The 2013 Eagle Watch started cold and early.
“We were out of hot chocolate by 10 a.m.,” said Joe Roe, a dad and volunteer with Boy Scouts of America Troop 11. “They had a good turnout. This is our fifth year of volunteering [and] this is the most people I’ve seen.”
He and some of the scouts were stationed at the railroad bridge where hikers and bird watchers gathered to view American bald eagles on the Des Moines River.
The Wapello County Trails Council hosts the eagle event every year, said one of the organizers, Kim Hellige. She said this year saw the greatest participation from the public. The walk itself had more than 80 people.
“Nearly 100 people, but the [smallest] number of eagles we’ve seen!” she said.
But there were eagles. Visitors told the Courier they were having a great time at the event. The eagles that were over the river did “perform” for their fans.
The first part of the bridge over the river has a type of “bird blind” with slits in the steel allowing visitors to watch the eagles without disturbing them.
“Earlier, I did see an eagle just standing there on the rocks,” said one boy scout, Tylor Durbin, 12. “It was pretty cool.”
It’s the closest he’s been to one of the hunters.
“It was a first experience kind of thing,” he said. “I’ve never really [looked at] a bald eagle before.”
Others saw the birds fishing.
“We walked several years ago, when the trail was gravel,” said Brenda Gillihan of Ottumwa. “It’s paved now — very nice. It leads closer to the river.”
She said there were eagles over the water, as well as in trees. The majestic birds did not, however, want company, and most departed when humans came to close.
“We walked all the way to Highway 34,” Gillihan said.
But even the ones they saw from a distance were impressive, said friend Tina Pearson of Eldon.
“Isn’t it amazing how they just float — float forever?” she asked.
They were reading facts to each other as one or the other found an interesting tidbit.
“It takes almost five years for their heads to turn completely white,” said Pearson.
Between that and the color of the tail, one can determine the approximate age of a bald eagle, they discovered.
The ladies had gotten some literature from one of the vendors set up inside Bridge View Center.
There were vendors there directly related to eagles and other raptors, like SOAR (see sidebar), which talked about protecting the birds and had some live ones there to greet the public.
Others involved the simple love of getting outdoors: A bicycle shop, a tennis racket creator and an artisan who makes and sells bird feeders shared space in the large, warm hall.
Some adults would venture out into the cold occasionally to snap a quick photo before rushing back inside.
Hellige had recently said when it comes to eagles, the colder it is, the better. When it gets really cold, she explained, eagles seek out places where there is “open” water so they can fish.
Stephen Blaine didn’t comment on the cold. Nor would he agree to put on gloves. The five-year-old went outside every chance he got. He used his binoculars to spot eagles, or, on one occasion, a pair of ducks.
And when people did spot a bald eagle, they’d point them out to each other. Bob Meyers of Ottumwa was over looking at the live bald eagle brought in by the SOAR raptor rescue group. He recalled a time when spotting an American bald eagle would have been nearly impossible in Ottumwa. So the area was very lucky to have so many American bald eagles. Because while there may have been more in past years when people were celebrating the Wapello County Trails Council eagle event, Meyers just finished reading that the Des Moines River still had more eagles along it than the Mississippi this year.
Pearson also feels a sense of pride when she sees American bald eagles in Wapello County. She said one of the guys in her family asked her why she’d bother going to an eagle watch.
“He said they’re just birds, that it’s no big deal,” she said. “Well, it is a big deal. To me, they represent freedom. They’re just amazing.”
Crowd drawn to 2013 Eagle Watch
The 2013 Eagle Watch started cold and early.
- Community News Network
Most deadly fraternity scraps initiation for new members
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest U.S. fraternities and the deadliest, said Friday it will ban the initiation of recruits, citing the toll that hazing has taken on its newest members.
VIDEO: Michigan woman's death, mummified body hidden by auto-pay for six years
The mummified body of a Michigan woman was discovered in the backseat of her car approximately six years after her death. The body was only found after the bank that foreclosed on the home ordered work on the property.
VIDEO: Chrysler orders community college to crush rare Dodge Viper
Students at a community college in Washington are fighting to save a rare Dodge Viper given to them by the Chrysler Corporation. The company now says it must be destroyed for legal reasons.
VIDEO: Penguin sweaters save birds trapped in oil spills
A wildlife group in Australia is inviting volunteers to knit sweaters for the penguin population it conserves, because it says the sweaters can actually save the lives of birds caught in oil spills.
VIDEO: Kentucky AG holds back tears, announces he won't defend marriage ban
In a tearful statement that went viral this week, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway announced that he would not defend his state's ban on gay marriage in court. Conway made the announcement after a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. However, Gov. Steve Beshear said he will hire private attorneys to appeal the judge's order.
Staples to close 225 stores as online competition hurts sales
Staples Inc., the largest U.S. office-supplies chain, will close as many as 12 percent of its North American stores and cut as much as $500 million in costs as online competition continues to hurt sales.
2 in Indiana sickened after eating contaminated Skittles
Health officials say packages of Original Skittles sold at a convenience store in Richmond, Ind., were contaminated, and two people who ate from a package were hospitalized with symptoms including burning throats, cramping and diarrhea.
VIDEO: A panoramic view from atop One World Trade Center
NBC's Today Show aired footage from a year-long project by TIME magazine to capture a 360-degree moving image from atop One World Trade Center, the 1,776-foot structure in New York City that is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
5 memorable college hoops tourney buzzer beaters
It's March, which means the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner. But before March Madness takes hold, the conference tournaments, which get under way this week, often provide their own share of exciting finishes. Here are five memorable buzzer beaters from conference tournament play.
What you need to know about subtle office bullying
Sad to say, but bullying does not just exist in the schoolyard. It is alive and well in the workplace.
- More Community News Network Headlines
- Most deadly fraternity scraps initiation for new members