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Eagle Watch Weekends

January 19, 2012
By

By Lee McClellan

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The bow of the CQ Princess barely cleared the no-wake zone at Kenlake State Resort Park Marina when Lake Barkley State Park Naturalist Mary Schmidt spotted them.

“There are two juvenile eagles to our right,” she announced over a microphone on the second deck of the excursion yacht. The mottled brown plumage of the birds showed their youth as bald eagles don’t develop that familiar white head until roughly age 5.

Photo provided by DFWL

A few moments later, Schmidt spotted two adult bald eagles loafing in the trees near the cottages at Kenlake State Resort Park as the boat headed north to the Land Between the Lakes side of Kentucky Lake. Their white heads stood out from hundreds of yards away.

Our group observed four eagles before the CQ Princess motored under the Eggner Ferry Bridge (U.S. 68), just north of Kenlake State Resort Park. This hot start was indicative of the coming day. Over the course of two hours, media members witnessed 22 eagles on a trial run to showcase the fun and enjoyment the Eagle Watch Weekends offer to the public.

These weekends begin at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park on Jan. 20-22. The following weekend, Jan. 27-29, Lake Barkley State Resort Park hosts Eagle Watch Weekend. They conclude at Kenlake State Resort Park on Feb. 3-5.

“We have 98 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Kentucky now,” said Kate Heyden, avian biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We should break 100 nesting pairs this year in the state.”

From the 1950s to the 1980s, no bald eagles nested in Kentucky. In 1987, a nesting pair showed up at Ballard Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in far western Kentucky near where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet.

Thirteen nesting pairs of bald eagles called Kentucky home by 2000. “They’ve quadrupled in Kentucky in the last ten years or so,” Heyden said. “It’s pretty great.”

The Eagle Watch Weekends offer a comfortable and relaxing way to see our national bird in its winter habitat. “It is by far and away the easiest way to see bald eagles,” Heyden said. “It is delightfully lazy in a large boat that is comfortable. You get to see more birds in one day than most people who study them get to see most years. Plus, you don’t worry about disturbing the birds.”

Bald eagle numbers plummeted due to the harmful effects of absorbing the insecticide DDT into their systems. “It made their egg shells too thin,” Heyden said. “They would break when the eagle covered them to incubate the eggs. We had little to no bald eagle reproduction for a time.”

The banning of DDT, introduction programs and improved law enforcement all combined to spring a comeback for the bald eagle. “We also have large chunks of open water and protected shoreline from all of the reservoirs built in the last 50 years or so,” Heyden said. “We have a lot of good eagle habitat now.”
The Land Between the Lakes region offers a huge swatch of undeveloped land and shoreline for eagles to live. “It is one of the top places to bird watch in the country,” Schmidt explained. “There are lots of migrating birds to see around here, especially when it’s cold north of us.”

In addition to the boating excursions, Eagle Watch Weekends offer guided van tours on the Land Between the Lakes and Ballard WMA (van tours to Ballard WMA are only offered at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park). This gives birdwatchers a more intimate eagle watching experience. A naturalist accompanies each van tour group.

“It is awesome,” said Erin Carrico, executive director of the Murray Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is very surprising how intense it is. People think that Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are dormant in winter, but there’s a lot going on here.”

For registration information, please call:
Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park: 1-270-362-4271
Lake Barkley State Resort Park: 1-270-924-1131
Kenlake State Resort Park: 1-270-474-2211
(Editors: Please email Lee.McClellan@ky.gov for photos.)

Media Contact: Lee McClellan 1-800-858-1549, ext. 4443

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