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An adult bald eagle soars above the lock and dam at Quincy on the Mississippi River. Photos by Chris Young

Some tips for eagle watchers

January 30, 2014 at 09:30 AM

The State Journal-Register

Cold weather is the eagle watcher’s friend.

When rivers, streams, lakes and ponds freeze over, the eagle tend to congregate in those places where water remains open.

Locks and dams, power plant “hot ditches” and other protected sites are sure to attract eagles.

Fortunately for eagle watchers, many locks and dams are at least somewhat accessible to people.

In addition to catching fish, eagles often follow migrating waterfowl, looking for injured birds.

This winter, bald eagles have been seen regularly at Lake Springfield.

At Starved Rock State Park, viewing is best from the top of the park’s namesake. The elevated position provides sweeping views of the river, the lock and dam and Plum and Leopold Islands where eagles often spend the day. The Illinois Waterway Visitor Center across the river provides good views from inside or on an outside balcony.

At Quincy, a public parking lot adjacent to the lock and dam provides great viewing opportunities. A second public access area a few hundred yards to the south also provides a chance to see eagles perched in the trees where they launch frequent fish-catching missions.

The Mississippi River seems to be the “hot” spot this eagle-watching season, but good numbers also were seen at Starved Rock last weekend.

Other sites along the Mississippi, including the Quad Cities, are reporting high numbers of eagles. Within a couple of hours drive of Springfield, Havana, Starved Rock, Alton and Quincy are good bets.

One important tip: stay in or near your car.

At the Quincy lock and dam parking lot, getting out won’t bother the eagles as the actual lock is between you and the birds.
At the south parking lot, I noticed that when people got out, the eagles moved farther away.

By staying in the vehicle in the south lot Wednesday, I was rewarded with several chances to see eagles fishing. If you get out, the eagles won’t leave, but will push out to a comfort zone that I have found is just beyond the range of most telephoto lenses.

Also, remember that it is very cold and eagles that are forced to fly are burning energy.

Do your best to enjoy them without bothering them.

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