New faces permeated the record crowds that visited Sauk Prairie for Bald Eagle Watching Days on Jan. 13 and 14.
Event co-chair John Keefe said about 2,000 people watched as Marge Gibson, from the Antigo-based group Raptor Education Group, released three rehabilitated bald eagles into the wild from VFW Park in Prairie du Sac on Jan. 14.
Keefe said it’s common for the eagle-watching festivities to draw newcomers, many of whom come from outside the Sauk Prairie area.
This year marked the event’s 30th anniversary. Bald Eagle Watching Days mixes traditional bird watching along the Wisconsin River with educational events and opportunities to see the raptors up close.
First-time visitor Corey Worthel and his wife, Barb, traveled more than 150 miles from Oswego, Illinois specifically to see Gibson’s release.
“It was really cool – very awesome,” Corey Worthel said. “It’s a great thing for the birds and well worth the drive.”
Keefe said free bus tours intended to give visitors the opportunity to see bald eagles in the wild without spooking the raptors were full and most of the educational demonstrations had more spectators than in past years.
Randall resident Dan Trieloff said he enjoyed his first time at the event.
“I thought it was really neat to see,” he said.
Randall resident Liz Barry said she was impressed by the Raptor Education Group’s efforts.
“I was crying a little bit when they let the first eagle go,” she said. “It’s got to be hard to work with a bird for all that time and to let them go, knowing you will never see it again.”
Eagle watchers also were able to see the raptors in the wild from the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council overlook in Prairie du Sac, where a steady stream of people continued to stop for a look.
Ferry Bluff Eagle Council member Jeff Barzen answered questions from visitors at the overlook, which offers a view of Eagle Island, a popular location for the birds to perch in the middle of the Wisconsin River.
In addition to hosting Bald Eagle Watching Days, the organization also works to promote education about the raptors and protect their habitat in and around Sauk Prairie.
Barzen said a steady stream of people to the overlook ensured there were 30-40 people scanning the skies from the viewpoint throughout the day.
“It’s a great legacy the cities can lay claim to,” Barzen said of the event. “People come to see the eagles – and without the eagles we’d have no people. So it’s nice that the community has invested so much in them.”