Today we drove down to Starved Rock State Park for the 12th annual Bald Eagle Watch. It was about a 2-hour drive and we got there nice and early at around 9 o’clock. The activities for the fair were split over two buildings: the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center on the north side of the Illinois River and the Starved Rock Lodge on the other side. There were educational programs, live raptor presentations, stands from companies and organizations and other activities in both buildings throughout the day.
We first stopped by at the visitor center and were immediately struck by all the Bald Eagles flying around and sitting in the trees:
There’s a nice viewing platform behind the building overlooking the lock and dam and many birders were out in the cold weather with their binoculars and spotting scopes:
The birders had counted 97 Bald Eagles that morning, but later that day we heard that they had counted 107 (!) that day. Just a few decades ago there were hardly any Bald Eagles in Illinois, but since the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972 the birds have revived and it was great to see so many. One tree in particular, located on Plum Island, was covered with the patriotic birds (see the top picture in this post). And dozens of adult and juvenile birds were flying low over the water catching fish from between the ice floes:
When our fingers felt numb from the cold we hurried inside and got tickets for the 2pm educational program there before heading over to the Starved Rock Lodge on the other side of the river, which is about 15 minutes driving away.
The parking lot there was very full and it took us a while to find a space. There was actually a trolley going back-and-forth between the two sites which you could take for $1. The lodge is a beautiful large hotel overlooking the Illinois River valley. The main hall was filled with birders and stands from local foundations, nature refuges and birding-related companies.
After a delicious brunch buffet (highly recommended) we attended the live eagle program at noon presented by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis MO. The 50-minute presentation was given in a huge hall that was packed with people. Two employees of the sanctuary showed us several live birds of prey that they had brought from the sanctuary: Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Turkey Vulture, Bateleur and a Harris Hawk.
The two handlers let the Barn Owl, Kestrel and Harris Hawk fly low over the audience, which was very nice to see. At the end they brought out a White-necked Raven that was placed on a donation box. After the presentation people could go over and give a dollar bill to the raven and it would fold it nicely and put it in the box:
We walked around a bit outside the lodge with a view over the valley …
… and then drove back to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center for the 2pm Raptor Awareness Program from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis MO. This one was in a much smaller room and was a bit longer at 70 minutes. Two handlers from the sanctuary showed us a Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle and a Great Horned Owl.