While it is not exactly boating weather, being safe and snugly warm aboard the CQ Princess for nearly two hours offers a majestic view of the area terrain, as officers and naturalists from both Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service know where most of the birds are nesting and fishing. With the annual winter population expanding to over 200 birds, the officers spot them and call out to the passengers, who then can dart outside for a closer look, take a photograph, or choose to remain inside near the hot chocolate.
“The worse the weather, especially up north, the better the views for us,” said Brent McCarty, conservation educator with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “This is a great year to see them; it’s clear and cold, and more of their fishing opportunities have frozen over north of us, so we are looking to have a great season of birdwatching.”
With Tuesday’s cruise in jeopardy, the weather had “warmed” enough that the CQ Princess departed from Kenlake Marina, in Aurora, and is prepared to fulfill all local state park cruises this winter season. While many residents in Lyon County often spot eagles flying overhead near their own homes, it is a different kind of experience to view the winter landscape from the water, as geographical formations that are hidden in summer foliage are revealed in all their glory, icy as it is.
Often, the expedition turns into a regular birdwatching expedition as osprey, herons, and some cranes often feed in the same areas. What is often thought to be a floating log in the water, upon closer inspection, is revealed as a cover of coots, as they use their natural camouflage to attempt to keep themselves from becoming an eagle snack. On several cruises, passengers are often lucky enough to spy a Golden Eagle, but reclusive as it is, it often needs a trained eye to spot it first.
“It’s a great way to see these animals without them being spooked away — we’ve seen young eagles that were ‘learning the ropes’ and one year, we saw an adult fly right over our heads as we departed the marina. He had a fish in his mouth and was heading for the shore,” stated Gil Lawson, a spokesman for Kentucky's Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “It’s just a great opportunity for our tourists, visitors, and local residents.”
Eagle Weekends for 2014 will take place at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park; Lake Barkley State Resort Park; and Kenlake State Resort Park. The upcoming weekend, January 10 through 13, will be at Kentucky Dam Village in Gilbertsville.
While local residents might not need accommodation for the weekend, unless they just would like to have a “staycation,” several events are scheduled including tours on the 96-foot CQ Princess or by van. For all excursion tours, guests should wear (or bring) warm clothing; rain gear; and their own binoculars if they wish, although the naturalists will have a few binoculars for lending.
On Friday, at the Convention Center at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, at 7 p.m., an introductory guide to the techniques that assist in obtaining as many eagle sightings as possible during the tours will be offered. On Saturday, January 11 at 7 p.m., the popular “Birds of Prey” program will be offered. Exceptional photo opportunities and fun for persons of all ages will be offered as birds will fly over the audience, run through the auditorium, and will be presented up close and personal. On Saturday, there will be a three-hour tour, escorted by biologists and naturalists to the Ballard Wildlife Management Area.
Eagle excursions will open this weekend, with numerous opportunities throughout the area to view the wildlife that winter here, usually till mid-to-late February, depending upon the weather. From the Kentucky State Park weekends, to the van tours offered by Land Between the Lakes, everyone is invited to enjoy the spectacular beauty that is available only during the coldest of winter months.
The telephone number for information about next weekend’s events at Kentucky Dam Village is (800) 325-0146. Later in the season, January 24 through 26, Lake Barkley State Resort Park will provide visitors with opportunities in and around its coastline. The telephone number at Lake Barkley is (800) 325-1708. The final Eagle Watch Weekend will be at Kenlake on February 1 and 2, but will be yacht tours only. The park phone number at Kenlake is (800) 325-0143.
The first land excursion through Land Between the Lakes will depart on Jan. 12 from the Golden Pond Visitor Center at 1 p.m. and last until around 4:30 p.m. Near sunset, the birds return to a favorite nesting spot which is now in a protected refuge. For land tour information, led by U.S. Forest Service naturalists, visit www.lbl.org and click on the January or February calendar for dates, times, and prices.
Next week’s Herald Ledger will contain more tips and opportunities about birdwatching in the local area, along with the Winter Calendar of land excursions in Land Between the Lakes. For bird enthusiasts, both land and water tours are recommended as they both offer a totally different perspective, and both are led by trained spotters and/or naturalists.