As thousands of cars zip by on Highway 240 between Kennewick and Richland, two bald eagles have been going about the business of building a huge nest.
The nest is just east of the busy highway in a stand of cottonwood trees in the Yakima River delta, north of the osprey platform.
Brett Tiller, the principal wildlife scientist for Environmental Assessment Services in Richland, is one of many people who have spotted the nest. He was driving near dusk recently when he saw an eagle flying around the tree.
He turned around in Richland to go back and looked again and saw the pair. One was standing on the nest and the other was on a nearby branch, he said.
An eagle standing on the nest probably indicates that there are no eggs, at least yet.
Eagles may build a couple of "dummy" nests as part of courtship behavior before they become serious about laying eggs, he said.
But because eagles typically lay eggs in this region from mid-March to mid-April, the timing is promising for it to become an active nest, Tiller said.
"I think they are pretty serious," he said.
The Mid-Columbia's bald eagle population has rebounded from near extinction after hunting and pesticide poisoning in the mid-20th century. A record 60 eagles were spotted during bird surveys on the Columbia River along Hanford in December.
Bald eagles were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in 2007, but they remain protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and disturbing them can be considered a violation of the act.
They primarily use the Mid-Columbia as a wintering area from mid-November to mid-March, eating fish and waterfowl.
But raising their young here remains fairly uncommon.
For the first time in more than 50 years, a pair of bald eagles hatched in a nest at Hanford along the Columbia River last year.
An additional pair has been nesting near Yakima on the Yakima River for about a decade and another pair has nested farther upstream along the Columbia River, also for about a decade, Tiller said.
Bald eagles usually don't tolerate much human activity. They may abandon their nests if they are disturbed or may leave their young temporarily unattended and vulnerable to prey, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
However, the pair on the Yakima River delta seem to have some tolerance for traffic, although one did appear to flinch as a motorcycle went by, Tiller said.
The river delta is Army Corps of Engineers land, and Corps employees plan to view the birds and track the nest on its mapping system.
A buffer area around the nest would be established if any work is done nearby, but that is not anticipated.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews