Mild winter temperatures up north have delayed the metro-east’s annual eagle migration, as the birds haven’t had to fly south to find unfrozen rivers and lakes for fishing.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources employees Scott Isringhausen and Randy Holbrook have been disappointed on eagle tours starting at Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton.
“We went out on our first tour Dec. 18, and we followed our normal route, except some of the places we couldn’t go because the roads were underwater,” Randy said. “We were gone five or six hours, and we counted about 14 eagles, and most of them were kind of far away. It’s not been very good (for eagle-watching). It’s just not cold enough yet.”
The folks at Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau spent last week fielding more questions about flood-related road and business closures than eagles. But they remain optimistic.
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“We’re hoping with cooler temperatures coming in that eagles will be flocking to the region,” said PR Director Jong Cambron. “It’s complicated. We’re not used to dealing with floods in late December. It’s usually a spring thing.”
Roxane Krutsinger, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger based at National Great Rivers Museum in Alton, has seen only a handful of eagles around Melvin Price Locks and Dam. That normally is a good place for eagle-watching because the Mississippi River stays churned up, even when other water is frozen, allowing the birds to fish.
“We’re not expecting high numbers of eagles this year,” Roxane said, “because we’re not expecting cold weather until February.”
However, Roxane noted that a year-round eagle nest across Illinois 143 from the museum is still active, and a new one has been spotted on Piasa Island.
“It’s farther up (the Great River Road), near Lockhaven Road,” she said. “You can’t really see the nest, but you can see the eagles.”
American bald eagles normally 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 temperatures up north, the more eagles in the metro-east.
Last winter was considered one of the best for eagle-watching in recent memory because of early frigid weather. This winter has seen higher temperatures and record rainfalls.
“Sometimes, (flooding) actually helps because when the water recedes and fish get trapped in place and they can’t get out, they become food for eagles,” Randy said.
If and when eagles decide to show up, metro-east residents will be ready. Below is a list of activities in the region. While making plans, it’s a good idea to call agencies or consult websites or Facebook pages to find out about flood-related cancellations or road closures.
Pere Marquette State Park
Isringhausen and Holbrook will lead Eagle Days tours Jan. 15, 19, 22, 25, 27, 28, 29 and 30 and Feb. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 18, 19, 25, 26 and March 4.
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 park van, and the rest follow in vehicles. There is no charge, but reservations are required. For more information, call 618-786-3323 or visit www.dnr.illinois.gov/parks/pages/peremarquette.
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. on Saturdays in January at 200 Piasa St. A World Bird Sanctuary representative will display a live eagle.
For the second 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. A guide will offer eagle-watching tips. The cost is $5.
"We’ll take you to three or four spots along the riverfront, including Maple Island, Heron Pond and Ellis Island,” Jong said. “We’ll let people out, and we’ll have spotting scopes available for them to look through.”
Also back this year is the bureau’s Ultimate Eagle Watchers promotion. People who go to five of 10 eagle hot spots and have cards initialed will get free T-shirts.
The bureau compiles statistics on eagle sightings from throughout the region and posts them at www.visitalton.com/eaglecount. A mobile app also is available.
“People can place pins on the map to show where they have seen eagles and that helps other people find them,” Jong said.
Free eagle-watching guides also can be picked up at the visitors center. For more information, call 618-465-6676 or 800-258-6645 or visit www.visitalton.com.
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
One of the largest metro-east eagle events is Eagle Days at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge Festival in Madison. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 16-17.
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.
Visitors can look through viewing scopes with help from trained volunteers and take photos with a giant eagle nest. World Bird Sanctuary representatives will give live eagle presentations every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
Other activities include a hands-on exhibit of local birds by St. Louis Audubon, children’s art in a warming tent and demonstrations by Lewis and Clark re-enactors at both ends of the bridge.
People are encouraged to bundle up, wear comfortable shoes and bring binoculars. Food and drink will be available for purchase. No pets.
Parking on the Missouri side of the bridge costs $5. Parking is free on the Illinois side or at the St. Louis Welcome Center and North Riverfront Park, where shuttles will run continuously.
The festival is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Great Rivers Greenway. For more information, call 314-877-1309 or visit www.greatriversgreenway.org/eagledays/.
TreeHouse Wildlife Center
TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow invites 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. For more information, call 618-466-2990 or visit http://www.treehousewildlifecenter.com/.
Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower
Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford will host free Eagles Over the Confluence programs on Saturdays in January and February.
These include Itchy Brothers Wood Chainsaw Art from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, a Dave Merritt Photo Workshop from 1 to 2 p.m. Jan. 16 and 30, Chip Off the Block Ice Carving from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 23 and a Birds of Prey display from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 6.
Visitors also can rent binoculars and view eagles from the tower's 50-, 100- and 150-foot-high 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.
The tower is at 435 Confluence Tower Drive. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children 3-12 (free for 2 and under) and $3 for senior citizens and active military and veterans. For more information, call 618-251-9101 or visit http://www.confluencetower.com/.
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. 13-14 at 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 250 people for each. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and 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 or visit www.mvs.usace.army.mil/missions/recreation/riversprojectoffice/ngrm.
“Besides eagles, we have a lot of trumpeter swans in the area,” Roxane said. “They’re pretty reliable (even with warmer weather).”
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 the National Audubon Society.
The center has been closed recently due to flooding, but it normally 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," Operations Manager Debra McStay said last year.
The center originally scheduled Raptor Saturdays with live owls, hawks and falcons from TreeHouse Wildlife Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Eagle Sundays with live eagles from World Bird Sanctuary from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays in January and early February. However, programs have been canceled through at least Jan. 16 due to flooding.
For more information, call 636-899-0090 or visit www.riverlands.audubon.org. For closure updates, contact the Alton visitors bureau.
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
The Missouri Department of Conservation will host Eagle Days/Winter Wonders from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 16-17 at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. Spotting scopes will be set up to look over the Mississippi and Missouri confluence.
So far this year, the only eagles that Naturalist Pat Behle has seen are year-round residents, but she’s hopeful.
“They’ve had some cold weather up north, and they’ve had some snow, so we might be getting some larger numbers down here,” she said.
Columbia Bottom also will host a Frosty Photos program for photographers interesting in shooting wildlife, including eagles and other birds. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 30. Reservations are required at 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.
“They will have an indoor session to go over some beginner tips and tricks of photography,” Behle said. “And then they will venture out in the area to find some winter muses.”
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 or visit www.mdc.mo.gov/regions/st-louis/columbia-bottom-conservation-area.
Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge
Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Brussels had to cancel its Eagle Watching with a Ranger program last Saturday due to flooding, but the visitors center is back open for business.
Weather permitting, remaining programs will take place at 9 a.m. on Jan. 16, Feb. 6 and 20 and March 5 and 19. Registration is requested at 618-883-2524. Camera and binoculars are encouraged.
“A ranger will take people out on a driving tour to eagle-watch at hot spots around the refuge,” said Katie Dreas, visitor services intern. “A personal vehicle is required.”
The public also is invited to an Eagle Watching Open House from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 13 at the visitor center. Activities will include eagle information and trivia, kids crafts, a ranger-led tour around Gilbert Lake at 11 a.m. and self-guided driving tours along the normally closed levee road along Swan Lake and the Illinois River.
“Local photographers are invited to submit their original eagle photos,” Katie said. “It’s free. It’s not a contest or anything. The photos will just be displayed during our open house for visitors to see.”
People also can look for eagles on their own in the refuge. Visitor center hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays every week and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on the first two weekends of each month.
Two Rivers borders the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in Calhoun, Jersey and Greene counties in Illinois and St. Charles county in Missouri. Visitors should check on ferry access during floods. For more information, call 618-883-2524 or visit www.fws.gov/midwest/tworivers.