Soaring With Eagles

On Sunday morning, at oh-dark-thirty, after Anne and I drove Dave to the airport, we came home again, went back to bed and slept until ten.  David made it back to Rochester on time and without any mishaps.  I’m glad that I didn’t book him through Cleveland, like I was considering.  Cleveland’s airport closed for the day, due to a power outage.  When Dave got back to Rochester, it was actually warmer there then it was here in Saint Louis.

At about noontime we started driving north.  The goal of the day’s adventure was to see Bald Eagles.  I figured that with more than a week of below freezing temperatures, much of the river would be frozen.  The few areas of still open water would be below each step, of that stairway of locks and dams that begin just north of Saint Louis and climb the Mississippi up to Minneapolis.  Since the Bald Eagles feeds on fish, these locks and dams would be prime sites for observing them. 

We had already visited and reported on the first lock in the stairway, number twenty-six also known as Mel Price, at the Riverlands Conservation Area.  We had seen eagles there, but I wanted to try someplace new.  So we headed west, crossed the Missouri into Saint Charles and then headed north along the western bank of the Mississippi River.

Our first stop was at the Winfield lock and dam, number twenty-five.  We saw about a half-dozen eagles there.  A couple of eagles were flying around, but most roosted in the trees lining the riverbank, between the lock and the downstream ferry.  Not being particularly satisfied with this observation we elected to continue our drive north.

Lock twenty-four, at Clarksville, was our next stop.  There was at least a couple dozen eagles there.  They were much more active then the ones at Winfield.  You could see many black dots roosting in the tree tops across the river in Illinois, but the main attraction were the soaring eagles.  They were congregated around the Missouri side of the spillway.  The spillway not only keeps ice from forming, but also stuns the fish as they pass through it.  The stunned fish tend to float to the surface and this attracts the eagles.

There were ice floes on the Illinois side of the river.  Eagles would sometimes land on them instead of flying all the way back to Illinois.  The river is a little less than a half mile across at Clarksville.  Clarksville has a nice observation lookout, while the one at Winfield was in disrepair.

The most exciting aspect of viewing the eagles occurs when one of them actually catches a fish.  The lucky one is soon beset by a flock of his hungry brethren.  Today’s header shows an example of one of these chases.  Sometimes the lucky one would get to keep its catch, sometimes it would be stolen and sometimes the fish got away.

Before we headed for home, we stopped at the Clarksville Station Restaurant.  This establishment looks to be new and also more sumptuous than I had expected to see.  By the look of the larger, albeit snow-covered, patio dining area I’m guessing that it does a lot more business in the summertime.  Anne and I each had coffee and their deep dish apple cobbler, à la mode.

Saint Louis Eagles

The Thursday morning paper announced that the Bald Eagles had returned to Saint Louis.  I’d even seen a picture of one in the Park, but I had not seen one and more importantly I did not have a picture of one.  So the day’s expedition was already hatching in my noggin, off to the river, across to Illinois and onward to Pere Marquette State Park.  Anne and I launched in falling snow, under grey skies.  We drove northward all the while trying to keep the car windows from fogging.  It must have been the hot breath of our pursuit.

Our first stop was just this side of the Mississippi River at the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area.  This is a wetlands area that is operated by the Corps of Engineers.  As we drove into the area, we saw dozens of Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese and an as yet unidentified species of “duck-like” waterfowl, of which we did not get a good picture.  I was going to use a picture of flying swans with this post, but I’ll save it for later.  I’m thinking of calling it, White Swans in a Snowstorm.  😉

We stopped at the visitor’s center and were instructed on how to find eagles.  Look for them in the tops of trees along the river’s edge.  We saw one across the pool, but it was little more than a dot.  We drove on to Mel Price Lock.  An eagle was fishing below the spillway, but it flew off before we could turn off the engine.  We headed back out, but before we got onto the highway we turned off to check out Ellis Island.  We saw a pair together in one tree and a third further down the tree line.   Any attempt to get closer was foiled by a sign proclaiming that the island was closed to the public as an Eagle Rest Area. 

We met a couple there.  We lent them our binoculars, so that they could see the eagles too.  They repaid us with a great suggestion for lunch, the Fin Inn, Grafton, IL.  The fin in the inn is a fish fin.  The place is a fish house.  Anne and I both had catfish sandwiches.  Anne’s applesauce side was to die for.  Each booth had a fish tank at one end.  Pictured are relatives to the piranha, but these guys are vegan.  By the end of the meal though, they were starting to creep me out.


We made it to Pere Marquette and asked the ranger where we might see eagles.  He directed us back the way we came to the Brussels Ferry and there next to the ferryman’s building were a pair of bald eagles.  Now TMZ may have the scoop on Tiger, but I have even more salacious material on the very symbol of our nation.  Look at the header again.  Now, cue the music: Bees Do It, Birds Do It …

We wound our way back down the River Road, stopping whenever we saw another eagle.  I fruitlessly tramped down an embankment to try to get a better shot.  We stopped back at the Grafton Visitor’s Center and were accosted by a troupe of boys.  They greeted us with the question, “Did you see any eagles?”  We answered their questions, by showing them our pictures.  In the gathering gloom we stopped once more in Riverlands.  It is there that I snapped my eagle for this post.