2013-01-16 / Attractions

EagleFest: A Soaring Spectacle

By Annie Chesnut

Crowds admire a bald eagle at EagleFest Crowds admire a bald eagle at EagleFest

On Saturday, February 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teatown Lake Reservation is hosting its ninth annual EagleFest event at locations along the Hudson River between Ossining and Boscobel.

We spoke with communications coordinator Mary Haley, education director Phyllis Bock, and executive director Kevin Carter in a wide-ranging telephone interview last week.

“The event is now stretching quite a long way,” Haley said—with “viewing stations” from Sleepy Hollow all the way to Garrison. But, as always, Croton Point Park on Route 9 in Croton-on-Hudson hosts the main event.

With a theme of “Flying into the Future: What You Can Do,” EagleFest “is a way for the public to discover the small things they can do each day to have a big impact on wildlife. All programs, tables and activities will center around this theme,” Teatown’s press release noted.

This year’s EagleFest features birds of prey shows, bus tours to various sites with wildlife educators, programs on birding optics, photography, and more. “The focus of the whole event is to get people out,” Haley said, “get them aware of the conservation of eagles and also their rise back to a good population level, and helping them to view them in the wild.”

“As you know, there is nothing like seeing one fly overhead,” Haley noted.

Educators will be on site at various locations, including Steamboat Dock Park in Verplanck, the Bear Mountain Zoo, Boscobel, and others. The Boscobel event—9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on February 9 (snow date February 10) will offer “breathtaking vistas and viewing opportunities from the Belvedere overlooking the Hudson River,” eagle experts with scopes to assist visitors, a heated tent and complimentary hot cocoa for warming up, and a free keepsake map. Visitors are then encouraged to head to other viewing sites along the river.

While bald eagles are no longer on the federal endangered species list, they are still a protected species. And, although numbers of nesting pairs have risen, they are still threatened by continued surges of development along big waterways, Haley said, and “they need areas of green space and clean water,” for feeding.

Teatown, which is a bit inland, has no resident bald eagles—“they really are down along the Hudson River”—but they do fly over on their way to the river, Bock told us.

There are eagles throughout the United States, from Maine all the way down to Florida, on both coasts and throughout the country. There is a nest very close to Annsville Creek, in Cortlandt, and those eagles are probably year-round residents.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation brought eagles back from Alaska in the 1970s “and established a population here in New York that thrives,” Haley told us. By the end of the 1980s there were ten successful mating pairs, and now there are more than 220 successful pairs in the state, she added.

As raptors, eagles “really kind of are at the top of the food chain,” Haley told us, so they have no natural predators other than humans. It’s a federal offense to possess any part of an eagle.

An adult bald eagle weights 10 to 14 pounds, and has a 7-foot wingspan. As for food, they are carnivores, but they are also “opportunists,” Haley said. Other than fish, “they’ll go for small mammals—rats, mice, voles.” They will also hunt for waterfowl. Some eagles have even been hit by trains while scavenging on dead deer along the tracks.

Eagles have super-sharp vision and their taloned feet have “little bumps on the bottom,” Haley said, to prevent them from dropping slippery fish. The hooked beak is made for tearing. “They’re very well adapted to what they do.”

Last year’s Eagle Fest hosted 4,200 people at the Croton location alone. At Croton Point Park there is ample parking and the event is free, thanks to sponsorship from First Niagara Bank, but donations are welcome. There are fees for shows in the Eagle Theater ($5 in advance and $10 at the door) and bus tours are $25 per person.

There will be bird-related vendors, spotting scope and binocular companies and crafts and activities in the children’s tent throughout the day.

Teatown Reservation, located in Ossining just off of the Taconic Parkway, is a unique nature preserve located in the heart of a rural residential area that is not suited for large numbers of visitors. Instead, the 1000-member nonprofit focuses very intently on “outreach programs, both for kids and adults,” Carter said. They offer an environmental science outreach program that reaches 25 towns and are very involved in local schools. “We’re seen as a good collaborator” with other conservation-minded groups and organizations, he added.

For more information about Teatown and EagleFest visit www.teatown.org.

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