by Janet I. Martineau
And because of it, the planned April 15 opening of the long-anticipated 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive is postponed until May and possibly June at the Shiawasee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw.
Refuge Manager Steven Kahl reports a pair of late-nesting bald eagles are in the process of building a new nest along the new auto tour route.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits activities which would interfere with normal eagle breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior and contribute to nest abandonment. The opening the Wildlife Drive will yield a great increase in traffic directly past the nest, which could cause the adults to abandon the site. Nest abandonment is most likely during the nest building stage.
Refuge staff began to observe the nest-building behavior on March 14. Kahl says eagles often start small nests without finishing them, but this pair continues to add material.
Should they lay eggs that then hatch, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also “protects” the babies until they enter the feather stage of their life.
Kahl says the refuge will continue to monitor the site from afar -- including aerial observation from an airplane. But should any babies hatch, the opening of the wildlife drive could be postponed to as late as June 15.
The $3.3 million Wildlife Drive has been 10 years in the making, and will open the core of the 9,501-acre refuge to visitors on a daily basis from mid-April to mid-October. In the past, visitors had to hike two miles to get into that core or show up for one day in the spring and one day in the fall when the route was open to cars.
Located on Curtis Road off M-13, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is one of 553 federal wildlife refuges in a system begun in 1903. Shiawassee was established in 1953 and its hallmark is serving as a respite for migrating waterfowl.
It shelters, Kahl says, 280 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, 10 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 48 species of inserts, snails and mussels, and 300 species of plants.
Once it opens, admission to the Wildlife Drive is free.