Lake of the Sunset Glow

Harley the motorcycle riding bald eagle spends part of his summers on Lake Vermilion

Courtesy Duluth News Tribune, Author John Myers

Harley the motorcycle-riding bald eagle has flown north to the western bays of Lake Vermilion after spending part of his summer along the St. Louis River and in the Sax-Zim bog area.

Harley — sans motorcycle — had spent much of the spring along the South Fork of the Nemadji River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. That was only about

30 miles from where Harley was found floundering along a Douglas County road last August.

In June, Harley moved north along the St. Louis River and then moved even farther north to Lake Vermilion in mid-July. He has spent most of August in a relatively small area in the western reaches, or the Cook end, of the lake.

“Both his evening roost sites and daily wanderings are limited to a fairly small area of the lake,” said Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for the University of Minnesota Raptor Center in St. Paul, in a blog on Harley’s location. “This western edge does not have as many historic eagle nests as parts of the lake further east.”

Martell speculated that Harley might be avoiding confrontations with territorial nesting eagles that are keeping him away from other areas of the lake.

Scientists can track Harley daily because he is wearing a tiny GPS transmitter.

Harley was found Aug. 3, 2009, along Douglas County Highway T near Wascott by Harley-Davidson motorcyclist Brian Baladez of Cloquet. The bird appeared injured, disoriented and was unable to fly.

Baladez captured the bird in his leather jacket and used a bungee cord to secure it to the saddle bags of his motorcycle and drove it 50 miles to Duluth. Harley eventually was taken to the Raptor Center, where he was treated for lead poisoning and malnutrition. Veterinarians later had to do surgery on the wing from an old break that hadn’t healed properly.

Harley was nursed back to health, fitted with a GPS transmitter and set free —with Baladez called in to handle the release — in late January at a bald eagle wintering area along the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities.

Harley hung out along the Mississippi much of the winter, and then headed north, moving from central Minnesota into western Wisconsin. He was in Douglas County or Carlton County along the Nemadji in April and May and in fact spent a couple of days within a mile or two of where he was found last summer.

The Raptor Center handles more than 800 birds of prey each year. Of the roughly 100 ailing eagles that come into the center each year, more than one-third die because of lead poisoning.

Harley’s travels can be followed at

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