When the waters of the Allegheny Reservoir freeze, animals and birds of prey that rely on fish for food must look elsewhere.
Since the best source of fish is now the Allegheny River, bald eagles and ospreys congregate in several areas along the river especially the tailwaters of Kinzua Dam.
In February 2013, nearly 500 visitors to the Big Bend Recreation Area downstream of the dam viewed juvenile and adult eagles, as well as other wintering birds.
Photo supplied for publication
At right, a pair of bald eagles watch the riffles next to Dixon Island for their next meal. The frozen Allegheny Reservoir forces wintering birds to look elswhere for their meals, and the river is an ideal spot to grab a bite to eat for the eagles. Above, bird watchers gather in hopes of seeing eagles during an Eagle Watch event two years ago.
This year, the Eagle Watch will be held on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sponsors include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn Soil Resource Conservation and Development Council, Kinzua Cachers, Allegheny Outdoor Club, and Eagles Club, Warren Aerie 313.
In addition to wildlife observation, activities include an audio-visual program detailing eagle restoration efforts presented by David Donachy, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officer, and a geomeet "Caching with Eagles" organized by Kinzua Cachers. Several temporary caches will be set up around the recreation area.
Steve Lauser, ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said last year's Eagle Watch "was an excellent event. Visitors were thrilled to see eagles and walk on the dam. They loved the eagle program (by Officer Donachy) too. We had people sign the visitor log who had travelled from metro areas near Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Erie and nearby northwestern Pennsylvania towns; Portville, Dunkirk and Mayville, N.Y."
Bill Massa of the Allegheny Outdoor Club said, "Since one has to be outside to view any birds or other wildlife at the Big Bend Recreation Area, it's recommended that everyone dress warmly. Generally there is a wind blowing upriver, and in early February, it's a very cold wind. Plus, if one stands an hour or so on the viewing platform, feet tend to get cold quickly."
Because of a donation by the Eagles Club, hot coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and mini-donuts will be available to visitors at no charge. The refreshments will be located in the visitor center.
"Last year, visitors saw eight to 10 eagles throughout the day, including one golden eagle. However, spotting weather was poor. We had snow and visibility was low most of the time. The year before, 12 to 14 eagles were seen, a combination of adults and immatures. I've heard three recent reports that include six eagles in a tree at Dixon Island at one time, eight eagles on a single day, and most recently 20 eagles in a day, again a combination of adults and immatures," he added.
He continued, "Visitors have to stay a while to see birds. Plan on an hour or two or even longer. A lot depends on weather conditions. Last year, when my wife Mary and I were about to leave at 2 p.m., there were two adult eagles sitting in a tree at Dixon Island. Allegheny Outdoor Club member Greg Burkett, a knowledgeable birder, who was still searching on the platform, drew our attention to them. If people have binoculars, it's advisable to bring them."
According to a press release from Lauser, three public areas of interest will be open for public viewing and learning about America's national bird: Big Bend Visitor Center, Riverside Watchable Wildlife Trail and Viewing Platform (located along Allegheny River tailwaters), and Kinzua Dam roadway.
Observation stations will be manned and spotting scopes will be available to better observe the eagles. Persons 18 years of age and older will be required to show identification to gain access to the roadway at the dam.
For additional information, contact Lauser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at 726-0661 or Bill Massa, Allegheny Outdoor Club, at 723-2568.