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Bald eagles arriving in Alton area

January 02, 2012 at 05:51 PM

The Associated Press

ALTON, Ill. (AP) — January and February is an exciting time around the River Bend as hundreds of eagles soar into town to winter at the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, where the fishing is good.

Joining pelicans, trumpeter swans and other migrants, the eagles bring with them visitors from miles around and draw out bird watchers by the dozens, all who are willing to venture out into the cold to catch a glimpse of our national symbol in its natural habitat.

The majestic bluffs, surrounding woodlands and the wetlands along the Mississippi River valley offer the American bald eagle an ideal environment, making the local region the second-largest wintering eagle spot in the country, second only to Washington state.

“People come from all over just to see the eagles,” said Brett Stawar, president at the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The last decade or so has shown an increase in eagles in the area, as the bird that was once close to extinction continues to make a comeback. Bird watching and feeding has become one of the top hobbies in the United States. It’s relatively inexpensive to get started with a book and a pair of binoculars providing the basic tools. It’s also a “sport” that can be adapted for all fitness levels, from those who like to walk and climb to find top birding spots to those who are less mobile and view the birds from their car.

With the help of the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau’s 2012 Eagle Watcher’s Guide, visitors can plan their own eagle-watching adventure and take part in numerous eagle-watching events and tours adapted to their own preferences.

“We continue to celebrate the eagles every year,” Stawar said. “There is no other destination anywhere that offers such a comprehensive eagle experience. There’s a string of events all season.”

The eagle season usually peaks around Presidents Day, but Stawar said birds can be seen much longer depending on a number of factors. By the end of February, they start to go back home, though some who choose to nest in the area have been known to stay until June. He estimates there are about 25 pairs who are residents of the area - mated for life.

“There are several cities that have wonderful eagle festivals during peak seasons, but our program is unique in that it is continuous,” Stawar said. “We always have something ‘eagle-related’ going on.”

And every year, there’s something new for eagle watchers. This year, the new Audubon Center at Riverlands offers an expanded view of the river and up-close birding.

Located in West Alton at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the Audubon Center is a great place to interpret the habitat and see the birds that come to the area - like eagles and trumpeter swans, according to Dr. Patty Hagen, executive director at the center.

“It’s a comfortable place to start your birding adventure,” Hagen said. “You can get the story behind the birds and then go out and see them if you want, or use scopes at the center and look at them in the trees through the large windows.

“It’s such a wonderful place; it feels like you’ve been ‘poured’ into the river landscape,” she said.

The Audubon Center is part of the National Audubon Society who partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build and operate the center.

“The Audubon Society wanted to establish a center in the St. Louis area, and the Mississippi Flyway is one of the most significant in the world,” Hagen said. “It’s great to be partnering with the Corps in St. Louis, where we are able to leverage resources and expertise to create this great place to learn about birds.”

The Audubon Society is a conservation organization that uses birds as an indicator of the health of the habitat. To kick off the season, the site will host the Alton Eagle Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7 with eagle-watching activities for all ages taking place at the center. Visitors receive “bird bands,” to be recognized as an official Alton Eagle Watcher and an eagle watcher card. Those who take in five Eagle Watching Hot Spots listed on the card throughout the season will have a chance to win a new Kindle Fire.

In conjunction with the festival, an Eagle and Wildlife Art Walk with ice sculptures and artists displaying their work will take place at various locations in Downtown Alton.

The Audubon Center will also host a series of additional Saturday events in January and February as part of the Audubon Eagle Watch, including eagle meet and greets, trail walks and educational programs. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. For more information, visit

Eagle Meet and Greets will also take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday in January at the Alton Visitors Center at 200 Piasa St. in Alton. Eagle demonstrations by the World Bird Sanctuary will feature a live bald eagle up close and personal.

The National Great Rivers Museum at 2 Lock and Dam Way in East Alton will also feature Eagle Meet and Greet Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on Jan. 22 and 29, and Feb. 5 and 12. Also at the National Great Rivers Museum will be “Masters of the Sky” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Presidents Day weekend - Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Feb. 18, 19 and 20 will offer a demonstration of eagles, falcons, owls and other birds of prey.

Beginning Jan. 3, Pere Marquette State Park will hold informative bald eagle programs on various days throughout January, presented by site interpreter Scott Isringhausen. All programs will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the park’s visitor center. Reservations are required. Pere Marquette will also hold the Bald Eagle Winter Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8. The World Bird Sanctuary will showcase eagles with a Masters of the Sky show. In addition, the festival will provide live entertainment and craft vendors for the whole family.

From Jan. 7 to Feb. 26, the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford offers a soaring view of the rivers’ confluence and the Mississippi Flyway. The tower will feature various eagle activities on weekends from January through mid-February.

On Saturdays in January and February, the TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating and releasing injured birds and wildlife, will feature live viewing of bald eagles being rehabilitated at the center.

Bluff City Tours offers a number of eagle outings, traveling around the area, with breathtaking observations of the bald eagle. Tours range from 75-minute samples to daylong explorations of eagle country. Reservations are required. For more information on specific days and times, call (618) 466-8693 or go visit

To help eagle watchers on their quest for the perfect sighting, the new Alton Eagle Watching Application will lead them to Eagle Watching Hot Spots, provide information on upcoming events and festivals, and allow visitors to share their eagle photos. The new app is downloadable for free, and is available for both Android and iPhones.

“It’s a great tool for eagle watchers,” Stawar said.

Visitors can also take part in eagle caching at the Eagle Watching Hot Spots. Like geocaching, each cache has a set of coordinates that are plugged into a GPS navigator and used by the explorer to search for the treasure. All the information needed, including the clues, coordinates and GPS rentals, can be found at, or at the Alton Visitor’s Center.

A new Foursquare Eagle Watching Check List contest will encourage visitors to “check in” at the various Eagle Watching Hot Spots. Visitors that complete the full list of check-ins will be eligible for a prize, which will be awarded at the Masters of the Sky event on President’s Day weekend at the National Great Rivers Museum. More information on the Foursquare contest can be found at

Stawar said this year also offers visitors a chance to “give back” during the eagle watching season. A number of service projects will be taking place on Monday, Jan. 16, the National Day of Service. Participants can sign up to participate in projects at The Nature Institute, The TreeHouse Wildlife Center, Audubon Center at Riverlands and with the Sierra Club at Clifton Terrace Park. All of the projects will create a better eagle-watching experience at each location. In conjunction with the weekend, area hotels will also be donating 10 percent of their room rate to the TreeHouse Wildlife Center.


Information from: The Telegraph,

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