by Maria Ann Roglieri
Each year more than 150 bald eagles, our national bird that was once an endangered species, spend the winter along Hudson Valley waterways. They come down from Canada, northern New York and New England to the lower Hudson Valley to feed on fish and waterfowl in unfrozen waters. Residents of the river towns enjoy watching them, trading stories about and photos of these magnificent creatures. A great opportunity to watch the bald eagles will be at the annual Hudson River EagleFest, run by the nonprofit environmental education center and nature preserve, Teatown Lake Reservation.
The bald eagles’ return to the Valley is a testament to the renewed health of the Hudson River. Riverkeeper, New York’s clean water advocate group, has been active for years in cleaning up contaminants in the Hudson and in the surrounding environment. Dan Shapley, Water Quality Program Manager for Riverkeeper, commented, “The recovery of the bald eagle is an example of what we as a society can accomplish when we set our minds to , and it is something we would like to see for many other Hudson River species above and below the water.”
According to Shapely, the most harmful contaminant for the bald eagles was DDT; it made their eggshells weak and prevented them from breathing well. Shapley hopes that the recovery of the iconic bald eagle in the Hudson Valley will encourage all of us to do our parts to continue to reduce contaminants so that we may also bring back our iconic fish such as the Atlantic sturgeon and the American chad.
Although bald eagle sightings are most frequent during the winter, residents of the river towns enjoy sightings year-round. In Sleepy Hollow, for example, eagles are often spotted roosting in the trees along the river by people who are swimming in the river, or waiting for a train on the Philipse Manor Metro-North platform. Tom Andruss, President of the Philipse Manor Beach Club, remarked, “Between the old Grand Central Station Eagle statue that sits in the Philipse Manor Improvement Association parking lot and the real ones coasting in the sky, the sight of bald eagles in our midst is a happy reminder of the historical and ecological significance of the Hudson Valley and the Sleepy Hollow community.”
The 12th annual Teatown Hudson River Eaglefest will be held on Saturday, February 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Croton Point Park. The event offers fun and unique opportunities to learn about and to view the bald eagles including: guided and independent eagle viewing; live raptor shows; bus tours and bird walks; children’s activities; and displays from 25 local environmental organizations. Educational shows and live music will be presented all day long. Gourmet food will be available for purchase from Tarrytown’s own RiverMarket and from Ossining’s Wobble Café.
RiverMarket owner Glenn Vogt said, “To see these majestic birds in their natural habitat soaring above the Hudson River is an incredible sight and one not to be missed. We are honored to participate in EagleFest 2016 and to provide some delicious food and drink from RiverMarket to the many visitors who will be coming out to see the eagles . . .and spending a truly memorable winter day in the beautiful Hudson Valley.”
Most of the viewing and activities will take place in Croton Point Park, but also at locations along the Hudson River including Croton Boat Ramp (Croton-Harmon Train Station), New Croton Dam, Boscobel House and Gardens (Garrison), George’s Island Park (Montrose), Peekskill Riverfront Green, Steamboat River Park (Verplanck), and Westmoreland Sanctuary (Mt. Kisco). Eagle experts with spotting scopes will be stationed at each viewing area to help people locate the Eagles and learn about them. A Teatown educator will give a two hour in-depth view of eagles in their natural habitat via a charter bus tour (two tours, 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.) beginning at Croton Point Park and stopping at three locations along the river.
Sleepy Hollow’s resident ornithologist Tim Judge has some advice for everyone looking for eagles: keep in mind that as you look to the sky you will see both bald eagles and turkey vultures. The way to tell them apart is the position of their wings: bald eagles keep their wings flat, in the same plane as their body, while turkey vultures hold their wings in a “V” above their body.
More than 3,000 attendees are expected this year and many bald eagles as well. Admission to EagleFest is $15/adults (12+), $10/children (6-11) and free for children five and under ($2 discount if you preorder through www.teatown.org). A rain/snow date has been scheduled for Sunday, February 7.
Teatown’s EagleFest offers an excellent opportunity for first time as well as veteran birdwatchers to learn about and celebrate the iconic bald eagle. It also offers us a chance to celebrate the health and beauty of our beloved Hudson River. See you at Croton Point Park on February 6! Happy birding!