It wasn't snowing or blowing, and the temperature wasn't down to the 20's like it sometimes can be at Eagle Watch. In fact, the sun was shining all day while hundreds of participants strolled about Portland General Electric's Round Butte Park.
This two-day event, usually held the last weekend of February, has been an annual event for the last 22 years. Paul Patton, then the ranger at Smith Rock State Park, came up with the idea in the interest of getting Oregon State Parks to celebrate the unique population of eagles that soar in the skies above Lake Billy Chinook.
He asked various conservation organizations, PGE, state and federal wildlife wildlife conservation agencies and the local Audubon group to bring the best they had to Round Butte Park and help celebrate the magnificent raptors that populate Central Oregon.
The idea was met with enthusiasm, including everyone from the state and feds to the private conservation institutions—plus the wildlife and cultural programs of the Warm Springs Nation. Everyone jumped in and asked, "What can we do?" It's the same today, except the person now running the show is Erin Bennett, Interpretive Park Ranger at The Cove Palisades State Park. But of all the responses, the bald and golden eagles seem to be the most cooperative. They soar by the visitors, observing them from the many telescopes set up at on the rims of Round Butte overlooking the dam, cliffs and palisades.
There are lookout points along the rim overlooking Lake Billy Chinook, manned with birding experts who help visitors appreciate the eagles soaring over the lake and nesting on the cliffs.
"This is a fun, free weekend event perfect for the entire family," said Bennett. "Visitors will have the opportunity to glimpse our resident bald and golden eagles, as well as learn about the significance of the eagle to tribal culture and traditions."
Central Oregon students in 4th to 12th grades entered an eagle art contest, and winners were announced at lunch on Saturday, with artwork put on display during the weekend.
Event attendees could view and photograph Aquila, a rehabilitated golden eagle, as well as a great horned owl that lives at the Sunriver Nature Center, while JR Beaver, Smokey Bear and Larry the Lightbulb roamed throughout the crowds. Children were also invited to participate in the eagle race on Saturday or to make a bird feeder on Sunday. Madras Garden Center demonstrated how to create a backyard refuge to enjoy birdwatching year-round at your own home.
Wild eagle viewing took place each day at Round Butte Overlook Park and two overlooks on Mountain View Road. Wildlife biologists have recorded 11 bald eagle pairs and nine pairs of golden eagles living in the area year-round. Other bald eagles searching for food join the resident birds from January through March.
Sunday afternoon, Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises Quartz Creek Drummers and Dancers provided a special presentation of tribal drumming and dancing. The event is free, but when money changes hands for souvenirs and such, the proceeds go to benefit the Oregon Eagle Foundation.
The OEF is run by Frank Isaacs, responsible for putting together a team of volunteers and wildlife professionals who set the standards for the remarkable recovery of the American bald eagle in the Northwest. He began working on the disappearance of the Bald Eagle in the 70's, when there were fewer than 10 nesting bald eagles in Oregon. When the bald eagle was taken off the Endangered Species list there were over 500 active nests statewide. Today there are over 700, and more are being discovered each year.
Tori McGee, one of the outreach staff at the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver, had this to say about her recent experience at Eagle Watch: "As an astronomy interpreter at the Oregon Observatory in Sunriver, I'm able to participate in our outreach programs by taking telescopes to different events and schools.
"We brought two telescopes to Eagle Watch this weekend to do solar viewing. They both had special filters so the participants could have a chance to safely view the sun. I love interpreting facts about our closest star and showing what our sun really looks like.
"One telescope views the natural light spectrum, or the real color of the sun, like very powerful sunglasses. The other telescope shows the hydrogen on the sun by looking only at the H-Alpha wavelength, that shows many features in this view, including loops of plasma, called a prominence, and bright active regions.
"During Eagle Watch, when the eagles were hiding, the astronomy telescopes were busy with excited nature enthusiasts viewing a new side of our universe. It was the highlight of my weekend and I'd like to thank Jerry Niehuser, a long-time participant in Eagle Watch and Astronomy Guru, for inviting us. We had a wonderful time sharing our love of stars with everyone at Eagle Watch."
Call Oregon State Parks Information at 800-551-6949 or The Cove Palisades State Park at 541-546-3412 oregonstateparks.org.
Information will also be posted on the Cove Palisades blog, The Cove Rattler, at covepalisades.wordpress.com