Eager to see eagles
Editor’s note: The event featured in this article occurred in 2016, but we hear that this year’s will be the best yet. Find it on our Events page.
Wintertime is eagle-watching season, and January brings events and opportunities to go eagle-spotting in Central Arkansas!
The main attraction this month is Petit Jean State Park‘s annual Eagle Awareness Weekend, which takes place Saturday and Sunday January 14-15, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We talked to park interpreter BT Jones, who outlined some of the weekend’s highlights for us.
Both days will kick off with a brief introduction to eagles, including how their status has changed over time from endangered, to threatened, to finally being taken off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 2007; the status of our national symbol in Arkansas will also be discussed, along with the physical characteristics of different types of eagles. If you have questions or are just curious about eagles, don’t miss this session. Mid-day Saturday will also feature a live raptor show with an Arkansas naturalist and raptor specialist who will exhibit some of the birds in her care.
The weekend’s big event is a series of car caravans to the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, which generously waives admission for this special program. Holla Bend is approximately 15 miles (or a 30-minute drive) from Petit Jean; participants should meet interpreters in the historic lobby of Mather Lodge at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday before departing in their own vehicles for the refuge. Jones says Holla Bend is ideal for eagle-spotting because it’s full of fish and attracts wintering waterfowl, so raptors have lots of options. “We always see bald eagles, and sometimes golden eagles, too,” says Jones.
Guests should bring binoculars, and there will also be two spotting scopes at the ready for a closer look of any eagles the tour comes across. The year before last, one lucky group got to see a bird that earned the nickname “Blackbird Specialist” because of its predilection for snacking on red-wing blackbirds, rather than the larger birds that predator eagles typically go after. “He would zig and zag, go down and come back up with one, and then a little while later do it again,” says Jones. “Like he was having a Snickers.”
Jones cautions that the weather can be unpredictable so participants should come prepared with appropriate gear. Even if it does rain, though, there’s an upside: eagles don’t fly around as much when it’s raining, so wet weather will be good for spotting them on perch.
This program is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the park at 501-727-5441.
January weekends also bring Eagle Lake Cruises back to Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Bundle up and join a park interpreter for a little sightseeing tour featuring wintering bald eagles and other migratory waterfowl. The cruises are $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 6-12; regular departures take place throughout the weekend. For more information and to view the schedule, visit the Pinnacle Mountain State Park website.