Eagles and Blocklars

February 4th, 2007

Our Saturday started a little earlier than usual. Not as much as planned, but a little bit.

Our home town, Alton Illinois, is right on the Missippi River and over the past several years we have been getting a large number of bald eagles coming to spend the winter months in the area. When I was a little kid I don’t remember ever seeing a real live eagle, but now every winter there are scads of tourists and photographers clogging up traffic and crowding the shoulders of the roads near the riverfront every year in January and February.

One especially interesting eagle site is a nest easily visible from a public road close by Melvin Price Locks and Dam. Last year a pair of eagles laid an egg there and raised it to chickhood- but then tragedy struck. Evidently people were watching the nest when some sort of climbing predator was trying to get the young chick. One of the eagle parents pulled the chick out before the predator could get it, but then dropped the young bird to its death. After such an unfortunate event, it was good news when a pair of eagles (probably the same pair) set up housekeeping in the nest again this year.

Ruth frequently tells me that when she was out and about during the day she saw either the momma or the papa eagle sitting in or standing by near the nest and I make some comment about how nice it must be to be able to get to see them. Of course, I don’t get too worked up about it because the past couple of weeks I have been seeing eagles (though not the ones on the nest) when I cross the river on my way to work in the mornings.

So, partially because of my whining, and partially because it just sounded like fun, she suggested we all get up early Saturday and go see some eagles.

That was the plan. The implementation was kind of easy on the early part, but we were out of the house by nine-thirty which is earlier than I have been out of bed on a Saturday in a while. I had wanted to get up earlier because for some reason a lot of the eagles seem to find some where else to hang out after about eight, but fortunately there were still some around close. Our departure was held up for a couple of minutes as Gideon searched for his “blocklars”. He found them somewhere in Isaiah’s room and while he’d looked for them Ruth dug up a pair of Vivitar 4×10 blocklars that probably came free with somebody’s subscription to Sports Illustrated or something which I fugured might be better than nothing.

We first went by the nest since I rarely get to see it, but there weren’t any eagles on it or near it so we turned into the parking lot of the museum at the lock and dam. We figured we’d be in luck when we saw all the cars parked in the grass along the side of the drive towards the parking lot itself and we were. We probably saw seven or eight eagles in the ten or fifteen minutes we sat there.

Then we drove across the river and through the wetlands preservation area to the boat access parking area (from which this picture was taken) which is almost directly across the Missippi from the lock and dam museum.

Above the frigid, churning waters flowing through the open dam, hundreds and hundreds of gulls swooped and zoomed and among them were a few eagles. I turned off the engine and the boys unbuckled and came towards the front of the van for a better veiw out the windshield. I lifted Gideon up in front to stand in the floorboard in front of Ruth and Isaiah alternated between looking out the side window and poking his head between ours to stare out ahead.

As we were peering out, scanning the blue for our national bird Isaiah remembered the yellow toy binoculars that I think also were magazine subscription promos, but for My Big Backyard an animal magazine Isaiah got when he was younger and which Gideon gets now. He put them to his eyes and said they did work and helped him see the birds better. I dug out my trusty Vivitars and gave them a test. They did actually work pretty impressively for plastic optics and I got some pretty cool veiws of eagles four times closer than I would have with my eyeballs alone.

Gideon then started squawking for his “blocklars”.

“Give me my blocklars, Isaiah!”

“Isaiah, hand’em over,” I adjured.

“Ok, here. They’re all fogged up anyway. I can’t see a thing out of’em anymore.”

Gideon placed them to his eyes and loudly complained “You foggeded up my blocklars, ‘Saiah!”

“That’s Ok, Gideon,” I chuckled “you wouldn’t see anything out of them, anyway. You’re looking through them the wrong way.”

After those locations and a drive up the river road by the bluffs we ended up seeing a total of almost thirty majestic and beautiful bald eagles. Which was a fine way to start our Saturday.