SHAWNEE, Kan. — It has been 30 years since the first bald eagle nest was spotted in Kansas.
“Quite honestly, 30 years later, I'm still somewhat in shock,” said Michael Watkins, one of the wildlife biologists who was there when that first eagle nest was discovered.
Watkins was working with the Army Corps of Engineers at the time. The eagle nest was found near Clinton Lake, so Watkins and the Corps, along with many others, helped develop a plan to make sure the eagles would succeed.
“So as a wildlife biologist, I got involved and we developed a management plan to make sure they would have a best opportunity to be successful,” Watkins said.
Their efforts paid off.
In 1989 they found one bald eagle nest. Now, there are 137 known nest sites.
“It has been just phenomenal, it's something that is hard to even put into words,” Watkins said.
Watkins is still intricately involved with the bald eagles' growth in Kansas.
He has become one of the most respected eagle biologists in the state.
But every success story has unfortunate twists and turns.
The man who has spent his careers helping eagles make a comeback is in trouble himself.
“I think every body who is diagnosed with cancer, it's something that you think about all the time,” Watkins said.
Watkins has prostate cancer.
He’s had surgery and radiation treatments.
But cancer isn’t keeping Watkins from his passion of helping the bald eagle.
Being an eagle biologist has given Watkins a unique perspective on life.
Seeing an endangered species come back from the brink of extinction has given him hope and determination about his own life.
“I plan to be here tracking eagles for the next 10 years,” Watkins said.
Less than two weeks after radiation treatment, Watkins was back out helping eagles. He and a team from the Corp of Engineers were banding baby eaglets born earlier this year and monitoring their progress.