Friday, December 3, 2010

Bald Eagles on Ice - in Alma, Wisconsin

I drove down the Upper Mississippi River one last time before the snow storm hit today.  I wanted to see if - after more than a week of seasonably cold (freezing) weather - the Tundra Swans have moved on.

I didn't spot any - even though there were still a few spots on the main channel (and in the backwaters of Pool 4) that hadn't iced-over.  And I didn't hear any - no whistlings when I opened my car window (brr).   The swans are gone.

I did, however, hear crows and Bald Eagles - lots of them.  Nothing new about that.  In fact, it's an unusual day when I don't see at least on Bald Eagle from my kitchen window, and at least a half dozen on the drive in to town.

I expected to see a few of them along the river today, standing patiently on the ice around a fishing hole, waiting for a fish to cut the water's surface.

Big surprise:  I saw way more than a few Bald Eagles.  The final tally was over a hundred. 

Most of them were down by Lock & Dam #4 in downtown Alma.  They shared the river with a sky full of frenzied Ring-billed Gulls fishing down-river of the dam, where food is abundant, and easy to catch.  (Fish can get dinged in the churning water as they pass through the dam.)

Every day is a great day when I can get out and watch birds.  But today was special.

I've been watching birds along the River for more than a decade.  I've spent some cold winter days watching birds at the eagle "hot spots" along the Upper Mississippi River -  Colville Park in Red Wing, Reads Landing and Wabasha.   But I've never seen so many eagles on that 9-mile stretch of the river.

They were flying, loafing on the ice, hanging out in the cottonwoods along the river, scooping up fish, harassing other eagles to get them to drop their fish, chasing other eagles, soaring and chittering.

On the way home, I spotted a pair near Tell Lake (State Road 37 east), doing a little housekeeping - adding sticks to their huge nest, one of several in the Buffalo River floodplain.

If you go...

Stop the Wings Over Alma Nature and Art Center to warm up and watch eagles from their riverfront viewing windows.

Have lunch at Kate and Gracie's Restaurant and watch the eagles from one of their window-side booths.

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