As people’s schedules start calming down after the Christmas season, bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike had the chance to come together at Shenango River Lake and learn about America’s avian rockstar: the bald eagle.
Hundreds of people attended the second-annual Eagle Fest on Saturday, Jan. 8, which was hosted by the Shenango River Watchers. The event offered visitors an opportunity to learn more about bald eagles that nest around Shenango River Lake, including the river below the dam and nearby wildlife areas.
Early January is typically the best time to see eagles out on the lake – open water on frozen lakes offer bald eagles prime fishing opportunities. At previous Eagle Fests, attendees saw more than 90 adult and juvenile bald eagle nests in one day.
This year, because the lake froze over, a reduced number of eagles was observed during the event.
“We haven’t seen too many today,’’ said Bill Spring, the supervisory natural resource manager at Shenango River Lake. “The lake started getting iced over last night, and they’re not out very much today. Open water is a key hunting ground for eagles.’’
That did not stop another member of the winged community from stealing the spotlight.
Six-year-old Apollo, a peregrine falcon, quickly became the center of attention. Apollo was brought to the event by the Tamarack Wildlife Center, a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife before returning them to the wild.
Occasionally, birds that can’t survive in the wild stay with the group as “ambassador birds,” such as Apollo, who suffered a wing injury. The nonprofit group brought several other birds along with Apollo as a part of an educational presentation for attendees.
Game wardens from the Pennsylvania Game Commission also gave a presentation about bald eagles’ history and recovery in Pennsylvania.
According to the presentation, there were less than five bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania 50 years ago. Today, there are more than 300, several of which are local to Shenango River Lake.
“We are really happy to have partnered with the Shenango River Watchers, PA Game Commission and Tamarack Wildlife Center,” said Matt Pook, a natural resource specialist at Shenango River Lake. “I think it made for an informative, entertaining program. The addition of Tamarack Wildlife Center and their ambassador birds made the experience more memorable.”
In addition to being an educational opportunity for bird lovers, Eagle Fest is an opportunity for attendees to take the role of “citizen scientists,” according to Evan Skornick, Pittsburgh District’s Northern Area Manager, they help themselves and the Corps learn more about the lake and local wildlife.
“Citizen scientists are very important,” said Skornick. “As volunteers, they allow us to really get much greater information than we could just on our own or just with the partners we have.”
Shenango River Lake is one of 16 flood-control projects in the Pittsburgh District. The dam provides water releases during dry periods to improve water quality and quantity for domestic and industrial use, recreation, and aquatic life. Since its completion in 1965, Shenango has prevented more than $173 million in flood damages.