Versailles State Park is home to majestic birds
Bald Eagle captured in photo

Karen Reynolds
Contributing Writer

The majestic spirit of the great American Bald Eagle has been captured through the lens of a camera belonging to Jo Ann Stewart of Union, Kentucky, and hangs in the Tyson Library in Versailles.

When Louise Mitchell of Versailles was having some of her art framed in a store in Kentucky to enter in the Southeastern Indiana Art Guild show, she met Stewart, who was picking up a photograph of a bald eagle she had framed.

Mitchell commented on the photo and that’s when she found out it had been taken by Stewart at the Versailles State Park. She was thrilled with the beauty of wildlife captured through the camera and wanted others to have the opportunity to see it.

Since Mitchell has various works of her own art hanging in the Tyson Library gallery, she contacted Bill Poor, the director of the library at Versailles and arranged for the bald eagle picture to join her works. She was excited to make the connection so that the public at large can enjoy the bald eagle that makes its home in the Versailles State Park.

Stewart said she got the picture in the fall of 2008 while she and a friend were kayaking on the Versailles State Park lake. They were paddling along when her friend spied what she thought was a bald eagle. She said they paddled very slowly up to the creek area to take the picture.

While Stewart’s real love is photography, she said she has also been to “five eagle watch weekend” events around the area. According to Stewart, she is somewhat of a naturalist herself and would never disturb the eagles or their nests. She believes that the picture she took is of a female bald eagle.

According to Ted Tapp, from the Department of Natural Resources, property manager of the Versailles State Park, it’s okay to take pictures of the wildlife at the park as long as you don’t damage their habitat in the process. He maintains that January or February is the best time to spot bald eagles at the park, as there are no leaves on the trees to keep them hidden.

“These eagles stay year around,” he noted. Tapp said he and several others know where the nesting area is. However, it is not something the ordinary person could find easily. He noted, “It is illegal to harass the wildlife or disturb their nests found at the Versailles State Park.”

While the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species list, there is still an effort to raise and release them in different areas of Indiana. This program known as “hacking” began at Monroe Lake in 1988. The first pair of bald eagles for that program came from Minnesota. For the past five years, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been able to track bald eagles and find out where their nests are by flying over the areas in helicopters. They are now aware of more and more nests and chicks are working on building a population of bald eagles in Indiana.

According to Rex Watters, wildlife expert at Monroe Lake, the “hacking” program is primarily funded by donations, mostly from the donations made by people who check the box on the bottom of their state tax form, saying they want some money given to the non-game fund. Watters stated that the first nest in the State of Indiana began at Monroe Lake. As a matter of fact, John Castrale, non-game aviator and biologist, will soon be taking another helicopter ride to different locations in the state to continue tracking the habits of the bald eagle.

Watters told The Versailles Republican that hacking is a program that actually formerly existed from 1985 to 1989. They took five-week-old chicks, raised them, and then released them back to the wild when the time was right, feeding them supplemental feedings until they could establish their own feeding habits. Young eagles need to have time to make an imprint on an area which they will later come back to when fully mature to make their home there.

The pair of bald eagles that live in the Versailles State Park at this time have been there for about five years, according to Tapp, who noted, “They just showed up.” He further explained about the bald eagle: both male and female look alike, having the white head feathers and white feet. They generally stay in the same area where they are born and raised. Pairs of eagles stay together for the long haul and raise their young together. The first year the pair was at the park, Tapp noted they made a nest but laid no eggs. Every year since then, they have raised at least two chicks in that same nest. A bald eagle is not fully mature for up to 3-5 years and doesn’t boast the white head and feet until fully mature. Chicks stay with the parents for quite some time. Tapp said younger chicks have been spotted in the park. He said bald eagle pairs like to nest around large bodies of water possibly because their diet is made up of mostly fish.

So if you want to experience wildlife at its best, take a trip to the Versailles State Park. Be patient and most of all, respectful to the eagles’ home. Or if you want to make sure you see the eagles at the park, come to the Tyson Library to see the eagle photo on display.

Pictured at left is a framed photo of a bald eagle that has made its home at the Versailles State Park. This photo now hangs in the Tyson Library for everyone to enjoy. It was taken by Jo Ann Stewart of Union, Kentucky. Below: Ted Tapp, property manager for the park, welcomes wildlife enthusiasts to the park to see the beauty of wildlife in its natural form. However, he cautions those visiting not to harass the wildlife or disturb their nests. The park is located east of Versailles off US 50.