American bald eagles
ALTON — All eyes are on the sky as the Alton region prepares for the annual winter migration of the American bald eagle.
Every January, experts anticipate as many as 1,000 bald eagles will migrate to the area reclaiming their winter nests along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
To celebrate the return of this majestic bird, the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Center along with the Audubon Center at Riverlands will host the Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3. Free family-friendly activities, eagle-watching shuttle tours and a live eagle will be on hand at the Alton Visitors Center, 200 Piasa St. The Audubon Center at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, 301 Riverlands Way in West Alton, will feature live regional birds of prey and offer additional activities suitable for the entire family.
Start your day of eagle activities in downtown Alton by watching ice carvers create an eagle from a frozen block of ice. Then take part in the ice cube giveaway, where every participant is a winner when they choose an ice cube that will feature a special offer from a regional business. These prizes can include discounts on merchandise or food or free gifts. Liberty Bank also will take part in the kick-off event by sponsoring the Ice Putt Putt contest for visitors. The bank’s mascot, Sam the Eagle, will be hand to greet visitors to Alton. And there will be the live eagle meet-and-greet featuring an eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary at the Alton Visitors Center. All of these activities are free. Additionally, the CVB will offer Eagle Watching Shuttle Tours to provide visitors with a guided first-hand look at eagle-watching hot spots. The cost for the 45-minute tours is $5 per person. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. and the last tour will depart from the Alton Visitors Center at 1:30 p.m.
At the Audubon Center across the Mississippi River, visitors can enjoy the view of the river and its wildlife from the comfort of the Visitors Center. Spotting scopes are available and everyone will be able to have an up-close look at the area’s birds of prey presented by TreeHouse Wildlife Center. Representatives of area attractions and conservation organizations will be at the center hosting family-friendly activities. Chances are visitors will get to see the hundreds of trumpeter swans who make the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary their winter home. All activities at the Audubon Center are free.
The weekend also kicks off the annual Alton Eagle Watcher T-Shirt Giveaway, open to eagle watchers of all ages. This giveaway encourages visitors to stop by the various eagle-watching hot spots. Visitors who go to five of the eight hot spots (Alton Visitors Center, Audubon Center at Riverlands, Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, Melvin Price Locks and Dam, Pere Marquette State Park, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Center, Columbia Bottoms Conservation Center and Lewis and Clark State Historic Site) and have their card initialed by a site representative will receive a free eagle T-shirt by returning a completed card to the Alton Visitors Center while supplies last. For information on the contest, go to www.VisitAlton.com/EagleWatcher.
Every day visitors can travel along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway to visit the “Eagle Watching Hot Spots” featured in the 2015 Eagle Watcher’s Guide. Again this year, the Alton Eagle Watching App will guide visitors during their eagle-watching adventure. The free app, available for iPhone and Android, will lead visitors to the eagle-watching hot spots, provide information on events and festivals, allow visitors to share their eagle photos, offer deals from restaurants and shops, as well as a list the shops, restaurants, attractions and lodging found along the byway.
Opportunities for eagle watching continue to grow in the Alton region. Visitors can head out to view the eagles on their own, or they can take part in traditional eagle-watching events, including eagle meet and greets, eagle-watching tours and live bird demonstrations. Events take place most weekends and throughout the week, from January through March. Plus, most of the events are free. A full list of events can be found online at www.VisitAlton.com/Seasons/Eagle and in the Eagle Watcher’s Guide.
For visitors wishing to make eagle-watching a winter getaway, there are numerous eagle packages and specials available at hotels and bed and breakfast inns in Alton, Grafton and Elsah. Alton is the place to be for the best eagle events and the largest concentration of American bald eagles in Illinois. For eagle-watching updates or to receive a free Eagle Watcher’s Guide, call (800) ALTON-IL or go to www.VisitAlton.com.