CLINTON — Cold temperatures and snow flurries didn’t keep eagle-watching enthusiasts indoors Saturday, as the 30th annual Bald Eagle Watch unfolded as planned at Lock and Dam 13 in Fulton, Ill., and Clinton Community College in Clinton.
Although attendance numbers didn’t reach as high as normal for the annual eagle appreciation day, several local residents and non-residents braved the weather for a chance to glimpse the majestic bird of prey.
The Koley family traveled from Aurora, Ill., for the event, and for them, the afternoon didn’t disappoint.
“We came last year and the kids had so much fun we decided to come again,” Diana Koley said.
As her daughter Juliann looked through a telescope in search of a group of roosting eagles in the trees at Lock and Dam 13, US Fish and Wildlife Services biological science technician Eric Tomasovic explained why the eagles chose the location, and what keeps them around in the cold weather.
“They come here to eat,” said Tomasovic to a group of children on the looking post of Lock and Dam 13.
The group had plenty to see Saturday at Iowa’s longest-standing eagle watching event, when they shuttled back to CCC for the live eagle program put on by the National Eagle Center from Wabasha, Minn.
National Eagle Center naturalist and volunteer coordinator Katie Rymer welcomed the group with an excited and crowd-driven presentation that featured 7-year-old bald eagle Was’aka.
Rymer explained that Was’aka was one of five eagles that call the National Eagle Center home because of permanent injuries that prevent him and the others from surviving in the wild.
Despite the blindness in his left eye, Was’aka impressed the crowd at CCC with his massive wingspan and strong beak as he chomped down on feeder mice during the program.
Kids and adults also had an opportunity to test their wingspan and strength at the interactive event, as well as speak with local environmental officials with the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Services and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
US Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Ben DeRoo helped organize Saturday’s event, and said although the weather conditions were not favorable for people in attendance, it made for good eagle watching.
“The last few years the weather has been pretty nice for the eagle watch,” DeRoo said. “But, it’s sort of a catch 22; we like it to be nice for the people, but the cold weather helps with the eagle population.”
In the days leading up to the watch, nearly 1,100 bald eagles were recorded at Lock and Dam 13 and though many had left by Saturday, there were approximately 300 left still to view.
Although the snow made it difficulty to see the remaining eagles on hand, Rymer and DeRoo said if the event took place any other time of year, it would be nearly impossible to see any of them.
“Winter eagle viewing is amazing ,” Rymer said. “In the spring, when there’s leaves on the trees it becomes difficult to see them so this is really the ideal time to have a chance to see a bald eagle.”
Photos of the event can be viewed here