Fennessey Ranch welcomes back eagle pair

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Nov. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.

Two eagle nests rest upon AEP power lines on Fennessey Ranch in Bayside. The eagles have been coming to the ranch for eight years.

Two eagle nests rest upon AEP power lines on Fennessey Ranch in Bayside. The eagles have been coming to the ranch for eight years.

BAYSIDE - Two symbols of American freedom soared high above the Mission River, grappling in a dizzying downward spiral dance.

"It was so cool," Sally Crofutt said, eyes fixed on a nest nudged into the nook of crisscrossing power lines.

Her eyes squint in remembrance of that day eight years ago - the day the bald eagles landed at Fennessey Ranch.

The Story of Two Eagles

"Do you see their little bald heads peeking out," Crofutt asked, scrambling for a pair of black binoculars in the console of her truck.

A blurred scan through the magnified lenses leave her wanting more - the eagles aren't there. They may be out hunting.

She drives around the ranch to see whether the birds are visible from another area.

The nest the pair created is atop an AEP power pole that can be seen from most places on the ranch.

Fennessey Ranch is a vast expanse in Refugio County.

Wetlands, riparian woods, meadows and brush land converge to make up the 4,000 acres east of Woodsboro and just north of Bayside off Farm-to-Market Road 2678.

The two eagles first arrived out of nowhere almost a decade ago.

"These eagles are an attraction," Crofutt said.

Crofutt is the ranch manager of the ranch, owned by Brian O'Connor Dunn. The land has remained in Dunn's family for the past 171 years.

Crofutt's grip tightens on the steering wheel as she braces for a bumpy ride through the terrain.

Dust rises up as her large, heavy-duty truck treads the dirt road.

Brittle brown grass crunches as the truck slows to a crawl.

"It's heartbreaking," she said, taking a moment to survey the land. "Oh God, it's dry."

The eagles' nest is the only one this far southwest, she said.

They typically land in September, mate, nurse their young and then fly out in March. This year the pair arrived mid-October, but Crofutt is unsure why.

"It's a lot of observations," she said. "There is so much we don't know."

Each year, Crofutt and the few people who work at the ranch, wait for the eagles. The waiting period is always difficult.

Crofutt guides the truck down a gravel unmapped road. Crofutt looks almost as wild as the animals grazing the Fennessey Ranch.

Her strawberry-kissed blonde hair kinks out as wind gusts through her slightly open driver's seat window.

Crofutt is passionate about her nearly 20-year career at the ranch. She knows the area quite well and her infectious personality is enough to get anyone excited about the habitat at the ranch.

Crofutt explains the area she drives through as if it were her own backyard. She pops her chewing gum as she speaks, her voice breaking with each bump on the road - the road back to the nest.

'The Eagle Has Landed'

Most people aren't aware just how big of an impact the drought will have on habitats like the Fennessey Ranch.

Receiving rain may seem to the majority of people that the drought is over, but that is not the case.

Riparian woods, or the trees that hug the river, will take at least 20 years to fully come back from the drought, she said.

Crofutt was a bit worried if the dry weather this summer would affect whether the eagles would come back.

Though she's grown a strong affinity for her patriotic friends, she has yet to name them, and probably never will.

Crofutt knows the two eagles are the same that have arrived each year, not only can she feel it, but tracking has let her know that.

"These animals are wild," she said. "We try to respect it."

Crofutt drives along the river, the same one where the two eagles do their hunting. She's on her way back to the nest.

"It's the hamburger crowd," she says carefully navigating around several cattle lying in the middle of the trail.

Crofutt had seen the eagles in the nest for the past couple of days. She thinks they've already laid their eggs, but there is no way to be certain.

Parking her truck on an embankment, she grabs her binoculars one more time and peers through them, mouth agape.

"That's them," she mumbles. Clearing her eyes and looks one more time.

"That's them," she exclaims. "I can see a white head."

Jumping out of the truck, she strolls to the embankment and dances and cheers as she points at the two eagles fly off the nest.

"The eagle has landed," she said.



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