Environmental groups again will celebrate the rebound of the majestic bald eagle in the region with public viewing events next weekend at four dams along the Fox River.
The program, which debuted last year at locations in Carpentersville, Algonquin and McHenry, has been expanded to include a site in Burlington, Wis. Experienced birders with equipment and expertise will be on hand at all locations from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12. Visit www.hacmatacknwr.org for details and maps.
After the drop-in viewings, the public is invited for hot chocolate and a presentation featuring live bald and golden eagles at the McHenry County Conservation District's Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake. Space is limited and registration is required at (815) 479-5779.
"We definitely have spaces but it is a popular event," said Kim Compton, education program coordinator for the conservation district. Children's activities have been moved this year to the dam sites to coincide with the eagle watch, she added.
The best chance to see an eagle may be when there is ice on the river, but they are here year-round and organizers say there will be plenty of wildlife to observe in any case.
"We plan these observation sites along the Fox River at dams because if it was colder these are the only spots that would be open and eagles would congregate," said Cindy Skrudrud, secretary of Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, which spans northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and McHenry County Audubon also will be participating. Besides information on eagles, spotting scopes and binoculars will be provided to help novices identify what they see.
"We had good attendance and a steady flow of people," Greg Rajsky, director of volunteer programs for Conserve Lake County, said of last year's event.
Bald eagles are recognizable by their enormous wingspan, striking white head and tail, and yellow talons. Once near extinction, they have made a comeback with the ban on the pesticide DDT. They were removed from the national endangered species list in 2007, but still are protected under federal law.
Bald eagles have been seen at various locations in Lake County and the region, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the past few years, 10 or more at a time have been spotted near Fox River dams in McHenry, Elgin and Batavia, and smaller numbers have been seen at dams in Algonquin, Carpentersville, St. Charles and South Elgin, according to the agency.
"At least 23 bald eagle nests have been constructed in northeastern Illinois in the last 10 years," Skrudrud said. "Up to 2004, we hadn't had a nesting bald eagle pair in 100 years."
Not all nests are occupied or used every year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bald eagle's return as a nesting species began in 2004, when a pair built a nest along the Calumet River in Chicago.
"There are more and more of them, so the chance of seeing them is getting greater," Skrudrud said.
"Lots of times in December, people start hunkering down but it's a good time to get out and enjoy the Fox River," which provides a good habitat for other bird species, she added.