I had a great weekend and I’m sure that many others did with the mild weather and the numerous activities that were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. I was lucky enough to see and take part in a few of these outdoor winter events. The highlight of Saturday had to be the 28th Annual Bald Eagle Watching Day in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac (Sauk Prairie). I’ve been a part of and helped in a small way with many of these “Eagle Days” over the years and it is wonderful to see what was a small town event has grown into now. It’s difficult to guess how many people came to town for Friday night’s program, “Laughing with Animals” by David Stokes and the numerous programs, talks, and presentations that were presented on Saturday’s docket. There was something that would appeal to everyone who attended though the main attraction was the bald eagle viewing and release.
The mild weather was one of the main reasons that there were so many visitors to our Wisconsin River towns. Past Bald Eagle Watching Days have slowly grown over the years and people come to the “Greatest Bald Eagle Show” in the Midwest regardless of the temperature. The advertising and promotion of the day has people all over Wisconsin and the Midwest thinking and knowing about the event. People have read about it online and in the papers, so it is becoming a well known happening. Many of those attending mark the date on their calendars and attend every January. Then, there are those who attended for the first time. Weather always is a major factor in the number of eagles seen and the number of people that make the drive to Sauk Prairie. Few attendees are disappointed because there are so many programs of interest like the “Birds of Prey” show presented by the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center. The show has been “localized” to be titled “Raptors in Wisconsin”. Their presentation includes many raptors like eagles, hawks, ospreys’, and owls that have come to the center to be rehabilitated from poisoning and injuries. These are raptors that cannot be released into the wild due to their conditions. The opportunity to see these birds up close is worth the drive if that was the only event to see. But, it wasn’t and just one of the interesting and informative things for the public to see and ask questions about to experts who know the answers.
The Gallery had a photo collection of eagles that displayed the magnificent work of many local photographers. There were children events which included face painting and drawing. I saw dozens of children with bald eagles painted on their faces all over town! One of the main sponsors and the group responsible for Bald Eagle Watching Days was the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council whose members were at all the seminars, talks, bus tours, and manning the spotting scopes at the Overlook and answering any questions that people had. If it wasn’t for this grass-roots organization, none of this would ever have begun twenty-eight years ago.
Though the mild weather contributed to the large crowds, it also hurt the number of bald eagles that were available for viewing. When the weather is mild, the bald eagles spread out over a larger area and are not only concentrated in the area close to the Prairie du Sac Dam. The water below the dam stays open all winter and allows the eagles a prime location to fish for their food. Fish make up a large portion of their diet along with carrion and small rodents. Cold weather and snow will concentrate the bald eagles close to the dam’s open water. There are also many secluded valleys with large trees for perching and roosting in this location, so the eagles don’t have to burn up too much of their needed energy in search of food.
The warmer weather made eagle watching more difficult, but there were enough bald eagles near the Overlook site and Eagle Island for all to see. The highlight Saturday which drew large crowds to the VFW Park was the release of rehabilitated eagles back into the wild by Marge Gibson, who has spent her life caring for and healing thousands of birds over the years without any federal or state funding. All funding comes from private donations. The group is the Raptor Education group, Inc. (REGI) and based in Antigo, Wisconsin. Most years Gibson releases at least one bald eagle that is ready to be released back into the wild. Marge holds the eagles to be released in her arms and walks around the roped off release area so that the large crowd and children can see the eagles up close and take photographs. It’s amazing to see the number of people and families that come to this winter event and this year the crowd seemed to be one of the largest that I’ve ever seen. One of the released birds landed in the Wisconsin River, but it was fine and flew away. The other two birds released flew strong and seemed to know that they were free again and on there own.
One of the immature birds released was dedicated to the late Jean Clausen, who recently passed at 99 years old. Jean was one of the founders of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and spent her life educating and mentoring the public on eagles and birds in general. An immature eagle that was released was sprinkled with some of Clausen’s ashes by her family which was given a moment of silence and a photo opportunity with this eagle.
This was another wonderful Wisconsin weekend for all those who came to Sauk Prairie and I’m sure that all went home with a smile on their faces and a warm feeling in their hearts after being able to see a native bird that was almost extinct a few decades ago that now thrives in Wisconsin with over 1000 nesting eagles. Thanks to all those groups and people who made this event possible and helped introduce so many to this magnificent bird.
Earlier in the day, I was at the Kid’s Fishing Day in Madison sponsored by the Yahara Fishing Club. There were over 300 rods and reels given away to children under 14 years of age. There were club members to help the beginners learn to ice fish. The event was held at Brittingham Park just off Lake Monona and this event too was jammed with families and individuals wanting to learn about ice fishing. This is another outdoor event and gives people and their families another winter option to be active in the outdoors. This children’s outing is also funded by donations and the great Yahara Fishing Club.
My Sunday afternoon was spent doing the roost count for the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council at the Sugarloaf Roost location on the river’s east side. The count was only 3 eagles coming to roost before dark in this secluded valley. But, as I earlier said the eagles are spread out over a large area with the “normal” winter weather and are not concentrated just by the dam at the Wisconsin River. It was a busy and fun-filled weekend in the Wisconsin outdoors and I hope many of you got to enjoy it because I sure did! Check out the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council website and the Raptor Education Group on the internet for more information. The eagles are around till March, so come to Sauk Prairie to see them and there also are bus tours on weekends for viewing.