By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The recent cold spell was just what the ornithologist ordered for those who love to watch eagles soar over north Alabama.
As Lake Guntersville State Park continues its Eagle Awareness program, this push of cold air has bird watchers and park officials excited.
“This year is our 30th anniversary of Eagle Awareness,” said Amanda Glover, park events coordinator at Guntersville. “As far as the numbers of eagles we’ve seen, the numbers have been great.”
“On that Sunday morning, we saw 30 eagles at Town Creek in an hour and a half,” she said. “So the numbers are great, and the weather is perfect for the eagles. They love this cold stuff.”
Glover said the eagles didn’t scoop up any fish while the groups were observing, but there was plenty of action, including some talon-locking incidents with a pair of eagles helicoptering through the air.
“We had mostly flyovers, but didn’t see any fishing,” she said. “We had some play-fighting going on. They were talon-to-talon. Good stuff. It’s really cool when you see that.
“And we’re seeing all kinds of eagles. There were five or six adult eagles with white heads and tails. And there were a ton of juveniles.”
Depending on age, the juvenile bald eagles will lack either the white head or white tail feathers, which take about five years to develop.
This year’s eagle sightings at Guntersville have all been bald eagles.
“We haven’t seen any golden eagles,” Glover said. “We don’t have much of a population of golden eagles around here. We will have a few come through every now and then, but not many. You would be very lucky to see a golden eagle around here. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but the vast majority of eagles you’ll see here at Guntersville will be bald eagles.”
Eagle Awareness will be held at Guntersville each weekend through February 21. The weekends start after a check-in at the beautiful Guntersville State Park Lodge,
Saturdays start with hot coffee at the lodge at 5:30 a.m. Program participants then head to Town Creek or Short Creek for eagle watching, followed by breakfast at the lodge at 8 a.m. Field trips to High Falls Park, Cathedral Caverns and Guntersville Dam are next at 9:00 before the group heads back to the lodge for lunch. The afternoon program starts at 2:00, followed by another trip to Town Creek or Short Creek for more bird watching. After dinner, the evening program at the lodge starts at 7:00.
Sundays again start with the early-morning coffee and then back to Town Creek and Short Creek. After breakfast, a field trip heads to Guntersville Dam.
Guntersville has quite a lineup of presenters for its Eagle Awareness weekends. On January 17, Nature’s Echo of Pine Mountain, Ga., will bring in a variety of birds of prey and provide educational information about the raptors’ roles in nature. At 7 p.m., Bob Tarter of the Natural History Education Company of Tennessee will feature the Eurasian Eagle Owls, the largest owls on the planet.
On January 24, the afternoon program will be conducted by Curt Cearly, a master falconer from Huntsville, Ala., who will discuss the history of the sport of falconry and his work with training raptors. The Montgomery Zoo will be in charge of the evening program. The Zoo will bring its Birds of Prey program to the park for an up-close view of birds of prey.
On January 31, the Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center will conduct the afternoon session with a program on the habitats, ecology and conservation of raptors. The evening session will focus on the rehabilitation of birds of prey by the Alabama Wildlife Center (AWC). The AWC, located in Pelham in the middle of Oak Mountain State Park, will discuss its Reunite Program that rescues birds of prey and returns them to the wild if possible.
On February 7, the American Eagle Foundation will bring its live birds of prey program to the park for the afternoon session, which will include how to identify birds of prey, their roles in the ecosystem and how the public can become involved in protecting the species. The evening session will be conducted by Coosa River Science School’s Becky Collier, who will delve into the specifics of birds of prey, including beak adaptations and talon arrangements, as well as the food chains involving the raptors.
The February 14 agenda includes John and Dale Stokes of Wings to Soar from Tennessee for both the afternoon and evening sessions. The Stokes will bring live birds of prey, including eagles and falcons, for the participants to see. An interactive view of the habitats of the different raptors will be included.
On the final Saturday of Eagle Awareness, February 21, the focus will be on wildlife photography. Nature photographers Rocky Baker and Elmo Belcher will share
“We’ve had a ton of phone calls and lots of emails,” Glover said about the 30th anniversary of Eagle Awareness. “There’s been a lot of interest.”
Lake Guntersville State Park is offering a variety of packages for Eagle Awareness. The basic package for one person is $260 for two nights’ lodging in a bluff side or standard room, breakfast for one on Saturday and Sunday, lunch and dinner for one on Saturday, one Cathedral Caverns State Park pass and a welcome gift. Packages range from one to four people. The suite package for four people is $560.
Although Eagle Awareness has attracted participants from as far away as Japan and New Zealand, Glover said the majority of participants are within driving distance of Lake Guntersville.
“We get a lot of people from Birmingham, Atlanta, Mississippi and the Chattanooga area,” she said. “But we do get people from all over the world at times.
“Normally we host four to six weekends of Eagle Awareness. In honor of the 30th anniversary, we’re doing eight weeks. So don’t miss out.”
Lake Guntersville State Park is located at 1155 Lodge Drive, Guntersville, AL 35976. Visit www.alapark.com for more information about all Alabama State Parks. Photos and scheduling information can also be found on the park Facebook page at facebook.com/lakeguntersvilleSP.
As eagle populations have grown over the last 30 years, Alabama’s Nongame Wildlife Program continues to conduct research on both bald and golden eagles. One way that citizens can help Alabama’s eagles and other wildlife is by considering a donation to the Alabama Nongame Wildlife Fund. A check-off box is provided on the state income tax form allowing everyone a way to donate all or part of their state tax refund to benefit eagle research and management.
PHOTOS: (ADCNR) Becky Collier of the Coosa River Science School is on the agenda for Lake Guntersville State Park’s Eagle Awareness weekends. Collier, holding a mature bald eagle, will discuss the different features of birds of prey. A solitary bald eagle sits atop a dead tree limb at Lake Guntersville.