By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The annual return of wintering bald eagles to the Tri-State area is triggering a new event in Quincy later this month.
Great River Eagle Days is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at America's Best Value Inn, 300 Gardner Expressway.
This event, sponsored by the Standing Bear Council, will feature live eagles presented by veterinarian Drew Kaiser of the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Quincy. In addition, the Standing Bear Council -- a group of mixed Native Americans from several different nations -- will provide activities throughout the day, including blessing-of-the-eagles ceremonies, Black Fox singers, Native American dancers and vendors, information on Native American mounds built in Quincy, and a history of Chief Keokuk.
The event is free and open to the public. Food and refreshments will be available.
Great River Eagle Days will be held in conjunction with the annual Quincy eagle watch scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 26 at Lock and Dam 21. This event, sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be held at the boat ramp/parking lot immediately south of the lock and dam.
The eagle watch -- free and open to the public -- allows visitors to view eagles in their natural habitat while searching for fish in the Mississippi River or roosting on nearby trees along both the Illinois and Missouri shores. Spotting scopes will be set up along the river, and a Corps park ranger will be available to answer questions.
The lock and dam becomes a magnet for bald eagles every winter because the churning water below the navigation structure remains open even when the rest of the river becomes encased in ice, giving eagles easy access to fish -- one of their primary foods.
Eagles have already arrived in the Quincy area, and their presence near the lock and dam -- and in other nearby roosting spots along the Quincy riverfront -- has become more apparent with the onset of colder weather.
"They've been here for the last month," said Holly Cain, executive director of the Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which touts Quincy as a tourism destination during the peak eagle-viewing season, which continues through February and sometimes even into March.
The QACVB is partnering with the Standing Bear Council to promote the Great River Eagle Days event. It also is partnering with the Corps of Engineers and the Microtel to coordinate the third annual "FAB Getaway" promotion, which invites visitors to Quincy the weekend of Jan. 26-27 to enjoy "food, architecture and bald eagles."
A special $99-per-couple package is being offered at the Microtel that includes free entry to local museums, including the Villa Kathrine; a tour of a historic home on Maine Street; discounts for dinner and brunch at two local restaurants; and the opportunity to view eagles during the eagle watch.
Cain said the Great River Eagle Days event will add yet another attraction that weekend for people who want to take advantage of the eagle-viewing opportunities offered to local residents and visitors. The America's Best Value Inn also will be offering special reduced rates that weekend.
Watching eagles in winter "is a great river activity that we're hoping to expand on," Cain said.
She said the Great River Eagle Days event "looks kind of fun" and will also serve to celebrate Quincy's Native American heritage. "It will be very family-oriented," she said.
Leslie Haslem, a spokesman for the Standing Bear Council, said the council previously held its Great River Eagle Days in Keokuk, Iowa, but no longer had access to the building where the event was quartered. So the group decided to move the event to Quincy.
"We've been wanting to move down to Quincy for quite a while," Haslem said.
She said the council's decision was further spurred by the warm reception the council received last year when it took part in a "blessing of the mounds" event at Quincy's Indian Mounds Park, regarded as a sacred burial grounds for some Native American cultures that once lived in this area.
"We have a great respect for the mounds, and Quincy has got some good things going on," Haslem said.
Two other eagle-watching events will be happening in the Tri-State region this month. Keokuk will hold its 29th annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Days Jan. 19-20, and Clarksville, Mo., will hold its annual Eagle Days Jan. 26-27. Both of these events will take place at multiple locations in those respective towns.
Volunteers are being sought to take part in the 53rd annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Count Jan. 26 throughout the Midwest from Louisiana to northern Minnesota.
"This count has been the most important bald eagle count in the nation for many, many years," said Terrence Ingram of the Eagle Nature Foundation in Apple River, Ill., who has coordinated the count for the past 30-plus years. Ingram took over the coordinator's job from the late Elton Fawks of Moline, who started the count and oversaw it for 20 years.
"It was the first results of this count in the early 1960s that truly documented the decline of the bald eagle in the nation," Ingram said in a press release, noting how bald eagles have since recovered and have been removed from the endangered species list.
"Now this count is the only factual account of how our eagles are reproducing in the Midwest," he said.
Anyone interested in participating should call Ingram at 815-594-2306 to receive an area assignment. The foundation's website is eaglenature.com.