Eagle Watch can jumpstart a birding hobby

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

The annual Eagle Watch Day at Kinzua Dam will be held February 4, Saturday, from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Bald eagles have been seen during each of the past 10 events. This year is very promising. A few mature eagles and several immature eagles have been seen near the dam recently.

Bald eagles regularly winter at Kinzua Dam because there is open water below the dam year-round, and because fish passing through the dam gates are perfect food for bald eagles.

Eagle Watch Day is a collaborative effort by the Corps of Engineers, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn Soil, Resource Conservation and Development Council, Kinzua Cashers and Allegheny Outdoor Club.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Dave Donachy will give an audio-visual program about eagle restoration efforts. This will be at the Visitor Center below the dam at Big Bend Recreation area.

A representative from the Audubon Nature Center at Jamestown will be there to provide information about their activities.

Kinzua Cashers have put together a ‘Cashing with Eagles’ geomeet.

Activities will be at three locations: the Big Bend Visitor Center, Riverside Watchable Wildlife Trail and the viewing platform accessible by this trail, and on the roadway across the dam. Anyone more than 17 years-old must show photo identification to go onto the dam.

Some spotting scopes will be available for public use. The entire event is free to the public.

In addition to an excellent opportunity to see the magnificent bald eagle, this can be a good time and place to either begin birding as a hobby, or to become more serious about birding. Pay special attention to the binoculars and spotting scopes you will see. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Very few birders bite. But no promises.

To be at all serious about birding the basic requirements are a bird field guide, good binoculars and, if possible, a spotting scope.

I will suggest any of three bird field guides. ‘A Field Guide to the Birds, Eastern and Central North America’, by Roger Tory Peterson, is the old standard field guide for birders. ‘The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America’, by David Allen Sibley, may be more convenient because text, drawings and range maps are in the same place. ‘Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America’ has the advantage of covering all of the continent in one book.

All three of these books are illustrated with drawings. For identification purposes, drawings are better than photos.

Field guides should enable you to identify any bird you see. But you still have to see the birds first. Binoculars are the most important birding tools. Some birds, bald eagles for example, or male cardinals, are easy to identify at a distance. Many more birds, though, require a close-up view.

Choosing a pair of binoculars should be taken very seriously. You can pay over a couple thousand dollars for a pair of binoculars which probably provide better definition that mid-price models. Or you probably can find a reasonably good binoculars for less than $100. The only certain way to determine which binoculars are best for your spending limit is to try them, preferably trying several at the same time for comparison.

I carry 12x binoculars for birding. My birding partner and wife, Jeri, uses 10x binoculars. Probably you have heard more recommendations for 7x, but I like more magnification. The determining factor should be how steady you can hold the binoculars. In the field I use a tree, or something similar to steady the binoculars, if available.

It is a good idea to stay away from variable binoculars.

Also pay attention to the diameter of the objective lenses. Larger sizes are much better in low-light conditions.

Nearly the same things are important in choosing a spotting scope. The major difference in use between binoculars and spotting scopes is magnification.

With a spotting scope you may be using 30x, 45x, even 60x. Unlike binoculars, most spotting scopes do have variable magnification. It works out better with just one set of lenses.

I should have added a tripod to the list of basic gear. If you use a spotting scope you absolutely need a tripod. These come in various sizes, and some mount to motor vehicle side windows. Movement wipes out any advantages high magnification can provide. Spotting scope quality also.