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JENNER – A pair of bald eagles whose hunting expeditions at the mouth of the Russian River have entertained tourists and local visitors over the past several years have turned the coastal hamlet of Jenner into a popular stopping point for bird-lovers, as if the scenery and seals weren’t enough of a draw.

The raptors’ admirers include a devoted group that has monitored them for the past few years and has documented their activities photographically. The birds even have their own Facebook page with a growing base of fans, many of them stunned to learn of such an accessible way to witness a species once threatened with extinction.

There’s nothing quite like seeing these majestic creatures as they soar over the river estuary in search of prey or dive suddenly toward the water, flying out again with breakfast or dinner in tow.

“It’s the iconic national symbol. It’s such a big, regal bird, it garners a lot of attention,” said Santa Rosa resident Dave Barry, a certified naturalist and local wildlife guide who specializes in waterfowl and raptors.

“They’re pretty magnificent,” Forestville resident Ryan Price observed during a visit earlier this year to Jenner’s Cafe Aquatica, where he and his girlfriend, Amanda Dossett, watched the eagles while consuming hot beverages.

A side deck at the riverside coffee shop provides superb views of a cypress tree on Penny Island where the eagles like to perch and watch the world.

But an overlook above town, at a Highway 1 turnout, often offers the best opportunity to catch one or both eagles fishing at the river outlet amid resting seals and other seabirds, or settled on a rock island in the estuary.

The birds are known to hunt here for fish and eels but aren’t above stealing the remnants of a seal’s salmon meal. Bill Barrett, 69, of Sebastopol, said he also has seen them feast on seal placenta or even a stillborn pup. A retired letter carrier, he often can be found at the overlook and is among those who have been drawn together by a shared passion for raptors and photography.

The informal group provides most of the content for Bald Eagles of the Sonoma Coast — Jenner, one of several related Facebook pages maintained by Sebastopol raptor specialist Larry Broderick. Also among them is Guerneville resident Joan Bacci, a retired PG&E worker who goes out four or five times a week to see if she can a glimpse of the iconic creatures.

“They make my day,” said Bacci, 62.

Newcomer Mike Feusi, of Petaluma, recently discovered the web page and is eager to learn and see more of the eagles he first encountered last Christmas at Goat Rock, just south of the river’s mouth.

He’s a photographer who discovered his own fascination with birds, and especially bald eagles, while living in the Seattle area a few years ago. Until then he had never given birds a second thought.

“It’s just like a switch within me was lit, and I was like, ‘Wow,’” said Feusi, 50.

All acknowledge that the allure is partly the sheer size and majesty of the birds, with their stark white heads and tail feathers, wing spans up to eight feet, muscular legs, and powerful yellow beaks and talons.

But, being of a certain age, the eagles’ followers also have lived through decades in which the species’ survival was in question due to habitat destruction, deliberate elimination and widespread use of a now-banned insecticide that got into the food chain and decimated the species’ population.

Considered at risk in the 1960s and later listed as endangered throughout most of its territory under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle is now a rare wildlife recovery success story. The species has recovered to a large extent through protective measures and elimination of DDT use in the United States. In 1995, the birds’ status was upgraded to threatened, and in June 2007 it was removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

“It’s just amazing that we can see them here, and see them on a regular basis,” said Tom Reynolds, 71, of Santa Rosa.

A number of resident bald eagles have made the North Coast their home in the past decade, with nesting pairs at Lake Sonoma and in the Laguna de Santa Rosa, as well as on the Eel River in Mendocino County, and at Lakes Hennessey and Berryessa in Napa County. Broderick and Barry, longtime friends who run an education and advocacy group called West County Hawk Watch, have been monitoring the eagles’ local resurgence for years. Broderick said it was not until around 2008 or ’09 that a bald eagle was observed in the Jenner area. Bird-watchers started noticing a pair in the 2010-11 time-frame, and at least one juvenile has been seen since 2012 and ’13.

It’s unclear if the Jenner pair have a nest nearby, nor has it been confirmed that the juvenile sightings involve one of their offspring, but the two adults have been observed mating.

The best time to see the birds is in the very early morning to mid-morning, or early to late afternoon, though lots of activity on the beach will keep them away, Broderick said.

The winter season is often a good time to see them because of salmon and steelhead coming upstream, and general activity around the inlet that, to bald eagles, means feeding opportunities, including coots and ducks.

It’s an opportunity, too, for humans to watch.

“We’ll sit there all day sometimes and wait or watch them, if they’re there in the morning,” Reynolds said, “or sometimes wait there hoping they’ll show up.”

“There are definitely more people looking for them, because people actually come into the Visitor Center asking where can they see the bald eagles,” said Bacci, who volunteers at the center. “They are definitely becoming a tourist attraction.”

Follow them at facebook.com/JennerBaldEagles.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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