Eagle Watching Season Has Returned!
Each year after the holidays, when all the Christmas decorations are taken down and the New Year’s resolutions are well on their way out the door, January can sometimes feel like the longest month of the year – cold weather, overcast days, and no commitments on the social calendar. But don’t fret! All of these forces of January make for some of the best eagle watching in the Mississippi River Valley. Let me explain…
Because of the cold weather, the migration south of the American Bald Eagle has begun and the next three months are prime for eagle viewing. And what better place to view these birds of prey except here in the Mid-west, also known as “Eagle Country”? Alton, Illinois kicked off the eagle-watching season with the Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival just this past Saturday. But don’t think that you’ve missed out on the fun. Several towns along the Mississippi River – on both the Illinois and Missouri side – have activities planned and if your calendar is open, then you might just be able to enjoy several of the festivities. When I first started writing these blogs almost a year ago (yes, it’s been almost a year!), my third blog, titled “Eagle Watching – Be Right in the Heart of It!” came late enough in the eagle watching season that many of the activities had passed…but there was still time to catch a glimpse of an eagle flying. So this year, I’ve made eagle watching one of my January activities.
Even though the Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival was held on Saturday, you can find a whole variety of eagle-related activities at http://www.visitalton.com/ - including an ice carving demonstration and an eagle photo workshop. In addition to all of the activities planned in and around the Alton area, there is even an Eagle Watchers Guide app that you can download from your smartphone app store to help keep track of all those activities and eagle sightings! I just recently purchased my first smartphone so this is one app I’m anxious to try out! But they didn’t stop with the app…Alton has gone one step further and added Eagle Caching to the eagle watching experience. Some of you may already be familiar with geo-caching – a technological treasure hunt where participants use clues and GPS coordinates to locate hidden ‘caches’ or small containers filled with tiny treasures. But if you haven’t experienced this new ‘sport’, then eagle watching around Alton gives you the opportunity to check it out. The Alton Visitors Center can provide you with a map of the eagle watching hot spots as well as the chance to rent a GPS for the day if you don’t have a GPS navigator. Treasure hunts have never been my thing but from what I’ve seen so far, this looks like it could be a great way to spend an afternoon!
So where do you find bald eagles? If you head from Alton to just north of Grafton, then Pere Marquette Lodge and their Bald Eagle Festival would be a great place to visit this weekend. On Sunday, January 13, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., they have activities planned for the eagle watcher in all of us. However, their Bald Eagle Days continue through March 6, 2013 so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to check out the eagles! But if you’re on the Missouri side of the river and heading up Highway 79, then be sure to check out the Soup & Chili Days at Village of the Blue Rose (between Clarksville and Louisiana, Missouri). From 12:00 – 4:00 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday of the next two weekends (January 12 & 13, 2013 and January 19 & 20, 2013), you can enjoy lunch at their quaint restaurant, which is situated high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, while watching the eagle soar over the river. What better place to view the eagles than from your very own spot on the bluff? Quincy, Illinois is planning their Great River Eagle Days on Saturday, January 26, 2013 with activities beginning at America’s Best Value Inn in Quincy. However, Lock and Dam No. 21 is one of the best eagle viewing spots in Quincy – be sure and check it out! The Quincy Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has already noted a returning eagle perched high above the river – check out the picture on their Facebook page. And speaking of Clarksville, their 2013 Eagle Days festivities are planned for the weekend of January 26 and 27. Be sure to check out their web site at www.clarksvillemo.us/eagledays for all the details.
Now eagles don’t just visit those towns or eagle watching hot spots during this time of year. Even though towns such as Louisiana and Hannibal, MO may not have specific eagle activities planned, they are still a great place to view the eagles…and maybe even snap some pictures of the bald eagles. We were at the Lighthouse Inn (in Illinois – just across the Louisiana bridge) for a football party on Sunday and what a great place to sit and enjoy lunch (great pizza and wings) while scouting the riverfront for eagles. In face, we did see an eagle flying high over the marina but I wasn’t able to get a picture of it. Hannibal, too, has some river view parks that are great for watching these beautiful birds. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed in either location.
Dan and I are lucky enough to live close enough to the river and many of the hot spots that we can go just about any time and hopefully catch a glimpse of these once endangered birds. And my work schedule allows me to be able to take off in the middle of the week if I want…I may not hit the organized activities but I would still have a great chance to hopefully take some pictures of eagles. But what if you live further away from the activity than we do? What better way to beat the winter blues than to plan a getaway – a few days at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge combined with eagle watching sounds like just what the doctor ordered! But what if your work schedule doesn’t allow a weekend getaway? Dan and I both work on the weekends sometimes – so we enjoy getting away during the middle of the week. I can make a trip fun anytime and it gives Dan the chance to play hooky from work! We may not always be able to participate in the weekend eagle activities but having the peace and quiet to patiently wait for the perfect photo opportunity is more my style.
Just think of the possibilities – spending a few days at Heartland Lodge will put you right in the heart of eagle watching. All the towns, festivities and eagle watching hot spots are within a short drive of the lodge. You can spend one day exploring the Illinois side of the river, spend the night by enjoying an awesome dinner and a roaring fireplace at the lodge, and then explore the Missouri side the next day. Who knows? You may even spot some eagles near the lodge…a couple of the upland guides were telling me last Sunday that they have been seeing eagles in the fields around the lodge and its hunting ground. I was looking in the trees along the river and didn’t even think to look in the fields…now I know to keep my eyes peeled in ALL directions.
As we headed to Louisiana last Sunday, I was hoping I would be able to see some eagles so that I would have some eagle pictures for this blog. Luck was not on my side then but luckily, a good friend of ours came to the rescue. A big “Thank You” to Bob Krause for the pictures you see in this blog. His pictures were taken in Alton, Illinois and Winfield, Missouri – both GREAT places for eagle viewing and taking photos of eagles.