Flight of an Eagle
By Donna Stehling Sauk Prairie Eagle
Thursday, January 20, 2005
SAUK PRAIRIE Cold brought eagles to the Sauk Prairie area and people came to watch the birds of prey despite the temperature last weekend as part of the 18th annual Bald Eagle Watching Days.
As eagle watchers armed with cameras, prowled the viewing sites, some eagles perched along the Wisconsin River watched for a passing meal.
The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council estimated 2,000 people came for the event. Some went directly to the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac to warm up with coffee and pancakes and get their free tickets for the Bird of Prey Show, where the theater filled to standing room only.
Others took bus tours and enjoyed workshops, almost all biding their time for the release of two rehabilitated eagles on Saturday afternoon and the one on Sunday.
Organizers estimated 1,000 people witnessed the Saturday release of two eagles and 500 came for Sundays release.
Kay Roherty, president of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, said she heard compliments from eagle visitors. They said the event was well organized, and the people were helpful and friendly, she said.
On Saturday, at the boat landing in VFW Park in Prairie du Sac, Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group Incorporated of Antigo released a 25-year old male eagle and a 10-month old female.
She said she was able to state the age of the eight-pound male because of his federal leg bands. He was brought to her because he had ingested some poison.
When he was released, he flew directly across the river and found a perch from which to survey the territory.
The second bird Gibson described as a chick born in March 2004. Fallen from its nest, Gibson said the bird showed her independent streak immediately.
Gibson told the crown this young bird was special, not just because she was strong willed and chatty, but because she was part of a healing process for a family dealing with the deaths of two daughters.
With family members witnessing, Gibson released the young bird in memory of Toots Markardt.
This is one of the most spirited birds Ive ever known. She was even spirited to her foster eagle mom. She was the first of the chicks to feed herself, the first to jump out of the nest.
When Gibson released this bird, she circled twice above the river, dipped her feet in the river and drew the attention of another juvenile.
After some acrobatics, the chick settled on the opposite shore and proceeded to draw a crowd of seven eagles, including on mature female. Gibson said this was a good sign. The birds whistled and chortled.
Gibson said they were speaking eagle to each other.
When asked what is so important about Bald Eagle Watching Days, Gibson said the show and the releases raise awareness among the general public.
The show connects people personally to the eagles, she said. People call, asking who is coming, meaning which birds. They have become personal friends.
Roherty said people come every year. From basic eagle biology questions asked at the release, she knows that some people just come to the Bird of Prey Show and some just come for the release.
Eagle researcher Kristin Hall said a radio-tracking project, which is now in its final stages, has provided data indicating how the birds use the area. Hall said they need food and shelter.
The survey shows they tend to gather along the undeveloped shoreland where they can find undisturbed places in which they can perch and search for food, the open water and agricultural lands for food foraging and sheltered areas for nightly roosting.
Hall said this data has been incorporated in materials prepared by the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and provided to the town of Roxbury for inclusion in its comprehensive land use plan.
They have presented the same information to the villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac and the town of Prairie du Sac for inclusion in their joint comprehensive land-use plan and they will be presenting the same material to the town of West Point for the same purpose.
The economic impact survey Hall conducted last year as part of her masters thesis indicates the eagles generated more than $1.1 million in revenue in the communities during the eagle season, a much appreciated tourist-generated income during a traditionally slow time of the year.
Jim Leystra, the owner of Leystras Venture Restaurant in Sauk City, said he had more business over the weekend than if it had not been eagle days. But he said there were bigger crowds in the past and he wonders if they were more concentrated on the other end of town because the activities were located in the River Arts Center and high school or if people are going to the other eagle events in the state.
At the Eagle Inn in Prairie du Sac, Todd Baker said Saturday morning was slow, but they had a nice lunch and they were busy all day Sunday.
He also said it was not like it used to be when they had people standing in lines out the doors, waiting for meals.
There was an accident on Water Street in Prairie du Sac on Saturday morning and he wondered if that deterred the breakfast crowd.
At the Blue Spoon Creamery Café, manager Patty Seeley said it was business as usual on Saturday and quieter on Sunday. She was wondering if the cold weather and the UW mens basketball teams game that day had something to do with the smaller crowds.
At Culvers on Phillips Boulevard in Sauk City, manager Robin Welsch said business was awesome on Saturday and mellow on Sunday. She said they expected to be busier and eagle watchers were requesting eagle information which they gladly printed out from the Web site.
Kris Kent of Wollersheims Winery, where they released Eagle Wine just for the event, said although they were busy on Saturday and business was slower on Sunday, it appears they did the same amount of business as past years. She said it also appeared that people came up to the winery to warm up after the afternoon eagle releases.
The Kiwanis Club kept up with their two griddles. Member Anna Bruhn said their pancake breakfast did okay but not great. Sunday was slower than Saturday. Bruhn did not think there were as many eagle watchers as there had been in the past.
But she said WEAGLE, a variety show, did well on Saturday night. There were at least 40 people in the audience, mostly locals, for the community variety show, loosely patterened after The Prairie Home Companion.
Bruhn said the middle and high school students participating did a good job with improvising and presentation. With host Bill Pielsticker and his co-host Dr. Joe Kelley, she said the WEAGLE company did get a good bunch of laughs at the right places.
Roherty said although Bald Eagle Watching Days is one major activity of the non-profit organization, they are active year round and anyone with interest in eagles, songbirds, wildlife, and their habitat is welcome to join.
For information call 643-2417.