Originally Posted Online: Jan. 04, 2013, 7:13 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 05, 2013, 3:29 pm

American eagles are making the Q-C their winter home again

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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
A bald eagle lifts off from its perch on the Big Island on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Many bald eagles have returned to the Quad-Cities during their winter migration.
Photo: Terry Herbig/file
Former Dispatch-Argus photo editor Terry Herbig of Moline photographed this bald eagle on S. Concord Street, Davenport.

At a distance, they appear as round, white puffs filling tree branches near the Mississippi and Rock rivers.Soon they soar across the open landscape, often swooping near local locks and dams for food, making it known who they are.

The American bald eagle, our nation's symbol, has become synonymous with winter in the Quad-Cities area and will be the center of attention at several events this weekend and next.

Because the area is so rich with eagles, watching these awe-inspiring creatures has become a popular wintertime activity. Large numbers of mature and immature bald eagles can be seen soaring, swooping and diving over the Mississippi and Rock rivers.

Bob Motz, a retired Rock Island High School biology teacher, says the eagles migrate in a wave down the Mississippi Valley. They vacate northern nesting areas during the winter and go south, usually in December and January. The eagles return north in late winter.

"Things are a bit different with the weather being so mild,'' said Mr. Motz. In January and February each year, Mr. Motz leads several fun and informative bald-eagle-watching tours (eaglemotz@aol.com; 309-269-3922). "Some have arrived (December) and some nested last season and are here, but it's not cold enough in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada yet to bring large numbers of eagles to the Quad-Cities. January and February will be great.''

The eagles move south to feed on fish found below the locks, dams and warm spots on the Mississippi River. Many species of fish, such as gizzard shad, are stunned and float on the surface after going through the roller dams.

If you would like to catch a glimpse of these glorious birds, here are several key spots Mr. Motz says are great for eagle-watching:

* Off Davenport's Concord Street, back around Enchanted Island. This will lead you to an area near the John F. Baker Memorial Interstate 280 Bridge on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.

* Along the back edge, deep into Rock Island's Sunset Marina. It's an area where boats kept at the marina all year use dock bubblers to protect their vessels. The bubblers help prevent surrounding water from freezing, making it a great place for eagles to hunt.

* Along the levee at the foot of Perry Street in Davenport.

* On Credit Island in western Davenport.

* The Nahant Marsh area, a 513-acre site along the Mississippi River in southwest Davenport.

* On the Rock Island bicycle path along the riverfront.

* At Lock and Dam 14, downstream from LeClaire.

* Near the Quad-Cities Nuclear Power Station at Cordova.

*The Mississippi River Visitors Center on Arsenal Island, between Davenport and Rock Island.

* The Davenport and Rock Island riverfronts, downriver from Lock and Dam 15.

Mr. Motz also offered several tips for viewing bald eagles:

* Arrive early. Bald eagles are most active in the early morning. The best time for eagle watching is from sunrise to 10 a.m. when eagles feed. Dawn and dusk are the best times to see the birds diving for a meal.

* When you're not at a manned eagle observation site, stay in your vehicle. If you approach a tree where eagles are perched, you'll chase them away and they need to limit their flying time in order to preserve energy and maintain body heat to survive in the cold temperatures.

* Check the weather. Eagles like clear, cold mornings. Eagles will roost on rainy days and will be found soaring on windy days. More eagles will be seen when the rivers are frozen than when the water is clear.

* Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. If using a scope, a tripod is useful. Even a small pair of binoculars can dramatically enhance your experience.

Bald eagle events

* Jan. 11-13, Bald Eagle Days: Celebrate the annual southern migration of the bald eagle to the open waters on the Mississippi River.  These magnificent birds of prey gather along the wooded bluffs to spend the winter in the Quad Cities.  Go eagle-watching and attend the largest environmental fair in the Midwest at the QCCA Expo Center in Rock Island. qccaexpocenter.com

* Jan. 5, Clinton Bald Eagle Watch: 8:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. at Lock & Dam 13 (3 miles north of Fulton, along Illinois 84); 9 a.m.-2 p.m.,  exhibits and programs at Clinton Community College.

* Jan. 5-6, LeClaire Bald Eagle Watch: Outdoor viewing at Lock & Dam 14, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.

* Jan. 19 to Feb. 10, Arsenal Island: Eagle Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center. The center is on Lock & Dam 15. To reserve a tour, call (309) 794-5338.

* Jan. 26, Bald Eagle Watch in Muscatine: Live-eagle programs and environmental exhibits are at Pearl City Station in Riverside Park. Outdoor viewing is available at the park and at Lock & Dam 16.