It was a warm 12 degrees this morning when I drove across the Wabasha bridge. I was surprised to see the Mississippi River is frozen over - totally. I spotted several crows and only one Bald Eagle flying downriver towards the open water at Lock & Dam #4 in Alma. That's where I'll be heading later today.
I can't believe how many Bald Eagles I've seen this week - and how close they were. The viewing opportunities on the Wisconsin side of the river between Nelson and Buffalo City are the best I've seen in a decade - over 100 at Wings Over Alma, and 200 or more along the Buffalo City riverfront.
Here's a snapshot of view across the river from the deck at the Wings Over Alma Nature and Art Center: a raft of Common Goldeneyes and a handful of Bald Eagles perched in the trees and fishing. The photo at the top of this blog entry was shot from the viewing deck in Alma. All you need is patience - they have 3 spotting scopes set up indoors at the window.
It's hard to believe Bald Eagles stick around when the thermometer drops below zero. But they do. I understand it's all about food... but the cold is brutal.
If you go eagle-watching, resist the temptation to hop out of your car to get closer. Disturbing winter birds is stressful for them, causing them to use up limited energy reserves. Bald Eagles spend most of the winter conserving energy – by sitting in trees, soaking up the sun. If you see one feeding on carrion near the road, slow down, but don’t stop and hop out of your car to snap that perfect photo. When Bald Eagles are “disturbed” while feeding, they may fly off and observers have found they’re not likely to return.
Winter survival is all about conserving energy, the availability of food and thermoregulation.