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Eagle eyes

Another successful Bald Eagle Watch & Expo
Siblings Wilson and Ruby Varnum, of West Branch, check out the replica eagle nest on display at the expo.

NORTH LIBERTY– They came to learn about the birds and the bees– as well as the spiders, snakes and other Iowa wildlife, at the fourth annual Bald Eagle Watch & Expo, held Feb. 6, in North Liberty and along the Coralville Reservoir.
The free annual event, co-hosted by the Iowa City Bird Club, Iowa Audubon Society, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Diversity Program and the Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District, provides kids’ activities, guest lecturers and an opportunity to join others in sneaking peeks at the bald eagles roosting and flying near the Coralville Dam.
Indoors, at North Central Junior High School, exhibitors offered information and hands-on diversions designed to teach people about Iowa’s birds, insects, mammals and reptiles, and help humans understand how to cohabitate respectfully with the flora and fauna around them. Exhibitors included the Johnson County Songbird Project, Iowa Audubon, Iowa Ornithologists’ Union, Macbride Raptor Project, Raptor Advocacy, Rehabilitation & Education Group, the Wildlife Diversity Program, Indian Creek Nature Center and the Conservation Department personnel from Cedar and Iowa counties. Special guests included nature photographers and authors Linda and Robert Scarth, and Dallas County Naturalist Mike Havlick, who again offered the perennial favorite “Big Owls Hoot and Little Owls Toot” presentation.
Outdoors, an eagle viewing station was set up at Coralville Lake’s Tailwater West picnic shelter, with assistance, scopes and binoculars provided by volunteers from the Corps of Engineers and the Iowa DNR.
Terry Escher, Natural Resource Specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the event usually has about 200 people who come to see the exhibits, listen to the speakers and search for a glimpse of eagles along the river.
The unofficial eagle count was down a little this year, volunteers reported, and Escher guessed the lower concentration of eagles near the lake was weather-related.
“The water didn’t freeze for so long, the eagles spread all over. They go wherever there is open water, so I think they were more dispersed this year,” said Escher. However, she noted, many people have spotted groups of eagles hanging out in their farm fields this year.
“Eagles are opportunists; they don’t just fish,” she noted. “They will eat carrion…they will take over the turkey vultures.”
The bald eagle population began to make a comeback after being declared endangered in the 1970s, an effort assisted by the U.S. government’s ban on the use of the pesticide DDT, which thinned eagle eggshells when ingested by the adult eagle. By 1995, the bald eagle’s national status was upgraded to threatened. In Iowa, there were just two nesting pairs of bald eagles in 1985. Today, the state has at least 300 active eagle aeries and sees an estimated 4,000 individual bald eagles come to Iowa each winter.
Bald eagles spend their winters in their nesting territories, usually a 10- to 15-square-mile area of woods near rivers and lakes. They construct a nest from scratch or add to an existing one, using cattails, grass and moss to fill gaps between branches. A nest can be six feet wide, eight feet deep and weigh up to one ton.
A replica eagles’ nest was on display at the school, so observers could get a close-up look without disturbing birds in the wild.
In between applying bird tattoos and distributing eagle coloring pages, Escher said the event’s consistent turnout shows that people are interested and intrigued by all the outdoors has to offer.
“No snowshoeing this time,” Escher said, an activity previously offered but cancelled this time due to lack of snow. “But it’s still a good event. The school has been great, and it’s a great location for it. We’re always glad to see a lot of people come out.”