Mike Allen was a wildlife technician with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for more than 30 years before he retired a few years ago. Mike’s career with DEC is unique in that he spent the entire time – since the very first day he started there – working to implement the state’s bald eagle recovery program and then monitoring its eventual success. His coworkers nicknamed him Eagleman – a moniker that stuck. Even his personal license plate says Eagleman. The sad news is that Mike Allen passed away last weekend at age 65 after a long illness.
Readers may remember the story of Dansville’s Tom Rauber, Sr., the Rochester Telephone Company employee and amateur naturalist who discovered the last known pair of nesting bald eagles in New York State near the south end of Hemlock Lake in 1965. (I have written about him on several occasions.) Because eagles are protected by federal law, Tom reported his find to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at the time. The agency asked if he would monitor the nest and document his findings and he agreed.
In 1974, as the result of Tom’s observations and research, DEC contacted him with its plans to initiate a bald eagle recovery program and asked if Tom would help set it up. He agreed once again and in 1976—the year of the U.S. Bicentennial—New York became the first state in the nation to implement a comprehensive bald eagle recovery program under the voluntary guidance of amateur naturalist Tom Rauber. And fresh out of Finger Lakes Community College’s Environmental Conservation Studies program, DEC’s newest hire—Mike Allen—was assigned to work with Tom.
One of Tom’s first assignments was to show Mike the ropes and he did exactly that by teaching him how to climb with lineman’s gear. The two men built an elevated blind from which they observed and photographed the two birds in their nest. Mike, who had been with the Endangered Species Unit for 34 years, told me during an interview for the Life in the Finger Lakes magazine article that is linked below, “I have been truly blessed to work with bald eagles for all those years. Even now, when I see one in flight, I get just as excited as I did back then.”
Mike dedicated his entire DEC career to bald eagle restoration. In the early years, he’d fly to Alaska to obtain newly-hatched foster chicks that would be reared by New York bald eagle parents whose own eggs broke during incubation because DDT poisoning weakened their eggshells. In later years, he monitored the progress of that restoration program and watched the bald eagle population increase from only two eagles to over 600 birds. After his retirement, Mike served as an advisor to the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium in its quest to develop an exhibit that will tell the amazing bald eagle recovery story.
Today, there are 323 known pairs of nesting bald eagles in New York State. And the Eagleman is now soaring right along with them. You can read more about Mike Allen and the remarkable bald eagle restoration story here: https://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/brink-extinction/, keeping in mind that it is now 10 years old.