Looking For Eagles

Dozens of spectators on Saturday watched from the Kinzua Dam Visitor Center as a bald eagle perched on a branch overlooking the Allegheny River.

After carefully stalking its prey, the eagle then swooped down and snatched a fish from the water.

Delighted cheers and conversations followed as participants in the 4th Annual Eagle Watch, hosted by the US Army Corp of Engineers, reacted to what they had just seen.

“Everyone is seeing eagles,” reported Bill Massa of the Allegheny Outdoor Club, one of the event’s sponsors. “There have been a couple sightings of bald eagles picking fish out of the water; one right below the dam and one down at Dixon Island, the first island below the dam. There’s even a welcoming committee of three bald eagles somewhere around the Dairy Delite”

Approximately 10-12 different eagles were sighted during the event held at the Kinzua Dam, estimated Massa and Mike Toole, another member of the event staff.

According to Massa and Toole, a golden eagle was even sighted during the event by Army Corp of Engineers employee Mike Dowlan who was stationed on top of the dam.

“They (golden eagles) are only here in the winter,” ornithologist Emily Thomas explained. “They’re rarely sighted in the area because they don’t like people and they breed up in Canada. The ones we have tagged breed on the south shore of the Hudson Bay.”

Despite temperatures in the low teens, snow, and low visibility, dozens of participants flocked in each hour to try and catch a glimpse of the eagles.

Odie Swartz of Hermitage and Jerry Hazlett of Sharpsville made the trip up this year for the first time and were not disappointed.

“We’ve been out here for about fifteen minutes,” said Swartz as they focused their cameras on a bald eagle across the river. “We’ve already seen a couple of bald eagles, so we’re happy. It’s something to do on a Saturday in the winter rather than just sit inside.”

“It’s been cold, but interesting,” added Hazlett.

Cindy and Howard Wurzbacher of Titusville were also first-timers to the Eagle Watch. “We read about it in our local newspaper,” they explained, “and we’ve spent some time kayaking in the area down by Tidioute and are used to seeing eagles, so we wanted to see some more.”

For Cindy, there’s something extra special about seeing a bald eagle during the winter. “It’s something different to do in the winter. It’s not often that you go outside in the snow to look for bald eagles.”

Participants looking to defrost were welcomed inside the visitor’s center where hot drinks and refreshments were available to enjoy while listening to Dave Donachy of the PA Game Commission as he gave presentations on the state’s bald eagle recovery program.

“These are efforts made to restore the eagle population by bringing young eagles from Cananda to breed in artificial nesting grounds,” Donachy explained.

“In a 25-mile radius of Warren,” Thomas added, “there are now at least 20 active eagle nests.”

The Eagle Watch wasn’t the only attraction available to visitors on Saturday thanks to the Kinzua Cachers, a local geocaching group.

‘Caching with Eagles,’ offered geocachers a chance to locate 15 unique temporary caches, only available for the event, spread across the area surrounding the Kinzua Dam Visitor’s Center.

According to Hannah Yoder, caching name ‘Yoders2012’ and Natalie Orcutt, a member of the Rockton Raiders, the caches ranged from a micro-cache the size of a pinky fingernail all the way to a full-size cache about the size of a gallon of milk.

“You use a GPS unit to locate the caches,” Yoders explained, “and when you find it, you sign your name on the log. It’s basically a virtual treasure hunt.”

“The larger caches sometimes even have a treat for children,” added Orcutt.

The attachment of the geocaching event with the eagle watch was the result of Liz and Wes Ramsey of Penn Soil, a local sponsor of the event, according to Yoders and Orcutt.

“The goal is to get local cachers together,” Yoders explained. “We have cachers from DuBois, Shippensburg, as well as several locals.”

“It’s a great chance to get out and enjoy the eagles and find caches as well,” Orcutt added.

Carol Bowser of Sykesville, caching name ‘Senecacj” traveled to the event this year in an effort to meet new people and get outside to do some geocaching. “Until this year, I didn’t own a pair of snowboots,” Bowser laughed, “I would’ve never thought of going outside in the winter to do something like this.”

In the end, it took Bowser just over two hours to find all 15 of the caches which put her over the 200 cache mark.