Eagle Fest returns in 2012

Hudson River Eagle Fest returned on Saturday after being snowed out last winter, bringing thousands of people to Croton Point Park and the rest Westchester’s Hudson River birding hotspots in search of some birds of prey.

I made the trip to Croton on my own this year since my father-of-the-year candidate dad has bailed on such traditions, among other things. Sunny skies brought out a lot of locals, definitely the biggest crowds I’ve seen at Eagle Fest since I started attending a few years ago. My buddy Tommy met up with me at the park just in time to see this bald eagle (above, below) named Liberty; the eagle was on display after suffering a broken wing and making the trip to Croton as part of an educational program. The presenter came prepared with [disgusting] dead chipmunks that he let brave little kids hand-feed to the bird.

For those catching up on Eagle Fest, I’ve photographed this event a few times before:

I started the day off with one of Eagle Fest’s free guided bird walks, which took about 45 minutes and brought us through the park to a high, grassy area that was once used as a land fill. Our guide was, as usual, very knowledgable and even pointed out the types of ancient walnut trees in the park. The park overlooks a cove in the Hudson as well as the boat launch area near the Croton-on-Hudson train station, also a popular spot to view.

We saw an immature eagle in a tree facing the Hudson, and then another mature eagle near the boat launch, tucked away in a leaf-less tree (the guide spotted both). We saw three red tailed hawks on the walk along with some bluebirds (the state bird of New York) and some gold finches.

Our guide said owls typically perch atop the ventilation pipes in the field, which allows methane to escape. The grassy field is also ideal for smaller birds, he said.

The guide claimed that Croton Point Park (easy to get to via Route 9 if you’re near the Tappan Zee Bridge) is the best bird-watching spot in Westchester County. One of the most exciting moments of the day came right at the last moment: Flight of the Raptors, a program presented by James Eyring of the Pace University Environmental Center, ended with a flying demonstration outside in the park; Eyring, an especially passionate “falconer,” let his Harris’s Hawk (below) dive bomb the crowd as he dangled some food for the bird. He then pulled out a Peregrine Falcon, the fastest animal in the world, and asked the crowd to let him know if they spotted any eagles.

I think he was trying to be a little dramatic, implying an eagle could potentially swoop down and attack the falcon, but just as he let the bird fly off to a tree, an enormous bald eagle appeared in the sky right over our group. It made for quite a scene, with kids pointing to the sky and screaming at Eyring, who was trying to keep calm, and keep an eye on his own bird. The eagle reappeared about five minutes later, soaring above like a shadow, forcing Eyring to keep his Kestrel locked away to be safe. He said it was, in reality, probably unlikely the eagle could have actually caught or killed the falcon. But imagine?

Eyring put on a nice program, showing off a barred owl, a screech owl, the Harris’s Hawk (native to the southwestern U.S.), the falcon and a kestrel, the smallest (and most talkative) of the falcon family. Eyring said he weighs his birds daily (in grams, not pounds) to ensure they aren’t overweight and potentially sick of his food — his treats are the only thing that keep the birds from flying back to his arm.

He said the hawk can live for up to 15 years in the wild. John James Audubon gave this bird its English name in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter and friend Edward Harris. The Harris’s Hawk is notable for its behavior of hunting cooperatively in packs, consisting of family groups while most other raptors hunt in solitary.

Here’s the Falcon (below), which luckily survived the eagle fly-over. The Peregrine is the king of speed, reaching over 202¬†mph during its high speed dive when it’s going in for a snack.

Eagle Fest is a really nice day out, especially if you have kids interested in birds. The event (9am-4pm) offers both free and paid programs, plenty of hot food and snacks, maps, info centers, knowledgeable guides, enthusiasts with spotting scopes, friendly birders and local conservation organizations supporting the cause. In previous years, I’ve driven along the Hudson to a few hot spots in search of the eagles (and sometimes the Bear Mountain Zoo, which has an injured eagle on display), but this year I just stayed in Croton. In all, I saw three wild bald eagles, the injured one photographed above, about five hawks and a few others, including some Buffleheads fishing in the river.

TeaTown organizes the event — you can find more information here. Did you attend or get any cool photos? Leave a comment below and let me know how it went!

 

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