IT TURNS out that Oneida County has not maxed out on bald eagle nesting territories, as the state’s 2018 population survey showed 13 new nests and yet another statewide record as part of the bird’s remarkable comeback in Wisconsin.

What a difference a year can make. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported last year that when Oneida stayed at 141 territories, it might mean that the habitat had reached its capacity for supporting eagle nests.

But a year later, the number had grown by 13 nests to 154 and was part of an enormous statewide increase of 105 nests — including active nests in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

“It doesn’t seem like we’ve hit any ceiling yet,”said Laura Jaskiewicz, a research scientist who coordinates the statewide aerial survey effort. “Eagles are still finding places to nest, some continuing in the same nests for many years and some new ones popping up here and there.”

The survey showed Walworth County got its first nesting pair in more than 50 years, leaving only Milwaukee County without an active eagle territory.

As in past years, Vilas County with 172 nests and Oneida with 154 nests had the highest totals. Bald eagles prefer to nest in tall white pine trees along water and these two counties have some of the highest concentrations of freshwater lakes in the world.

With the help of DNR?pilots, biologists search for active nests every March and April to identify repairs to the nests, an incubating adult, eggs or young in the nest.

They also make use of local eagle nest information provided by numerous DNR field staff and reports from the public. In fact, the new Walworth County nest was found by a private citizen.

Detailed records of eagle nest occupancy have been collected in Wisconsin since 1973, making it one of the longest running surveys of its kind in America.

Southwest counties showed the greatest percentage of increase at 29.7%, while the total statewide nest count rose 6.5%.

The survey information enables the DNR to provide up-to-date information to land owners, companies and communities that have an active nest on their property, so they can avoid disturbing the nests and eagles during breeding season.

In the past 35 years, DNR?staff made management recommendations that protected more than 80% of all known eagle nests.

Getting the credit for the record number of nests documented last spring are state and federal endangered species laws, declining levels of the pesticide DDT in the environment, and efforts to help monitor and aid recovery.

Bald eagles flew off the state endangered species list in 1997 and the federal list in 2007. Eagles and their nests are still federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

That’s why anyone who is truly paying attention while spending a day in the great outdoors here is highly likely to see one or more bald eagles, even in winter.

The down side on the DNR’s survey history is that for the second straight year, the agency did not survey osprey nesting territories to determine how that species is progressing.

Jaskiewicz speculated that the reasons might include limited financial resources and that public support is much higher for surveying eagles than ospreys. Though she wasn’t absolutely sure on the time line, there has been talk of surveying osprey nesting territories every five years.

All we know for sure is that in 2016 during the last osprey survey, there were 558 occupied nests and that 96 of them — or 17% — could be found in Oneida County.

When you add the 39 osprey nests in Vilas County to that, you discover that 24% of the nesting ospreys in Wisconsin are located right here — in what many call God’s Country because of these remarkable natural resources.

At the time, ospreys were nesting in 58 of the state’s 72 counties, Much of the growth in osprey nesting statewide can be contributed to the placement of artificial nesting platforms on power poles and other fixtures in key habitat locations.

No one is really certain why Oneida County is the osprey capital of Wisconsin, though some have theorized that it’s due to larger flowages and fewer eagle territories than nearby Vilas.

A major reason for the trend toward higher osprey nesting territories was the realization that ospreys needed some seclusion from eagles to succeed, and off-water nest platforms became the answer.

Biologists found that ospreys competing for nests on the same waterbodies with eagles were distracted to the point where they didn’t properly incubate or care for their eggs.

And in central Wisconsin where tall, supercanopy nest trees are harder to find, there were plenty of power poles and other places for erecting the platforms used by ospreys.

Some of the scribbler’s most memorable outdoor moments have involved eagles and ospreys that were feeding, fighting, diving, mating, bathing or just soaring past.

I’ll never forget the day I got to watch a bald eagle that was standing in several inches of water on Stormy Lake as the waves were breaking into the shoreline, ducking under each one like a robin in a bird bath.

Then there was the young eagle on Allequash Lake that was flying upside down, below an adult that was flying upright, extending its talons upward in a playful show.

On the same lake, I watched an osprey dive-bomb an eagle in a tree a dozen times — the eagle flinching and screeching in protest on every pass.

The return of healthy numbers of these large raptors is one of Wisconsin’s finest conservation success stories.