GRETNA, Va. (WDBJ7) They lined up with anticipation, cameras in hand.
A handful gathered at the Leesville Lake Campground in Pittsylvania County Wednesday to watch as Ed Clark revealed a rare sight.
"You guys ready to rock and roll here?" Clark asked the assembled crowd as he pulled a bald eagle from a large cage.
Clark is president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, where a male eagle, estimated to be around five years old, has been undergoing treatment.
"One of the things that was important for us was to have the opportunity to share the joy of returning an eagle to the wild," Clark said of Wednesday's event.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia scheduled a public release of the eagle to celebrate the bird's journey back to health. Raymond Jones, a Pittsylvania County farmer, discovered the eagle on his land near Dry Fork in early November.
"When I first saw it from a long distance off, I thought it was a calf laying there," explained Jones, who said the bird was unresponsive.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," Jones said of the discovery.
The eagle was suffering from lead poisoning.
"With bald eagles, lead poisoning is an increasingly serious problem," explained Clark, who said there was a time when eagles could not be found in our region. They lived near the coast and ate fish.
Now that they've migrated to our part of Virginia, Clark says the birds have started foraging things left in fields by hunters - animals that sometimes contain lead bullets.
"It damages nerves," said Clark. "It damages internal organs and it really is the kiss of death for these birds."
The eagle rehabilitated by the Wildlife Center of Virginia was able to survive and return to the wild.
Jones was there to watch.
"Thrills my heart to see this bird survive," Jones said after watching the eagle fly away. "I'm glad he's back free again."
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