The eagles have landed: Where to see the majestic birds

News-DemocratJanuary 8, 2014 

It was a eureka moment for Scott Isringhausen and the 40 people on his eagle-watching tour last Friday.

They had seen only a few birds in their usual spots along the Illinois River, so the group trudged on to the Winfield Ferry, which crosses the Mississippi from Calhoun County.

"We saw over 100 eagles," Isringhausen said. "No exaggeration. In fact, I'm being conservative. It was fabulous.

"Because of the weather, they're congregating in one place (where the water isn't frozen). It's just breathtaking how many you see. We saw 20 in one tree."

Isringhausen recently became urban fishing coordinator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources after years as site interpreter at Pere Marquette State Park.

He's still going to lead his popular eagle tours, but only on weekdays this year.

The Winfield Ferry is a good eagle-watching spot because it's just below Winfield Lock and Dam No. 25, where the birds can fish in unfrozen, churned-up water.

"The fish come through the lock and dam, and some them are stunned or killed," Isringhausen said. "That's a lot of food for eagles."

American bald eagles start their migration south from Canada and the Great Lakes in November and December, when waterways freeze and impede fishing. They stay a few months in Madison, Jersey and Calhoun counties.

The colder the temperatures up north, the more eagles in the metro-east. This year, Isringhausen is particularly excited.

"I really think when it's all said and done, this will be one of the best eagle seasons in the area," he said.

Winfield is the only ferry operating right now. The Brussels, Kampsville and Golden Eagle ferries are closed.

Another spot where water gets churned up is Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton, which is connected to National Great Rivers Museum.

"We went out with a spotting scope (on Dec. 27), and we spotted about 30 eagles in the treeline on Maple Island and Ellis Island," said Rebecca Fink, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger who works at the museum.

"Some were adult, and some were juvenile. We definitely have more eagles than we did last year at this time."

OLD CHAIN OF ROCKS BRIDGE

After a one-year hiatus, Eagle Days are back on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in Madison on Jan. 18-19, albeit with fewer activities than in its heyday.

Visitors can look through viewing scopes, take photos with a giant eagle nest and see live eagle presentations every 20 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bundle up and bring binoculars.

The 1-mile-long pedestrian bridge is a good eagle-watching platform because of its proximity to a chain of rocks across the Mississippi that churns up water.

Eagle Days is sponsored by The Missouri Department of Conservation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Trailnet. They canceled the 18th annual festival last year because of money problems.

PERE MARQUETTE STATE PARK

Scott Isringhausen will lead Pere Marquette State Park Eagle Days tours Wednesday and Jan. 17, 24, 29 and 31 and Feb. 3, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 21 and 26 and March 7.

Groups meet at the park visitor's center at 8:30 a.m. They watch a short video, load into cars, cross the Illinois River on the Brussels Ferry, take an observational drive with stops in Two Rivers Wildlife Refuge, eat lunch in Hardin and return at 3 or 3:30 p.m.

Tours are limited to 50 people. Thirteen can ride in a van with Isringhausen, and the rest follow in vehicles. There is no charge, but reservations are required. For more information, call 618-786-3323.

Last spring's flooding along the Illinois River knocked out camera equipment used to broadcast live eagle-nest footage to the Pere Marquette visitors center.

The nest is in Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. Officials doubt they can get the equipment up and running this winter.

"It's such a remote location," said Pam Warford, assistant superintendent. "Some of the (eagle nests seen) on the Internet are a little bit easier to access."

ALTON REGIONAL CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU

Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau will host Eagle Meet and Greets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Jan. 18 and 25 at 200 Piasa St. A World Bird Sanctuary representative will display a live eagle.

New this year, the bureau will offer Eagle Sample Tours on 22-passenger shuttle buses at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. on the same Saturdays. The cost is $5.

"It's a narrated, guided tour," said President Brett Stawar. "We'll take them to eagle hot spots in the immediate Alton area. It depends on where the eagles are, but we'll definitely go to Maple Island, Heron Pond and Ellis Island."

The bureau compiles statistics on eagle sightings from throughout the region and posts them at visitalton.com/eaglecount.

A new promotion this year is called Ultimate Eagle Watchers. People who go to five of six eagle hot spots and get cards initialed will get free T-shirts.

Free eagle-watching guides and an updated Audubon Bird Watching mobile app also are available. For more information, call 618-465-6676 or 800-258-6645.

TREEHOUSE WILDLIFE CENTER

TreeHouse Wildlife Center is inviting the public to view live eagles from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in January and February. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

The non-profit center rescues and rehabilitates orphaned and injured wildlife throughout Southern Illinois. It's at 23956 Green Acres Road in Dow. For more information, call 618-466-2990.

LEWIS AND CLARK CONFLUENCE TOWER

Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford will host Eagles Over the Confluence programs on Saturdays in January and February.

These include Itchy Brothers Wood Chainsaw Art (eagle wood carving) from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Eagle Photo Workshop from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 18 and Feb. 22, Birds of Prey Display from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 25, Native American Eagle Tribute from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 1, Chip Off the Block Ice Carving (eagle ice carving) from 1 to 2 p.m. Feb. 8 and Live Eagle Display from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 15. Programs are free.

Visitors also can rent binoculars and view eagles from the tower's viewing platforms during regular business hours, which are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tower tours cost $4 for adults, $2 for children 3-12 and free for kids 2 and younger. For more information, call 618-251-9101.

NATIONAL GREAT RIVERS MUSEUM

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will present its annual Masters of the Sky program three times a day Feb. 15-17 at the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton. It includes demonstrations with live eagles and other birds of prey from the World Bird Sanctuary.

Sessions begin at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. with a limit of 200 people for each. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children (free for 3 and younger).

Free ranger-led tours of Melvin Price Locks and Dam will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on those days and at 10 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. other days. For more information, call 618-462-6979.

THE AUDUBON CENTER AT RIVERLANDS

The Audubon Center at Riverlands at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Mo., is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Audubon Society.

The center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily with free admission. Visitors can use spotting scopes to view eagles, trumpeter swans and other waterfowl and see bird exhibits.

"We have a two-story (indoor) viewing area that gives you a 140-degree vista of Ellis Bay, which comes off the Mississippi," said Operations Manager Debra McStay.

The center's Birds of Winter at Riverlands program will include Raptor Saturdays with live owls, hawks or falcons from TreeHouse Wildlife Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Jan. 18 and 25 and Feb. 1 and 8; and Eagle Watch Sundays with live eagles from World Bird Sanctuary from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 19 and 26 and Feb. 2 and 9.

Or visitors can venture out to a bird blind on the water's edge for a closer look. For more information, call 636-899-0090.

COLUMBIA BOTTOM CONSERVATION AREA

The Missouri Department of Conservation will host Eagle Days at Columbia Bottom Jan. 18-19 at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Free activities will begin at 6:45 a.m. Jan. 18 with a Golden Hour Eagle Watch led by volunteer naturalists Pat Behle and Patrice Wilson. Meet at the entrance gate.

"Photographers call this time of day the 'golden hour,'" Behle said. "We're going to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi, and we hope to see some eagles."

That will be followed by a beginner photography course, "Snapshots to Photographs: Nature Photography Tips," from 10 to 11 a.m. Jan. 18. Reservations are required. Call 314-877-6014 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

An outdoor program, "Eyes on Raptors," will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 18-19. Scopes will be set up at the Confluence Platform, near parking lot N. An indoor program, "Regal Eagles," is from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 19. It covers eagle history, behavior and the best spots for eagle viewing.

Columbia Bottom is 3 miles north of the Interstate 270 Riverview exit on Columbia Bottom Road. The area is open daily from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset for individual eagle watching. For more information, call 314-877-6014.

TWO RIVERS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

The public is invited to a Lunch-n-Learn program at noon Feb. 21 at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Fieldon. Bring a sack lunch, sit down with staff and learn about eagles, then take a short hike to view them over Swan Lake.

Two Rivers borders the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in Calhoun, Jersey and Greene counties in Illinois and St. Charles county in Missouri. For more information, call 618-883-2524 or visit fws.gov/midwest/TwoRivers.

REAL AMERICAN EXPERIENCES

Real American Experiences is a private St. Louis company that will offer an eagle-watching day trip Jan. 26 with stops in Missouri and Illinois and a chicken or roast beef lunch at Pere Marquette State Park Lodge.

A bus departs from 4666 Lansdowne in South St. Louis at 8:15 a.m. and returns at 5:15 p.m. Times are 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for North St. Louis County pickup and drop-off.

The non-refundable fare is $69. For more information, call 314-631-3131 or visit aar-therailroaders.org.

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