road killed deer which we eagle project volunteers try to pull off the roads so that feeding eagles and other raptors won’t be hit. It is common to observe eagles feeding on a deer in a field during the winter. You are lucky to have spotted this scene and gotten photos! Homestead is near my home so I just might go check it out tomorrow! Thanks for your comments and information!