CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A reunion between two lovebirds was spotted in the New River Gorge area Wednesday morning, giving relief to wildlife experts who feared one had been killed by a train.
As the sun rose Wednesday morning, representatives of the Three Rivers Avian Center were pleased to see Whitey, a male bald eagle who has nested in the area for at least four years, perched in his nest with his mate.
An Amtrak passenger train hit Whitey last Sunday, said Wendy Perrone, avian center executive director.
Parks service personnel walked the train tracks looking for the rare bird, but were unsuccessful, she said. She and others presumed Whitey had been killed.
However, Perrone and her husband, Ron, were watching the nest early Wednesday morning in hopes Whitey would show up.
Ron and Wendy spotted the male bird on the nest shortly after dawn. Whitey and his mate, Streaky, actually worked together to chase off a juvenile bald eagle that flew too close to their nest, she said.
"It was just a beautiful display," she said. "Everyone is just so happy."
Perrone was unsure where the bird had been since the St. Patrick's Day incident.
"We think the train just knocked him out," she said.
Not only did the Perrones see two eagles in the nest, they also saw a pair of eggs as well. The eggs appear to be very close to hatching, she said.
"They'll probably hatch in a couple of days," Perrone said.
Bald eagles mate for life, but Streaky would have eventually chosen another mate if Whitey hadn't returned, Perrone said.
Male and female eagles share duties when it comes to incubating the eggs. Had Whitey died, the eggs likely would have perished as well because it would have been very difficult for Streaky to protect the eggs and hunt, Perrone said.
The avian center actually took meat to a spot near the nesting tree to feed Streaky.
"We didn't put it right under the nesting tree, but we got it close," Perrone said.
But her worries are now over with the return of the male bird.
News of Whitey's possible demise spread quickly and locals were very upset. Some even took time off work when they heard about the incident, she said.
"They took time off like a relative had died," she said.
The train conductor was also distraught and gave his phone number to the avian center so they could contact him with questions about the incident.
The nest is just off W.Va. 20 in Summers County between the communities of Brooks and Sandstone. Onlookers can see the nest with a good pair of binoculars from the Brooks Overlook, Perrone said.
The pair has been nesting in the spot for four years. Whitey was named because for the full head of white feathers he had when he arrived at the nesting spot, Perrone said.
Streaky was 4 when the two became mates, she said.
"He took a young bride," she said.
Perrone is unsure exactly how old Whitey is because he was a mature male when observers noticed him at the nest.
A total of 25 birds were counted in the New River Gorge in January, Perrone said. Only 10 were located in March during another count, she said.
"But they're on their nests in March," Perrone said.