Outdoor Notes: It’s bald eagle time along open rivers

Bald eagle viewing events are scheduled in Illinois and Wisconsin in January and early February.

The bald eagle is native to Illinois, says the state DNR. Remains have been recovered from 800-year-old burial sites in Cahokia. It’s the only fishing eagle that inhabits North America.

The bald eagle wingspan is approximately 6 feet, and the eagles don’t attain adult plumage, including the distinctive pure white head and tail, until age 4-5 years.

Its feeding habits factor into predicting sites where the bald eagle can be observed in Illinois. During months of cold temperatures, the eagle can often be spotted feeding beneath locks and dams, especially as rivers begin freezing. The birds are most active in the early morning or late afternoon.

Almost any of the state’s big rivers—Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois—afford eagle watching as does the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin. Occasionally, bald eagles are seen along the Rock River in Illinois. Below Mississippi Lock and Dam 13 between Fulton and Clinton, Iowa, generally is a good spot for seeing eagles.

The economic impact of bird watching, including bald eagles, is significant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that in Illinois, 638,000 residents traveled to watch wildlife in the most recent year studied, 2001. The agency estimated those watching wildlife in Illinois spent $5,960,000 that year alone.

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Starved Rock Eagle Events: Bald eagle viewing events at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County are planned for Jan. 12, 15, 17, 19, 26 and 29. Call (800) 868-7625 to make reservations.

Starved Rock will have its annual Winter Wilderness Weekend Jan. 15-16 and its Eagle Watch weekend Jan. 22-23.

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Bald Eagle Trip: Boone County Conservation District is organizing a bald eagle tour Jan. 22 to Starved Rock State Park along the Illinois River. Participants can ride in a district bus for $10 ($12 for out-of-county residents) or drive their own vehicles in a caravan to the park. The caravan leaves Belvidere at 7:30 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. Registration is required by Jan. 14. Info: (815) 547-7935.

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Eagle Bus Trips: Eagle Nature Foundation will offer four-hour bus tours to view bald eagles along the Mississippi River. Dates are Jan. 15, Feb. 12, Feb. 19, Feb. 26 and March 12. The Saturday trips leave at 8 a.m. from Stoney Creek Inn in Galena. Reservations are required; cost is $50 for adults and $40 for youths under 17. Call (815) 594-2306.

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Wisconsin River: Bald eagle viewing in Prairie du Sac and Sauk City, Wis., on the Wisconsin River, is set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 15-16. The strong current below the Prairie du Sac dam keeps the river from freezing, allowing eagles access to their favorite food—fish. The area’s bluffs and valleys provide needed shelter from severe weather and roosting for the night.

Eagle watching is best during the morning, when the birds are most active fishing and are frequently seen perching in trees along the river. Spotting scopes are available at the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council’s Overlook in Prairie du Sac.

On both days, special activities and educational exhibits will be at the River Arts Center. Hot food and beverages will be available for sale at Sauk-Prairie High School and VFW Park. For more info, call (800) 68-EAGLE or (608) 643-4168, or e-mail saukprairie@verizon.net.

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Cassville Event: Cassville, Wis., will host its 11th annual Bald Eagle Days Feb. 7-8. Locateed on the Mississippi River in southwest Grant County, the Cassville area serves as the winter home to hundreds of bald eagles.

Wisconsin DNR biologists conducted an aerial survey recently and counted 218 eagles along the Mississippi corridor at or between Lock and Dams 10 and 11. More info: (608) 725-5855 or www.cassville.org.

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