Birds of prey education

Amy Kent/Clinton HeraldThe 31st annual Bald Eagle Watch will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Lock and Dam 13 in Fulton, Illinois, and Clinton Community College in Clinton.

CLINTON — It’s that time of year to once again view the majestic nature of the American Bald Eagle at the 31st Annual Clinton Bald Eagle Watch, but this year may not offer quite the viewing that guests experienced last year.

Because of unseasonably  warm temperatures in December, the Mississippi River has not had an opportunity to begin freezing over, which means a larger food source for the eagles, but a smaller window of congregation of them as well.

That isn’t anything new to Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In fact, she said, last year was a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the bald eagle watch.

“Last year was the best,” Steinhaus said. “In years past we’ve had viewings where you only see one, but last year there were hundreds. It makes it challenging when it’s warm because they congregate where the open water is when it’s cold, but now they don’t have to because there’s plenty of open water and other food sources besides the river.”

While the viewing from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Lock and Dam 13 may not offer the same results as last year, the programming scheduled at Clinton Community College is aimed to ensure that everyone has a good experience at the annual event.

Beginning around 9:30 a.m., CCC’s programming will start with the display and education about a live owl.

Because eagles are a bird of prey, the event sponsors (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CCC, National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Stewards of the Mississippi River) typically offer education on other birds of prey, including the owls, but they are not the only ones. Hawks and falcons also will be presented during the event.

One thing that is new this year, however, is a program from naturalist and humorist David Stokes.

“We have a different speaker coming in from Wisconsin,” Steinhaus said. “He’s new and he’s really good. He’ll get everybody involved in his program, which through songs and a variety of other things he’s going to be highlighting other critters that live with eagles.”

While Stokes said his presentation will appeal more toward children, he added there is plenty for adults to enjoy as well.

An area in particular he knows is usually a crowd favorite is the physical interaction with those critters he will have with him.

“It’s usually comical and people will get a chance to touch some of the animals I will bring with,” Stokes said. “I’ll have a snapping turtle, they can’t touch the snapping turtles, but I have a big snapping turtle shell they can touch. I have a box turtle; we’ll talk about the difference between the two turtles and they can touch the box turtle. I’ll have snakes there, they can touch the snakes, hold the snakes depending on the setting and how crazy it is, relative to number of people. It’s basically a humorous, fun, family oriented program.”

In addition to Stokes’ presentation, guests at the 31st Annual Bald Eagle Watch will have an opportunity to visit with naturalists at a variety of other educational exhibits as well as hear a presentation from Ed Britton, district manager of the USFWS, about the dangers of lead exposure in bald eagles.

Because parking is limited at Lock and Dam 13, Steinhaus and other USFWS officials encourage guests to utilize a bus shuttle that will travel between the viewing site and CCC, departing and arriving every hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Though the weather may not provide the viewing sensation that last year produced, Steinhaus is still confident the event will see plenty of success, just as it has for 31 years.

“I think every year we’ve always had a good day,” Steinhaus said. “The eagle viewing at the lock may not be as good but there’s still always people out. That’s the hard part about eagles, sometimes the weather can be the deciding factor. I just always tell people to watch the weather and then you can come back yourselves for another chance to see them.”

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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