Bob: Why are we all fascinated with the bald eagle?
John: It’s our national symbol. I think the thing that draws people in and they’re so interested in the details of the eagle is that people typically see bald eagles and you see them flying way up in the air, you might see a nest or you might see them perched along the river.
Bob: John Howe is the Executive Director of the Raptor Resource Project. John, what is that? What is the Raptor Resource Project?
John: The Raptor Resource Project was started back in 1988 by Bob Anderson, and primarily started to captively bred and raise peregrine falcons to help repopulate falcons after the devasting effects of DDT across the country. The work actively monitoring the peregrine falcon population up and down the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota down to Illinois, at about 50 sites that we band peregrine falcons. We’ve got nests. We’ve got nest cams and ways that we share that and help educate people.
Bob: John, why is the Wisconsin Great River Road the home to such a high number of eagles nests and raptors in general?
John: It’s the river that brings them. The Mississippi River is a national flyway for raptors and other waterfowl. It’s amazing. They congregate along that flyway, and it’s part of their instinct to follow that flyway. It’s a major food source for them. It’s a pass way for their migration. It’s a home. It’s being along the Wisconsin boundary of the river and the river floodplain along the Mississippi and the tributaries that come in. That’s where you’re going to find the tide populations and the congregations of these raptors that we love to watch, [including] the bald eagles. We were talking the other day a little bit about the peregrine falcons. At different times of the year there are great opportunities to hear them and see them and watch them in their home territory.
Bob: Where’s the best place on the Wisconsin Great River Road to watch the eagles and the raptors?
John: Right in the season of Bald Eagle Days up and down the river – Ferryville, Prairie du Chien. A lot of the little towns along the river have their Bald Eagle Days celebrations. Really, the way to get hooked into that is seeing it. Up until about this point where we’re watching, for example, bald eagles, we’re watching them grabbing sticks, breaking sticks, perching, and they’re pair bonding and they’re getting ready for egg laying. When that comes up, we’re going to be looking at egg laying. You can’t see that kind of stuff when you’re driving on the highway or even if you’re along the river. We were talking earlier about that fascination with eagles, and the wild popularity with the Eagle Cam is we actually get to see those details about what’s going on.
Bob: Let’s just jump into that right now and ask a little bit more about the Eagle Cam. If we don’t have the opportunity to be on the Wisconsin Great River Road, how can we check out and find out more about eagles and watch them be born and kind of see their habitat?
John: We manage a number of different cams in the area. For bald eagles, the premier eagle cam is the Decorah Eagle Cams. Going to our website, www.raptorresource.org, our cams are there. We also stream them through explore.org.
Bob: Where along the Wisconsin Great River Road is the best place to view eagles and raptors?
John: Between La Crosse all the way down to Prairie du Chien, there’s some great viewing areas. You’re right along the rivers, so it really depends on timing. [There also are] lock and dam areas. The lock and dams typically … That disturbing that happens right at the downstream where you always see the boats and the fishermen, that’s where the eagles are going to be congregating to fish also.
Bob: John, earlier you were mentioning about the Mississippi River Flyway. Are there any cameras you have in the Great River Mississippi Flyway area?
John: One of the original peregrine falcon cams – and probably the best one we have – is the Great Spirit Bluff peregrine falcon cam. That’s also available on our website, as I mentioned before. When you move away from the bluff and look down and see the tundra swans and the pelicans and the eagles during the great migration along the flyway in the Mississippi River. It was a dream, and we ended up putting up a cam down there on an island out on Lake Onalaska. It was a collaborative project with the National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the Raptor Resource Project. We started that up last fall, and we have one season of watching all the waterfowl and the eagles. We’ve caught falcons, and we’ve caught great horned owls out there. [There is] a lot of neat waterfowl and raptors right out in Lake Onalaska. The audio on the camera, it’s almost like you’re sitting right down there in the middle of the flyway. Birds will do things out there without a human there. You’re going to get to see and hear some things that you would not see or hear if it wasn’t being brought to you by a camera.