For many people, the month of January is a time to return from the holiday schedule to work, school, and the normal routine. For the folks at Lake Guntersville State Park, January represents the return of the esteemed Eagle Awareness weekends. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Eagle Awareness, and there is a sense of excitement in the air with each of this year’s programs. Not only is the celebration in honor of the founders and participants who have made the program successful through the years, but also for the achievement of bald eagle restoration in Alabama.
THE RETURN OF THE BALD EAGLE
The word “return” implies that there must have been a departure. Unfortunately, there was a time when spotting a bald eagle in Alabama was a scant occurrence due to serious population decline. This decline was caused primarily by the effects of the pesticide DDT, habitat degradation, and poaching. In 1984, the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources began a bald eagle restoration project. Eagle Awareness was created to coincide with these efforts, and to promote the importance of conserving our natural resources. Between 1985 and 1991, 91 juvenile bald eagles were released in Alabama as part of this project to restore Alabama’s nesting population. Researchers now estimate there are more than 77 nests in the state, and the restoration efforts are revered as a true conservation success.
This success can be seen firsthand during one of the eagle watching field trips during Eagle Awareness Weekends at Lake Guntersville State Park. While seeing photos and watching nest cameras can cause you to pause and appreciate our nation’s symbol, there is something very special and almost indescribable about seeing these powerful birds in flight over the beautiful landscape of Lake Guntersville. On January 4, 2015, a handful of folks witnessed quite the display as nearly 30 bald eagles flew over the Town Creek Fishing Center in less than an hour and a half. An early morning showing like that is not easily forgotten, and one that is sure to trigger a sense of pride in the conservation efforts that caused the return of nesting bald eagles to Alabama.
THE RETURN OF FRIENDS
Great eagle watching opportunities along with exciting (and free!) programs featuring live birds of prey are just a couple of the reasons folks come back to Eagle Awareness each year. Return guests are yet another success of the Eagle Awareness program. Not only is their support of Alabama State Parks deeply appreciated, but their excitement over conservation efforts is to be applauded. Passing conservation education from one generation to the next is a task of utmost importance to Alabama State Parks, and seeing it in action during Eagle Awareness weekends is truly humbling. During the opening weekend of Eagle Awareness this year, there was a family in attendance who first starting participating in the Eagle Awareness programs nearly 25 years ago! They faithfully made the drive this year from the southern part of Alabama with their (now college-aged) children, and spent time reminiscing over one of their first visits when their oldest child was but a toddler. What special memories! Their story is just one of many of the longtime friends of Eagle Awareness at Lake Guntersville State Park.
PLAN YOUR RETURN (OR YOUR FIRST TRIP) TO EAGLE AWARENESS
Whether you are an Eagle Awareness pro or would be a first time guest, you are invited to experience the excitement of the 30th anniversary of Eagle Awareness. Come celebrate the return of the bald eagle to our state and enjoy watching them as they soar above the beauty at Lake Guntersville State Park during one of the many field trip opportunities. There are still lodging and dining packages available, but hurry before they are gone! Also be sure to check out the schedule of presenters and hop on over to Outdoor Alabama Weekly to read the weekly column by David Rainer with more information about this year’s Eagle Awareness events.