It’s been a balmy winter so far, but that hasn’t stopped bald eagles from roosting in the Sauk Prairie area.
According to Gene Unger, president of Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, 43 eagles were counted along the Wisconsin River from Lone Rock to the Sauk Prairie.
“That number is trending upward even with the mild weather,” Unger said. “Two years ago our first count yielded about a dozen or so.”
That’s good news for the thousands of people who descend on the Sauk Prairie area every January for Bald Eagle Watching Days.
This year, the two-day event that celebrates the U.S. national bird will be held Jan. 12-13. According to Barb Barzen, vice president of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, a few new features have been added to this year’s event.
“One new program we are having is on the golden eagle project and the National Eagle Center is coming to that presentation,” Barzen said. “There is a growing population of golden eagles along the Mississippi River Valley and it has been expanding."
Scott Mehus of the National Eagle Center will be at the River Arts Center on Jan. 13 to talk about the Golden Eagle Project, Barzen said. “The group is also putting satellite tracking units on several golden eagles to gauge migration routes,” she said. “It’s a really fascinating project.”
Unger said Mehus will conduct training for people interested in volunteering for the Golden Eagle Project from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Jan. 12, just prior to the live birds of prey presentation at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac. The actual survey project will be held Jan. 20.
Also new this year is a presentation on eagles and Native American culture conducted by Art and Dawn Shagonee of the Menominee/Potawatomi tribes. Art Shagonee has been a fixture at the rehabilitated eagle release where he blesses the eagles before they are returned to the wild.
“It will provide a nice insight on how eagles fit into the Native American beliefs and culture,” Unger said. That event will be held from 11-11:45 a.m. at the Tripp Heritage Museum in downtown Prairie du Sac.
Unger said the council’s website has a new feature for Bald Eagle Watching Days as well.
“Some of the newer things we have on our website is a mobile Google map that lists the Bald Eagle Watching Day schedule, locations and photos,” Unger said. The map is good for looking up events during the weekend celebration on any tablet or smartphone.
“We also have a counter on our website counting down the number of days to the big event,” Unger said.
Returning favorites such as the live birds of prey show; a presentation on Old Abe, a Civil War Eagle; Eagle White wine tasting at Wollersheim Winery and Distillery; Laughing with the Animals – a kids show with David Stokes; bus tours; and the popular release of rehabilitated bald eagles also will be held, weather permitting.
Unger said in the 1970s there only were about 400-500 breeding pairs of eagles nationwide. That number reached more than 1,500 breeding pairs in 2016. The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America.
“We’d like to think Bald Eagle Watching Days had something to do with it,” Unger said. “Along with new farming methods and a general cleaning up of the environment was also a large contributing factor.” Barzen said the nationwide banning of DDT also helped.
“The event is a wonderful way to celebrate eagles and what they do for our lives in the Sauk Prairie area,” Barzen said. “It’s a great way to learn about this amazing bird.”
Jeb Barzen of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council said the Great Sauk Trail has been detoured along Water Street between Lincoln Avenue and a quarter-mile north of the Highway 60 bridge in Prairie du Sac.
“The purpose of diverting Great Sauk Trail traffic to Water Street is to reduce human disturbance of eagles near the river in Prairie du Sac,” Jeb Barzen stated in a news release. “The detour will remain in effect while eagle numbers in our community are high. Once the number of wintering eagles declines, typical traffic patterns will resume, likely by late February.”