Amateur photographer chronicling growth of bald eagle family in Lake County
Amateur photographer Tim Elliott always has had an interest in birds, but it wasn't until recently that circumstances led him to one of Lake County's most majestic avian residents.
"We saw them for the first time back in spring, before the babies," the Grayslake resident said of a nesting pair of bald eagles on the Fox River in southern Lake County.
"We decided we'd go back periodically and watch the progression."
From first sight to the emergence of a trio of eaglets in May, Elliott has chronicled the family's growth through a powerful magnifying lens.
"I finally bought a lens that was long enough to seriously take pictures of birds," said Elliott, a retired IT professional who for the past few years has been an official volunteer photographer for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
He was directed to the eagles' nest as part of the district's volunteer partnership.
"It was exciting," said Elliott. "They're such large birds and majestic birds."
With a wingspan that can reach 8 feet, the bald eagle was designated the national bird in 1782. However, by the 1960s it faced extinction and in 1978 was listed by federal authorities as endangered in most states.
Fortunes changed due to a ban of the pesticide DDT, habitat protection and other measures. The bald eagle population has since flourished.
What's notable about this family is that all three eaglets have survived. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, successful eagle pairs usually raise one or two young per nest, but less often three.
"I don't recall seeing three survive that long," said Gary Glowacki, who has been a wildlife ecologist with the forest preserves for 16 years.
"Could be weather. Could be coincidence. Could be humans staying away. Whatever, it's good," added Allison Frederick, public affairs assistant manager for the forest preserve district.
The nest is one of two known on and around forest preserve properties and there may be others in Lake County, according to Andrew Rutter, a wildlife ecologist with the district, who updates the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on nest status. One eaglet fledged from the same Fox River nest in both 2018 and one in 2019, Rutter said.
"Always happy to hear about additional nests if the public knows about them," he said.
Meanwhile, Elliott tries to return to the nest area once a week and regularly sends images to the forest preserve district for use online or in publications.
"They're fascinating," he said of the bald eagle family. "We're still waiting to see an eagle with a fish. That's the goal."