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 and the Audubon Center at Riverlands will host the Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2. Free family-friendly activities, eagle-watching shuttle tours and a live American bald 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, West Alton, Mo., will feature live regional birds of prey and offer additional family activities.
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 always popular ice cube giveaway where every participant is a winner when they choose an ice cube, which will feature a special offer from a regional business. These prizes can include discounts on merchandise or food or free gifts. Liberty Bank will also take part in the kick-off event by sponsoring the Ice Putt Putt contest for visitors. The bank’s mascot, Sam the Eagle, will also be hand to greet visitors to downtown Alton. Create finger puppets to memorialize the event with the help of volunteers from Alton Main Street. Chase off the chills of the January weather with the help of a cup of hot chocolate courtesy of the Alton Museum of History and Art.
There will be the star of the show: a 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 shuttle tours which will provide visitors with a guided look at eagle-watching hot spots in the region. All shuttles leave from the Audubon Center at Riverlands. The cost for these 45-minute tours is $5 per person and reservations may be made in advance at www.visitalton.com/shuttle. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. and the last tour will depart 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 Visitors Center. Spotting scopes are available and guests will get an up-close and personal look at the area’s birds of prey presented by TreeHouse Wildlife Center. Representatives of area attractions and conservation organizations also 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, which is 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 ten hot spots — Pere Marquette State Park, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, Alton Visitor Center, Audubon Center at Riverlands, National Great Rivers Museum, Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower, TreeHouse Wildlife Center, Lewis & Clark State Historic Site, Columbia Bottom Conservation Area or the Grafton Visitor Center — and have their card initialed by a representative of that site will receive a free eagle T-shirt by returning a completed card to the Alton Visitors Center while supplies last. The contest is sponsored in part by Alton Memorial Hospital and Phillips 66. For information, 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 2016 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 upcoming 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.
Annually, the 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 some of the traditional eagle-watching events in the region, including eagle meet and greets, eagle-watching tours and live bird demonstrations. Events take place nearly every weekend and throughout the week, from January through March. Plus, most of the events in the region are free of charge. A full list of events can be found online at www.VisitAlton.com/Seasons/Eagle and in the Eagle Watcher’s Guide.
For visitors who would like 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 the state of Illinois. For the latest eagle-watching updates or to receive your free Eagle Watcher’s Guide, call (800) ALTON-IL or go to www.visitalton.com.