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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Eagles

Turkey Run State Park is an amazing experience in the winter! We were there this past weekend for a special program called Eagles in Flight. It’s an annual event put together by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Friends of Turkey Run Group. Last year I attended a similar program at Mississinewa, but it was only an afternoon.

It started on Friday evening with a presentation, “The Owls of Indiana,” which will be my subject next week. After learning about the various owls, we went out with a naturalist—yes, in the dark and in the snow and wind—and tried our luck at hooting for owls. The owls did not cooperate, but it was just fun being out hiking at night with a like-minded group. We tried to get a screech owl or a barred owl to answer but they were apparently saving their voices for another time. The park naturalist said it was unusual to not hear an owl on one of these hikes, particularly in January.

We didn’t walk long, because Saturday morning started with a 6:45 a.m. vehicle line-up to drive out to near where the eagles roost and to watch them as they left their roost to hunt for breakfast along the open waters of the Wabash River. We drove for about a half hour and parked on a bridge over Sugar Creek, by the West Union covered bridge (no longer in use for vehicular traffic). It was still dark when we arrived and stood around our vehicles, but as the sky grew light we saw our first eagle flying low overhead. We could easily discern the white head and tail without binoculars and even in the dim light. A few minutes later we saw five more, and then two more, and then three more . . . and they just kept coming in groups or singly for about 40 minutes. I counted at least 60, but some of them looped around and it got difficult to tell if some were being recounted, so I’d quit and then start again. Another observer claimed there were 102, but I think he was optimistic. At any rate, we saw a lot! There were a lot of juveniles in the flight. They don’t get their characteristic white head and tail until they are three to four years old. It was a fantastic morning and we were all very enthusiastic by the time we got back to the inn for breakfast.

In case we didn’t get a good enough look at the eagles, the presenter who showed us some owls now brought out her eagle. She is a licensed rehabilitator and she has this eagle because he was injured and not able to be released in to the wild safely. She brought the eagle out of his box onto her glove and talked about him for about 45 minutes during which time we got to see him quite close up. What a magnificent bird!

There was also a bird carver present who demonstrated how he went from his sketch and a block of wood to a lifelike rendition of a bird. He had a variety of song birds and waterfowl on display that he had carved.

Saturday afternoon there were car pools to various locations to see more eagles, eagle nests, and eagles fishing. Participants were led to a specific destination and then given a map to find the other locations. At each location a naturalist was set up with a spotting scope to help people view the eagles. We didn’t participate in that event because the road reports were pretty bad, but we went instead to a local power plant that was also having an eagle-watching event and saw an eagle on a nest and several sitting in trees along the Wabash. However, one of my friends who went on one of the other tours said that not only did they see eagles, but they saw a pair of whooping cranes! Very impressive!

Saturday evening a different presenter showed us some more raptors: a kestrel, a peregrine falcon, and a red-tailed hawk. The red-tailed hawk he has had for 28 years! Again this was a licensed rehabilitator that kept only animals that could not be re-released into the wild and consequently were used for educational events like ours. He also showed us a black vulture. Biologists have still not agreed whether a vulture is a raptor or not, because although it is a meat-eater, it doesn’t kill its own meat.

Sunday morning would have been another drive to the roost, but the road conditions were too questionable and it was canceled. I’m glad we got to do that on Saturday. From 9 – 12 there was a bird banding demonstration, by a licensed bird bander. Again, it was a very interesting and up-close experience. Later in the day there was a naturalist-led bird hike and a planetarium star show, but unfortunately we skipped those events for the long drive home. The road conditions were quite treacherous and we wanted to get home in daylight. Nonetheless it was a fantastic weekend!

If you want to see eagles up close, the Mississinewa program will be held Feb. 15 or 16 (it’s the same program on either date). It’s closer than Turkey Run, and you will see lots of eagles there, too. Pre-registration is necessary, but there is no fee. Check out the IDNR webpage for details or call 260-468-2127 and ask for Eagle Watch information.