Eagle Watch only one day due to snow
The 24th annual Eagle Watch went off without a hitch on Saturday, Feb. 23, but Sunday was another story. The overnight accumulation of snow caused the Feb. 24 portion of the two-day event to be canceled.
About 450 people attended on Saturday, according to Erin Bennett, event coordinator and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department park ranger. "Saturday was a beautiful day for visitors and several eagles were seen," said Bennett.
The single-day total exceeded the two-day totals of many other years, including last year, when only 300 attended over two days.
"For the first time in Eagle Watch history, unfortunately, Sunday did have to be canceled due to a winter storm warning and heavy snow; however, visitor safety was our primary concern," she said.
This year, because of the government shutdown, Bennett said that they had to go with "plan B," since the yurts for the Eagle Village, usually donated by the U.S. Forest Service, were unavailable.
"Eagle Watch committee members were concerned the event would have to be canceled altogether, as it's an outdoor event and the weather forecast predicted inclement weather," she said, adding that a key partner stepped up and provided assistance. "Portland General Electric generously rented a 30-by-60-foot tent and allowed the event to go on."
"Visitors enjoyed the warm, communal venue with 11 booths, kids' activities and a visit from BLM's Seymore the Antelope," said Bennett. "The Begay family sold out of their delicious fry bread."
An enthusiastic crowd lined up for the free hotdog lunch, cooked and served by volunteers for Jefferson County Little League. More than 350 hotdogs were served.
Kids and parents packed into the adjacent area set up for building bird houses.
"We look forward to (Eagle Watch) every year," said Holly Pearson, of Madras, who was helping her son, Jordan, 6, put together a bird house. "We've never done a bird house before."
Raptor biologist Rick Gerhardt, of Madras, was awarded the Order of the Eagle award for 2019. "After many years of dedication to raptor research and education in Central Oregon, he was an obvious choice," Bennett said.
The only live raptor at this year's event was Joe, a 6-year-old great horned owl. Erin Hullinger, education coordinator at the Sunriver Nature Center, said that Joe is blind in his left eye.
"He was hit by a car when he was about 1," she said, adding that a detached retina caused the owl to go blind in one eye. He has been at the Sunriver Nature Center ever since.
Although the center's live raptors are always a popular stop for visitors, the eagles in the canyon above Lake Billy Chinook are usually the main attraction.
"I love the event; it's very informative and it's fun," said Sarah Dearing, of Madras, who attended the event with her husband, Patrick, and daughters, Bella, 11, and Torie, 13.
Bella's favorite part was the owl, at least until she spotted an eagle through her binoculars. "I loved the owl," said the sixth-grader. "I like almost anything in the wild."
A few minutes later, she spotted the eagle on the canyon walls above Lake Billy Chinook. "It's underneath its wing," she said.
As they shared the telescope set up for watching the eagles, Kim and Larry Pearcy, of Terrebonne, said that they try to attend Eagle Watch every year.
"I think we've missed one since it started," said Larry Pearcy. "Sometimes, we see a half dozen or more (raptors), but we've never been skunked."
Kim Pearcy agreed that they make a point of attending, "because we love eagles. It's so much fun," she said, adding, "Now that we've seen red-tailed hawks, we like that, too."
Artwork from area schools was on display in the overlook building. "A dozen Central Oregon students won awards for the fifth annual Eagle Watch art contest.
"Redmond High School again set the bar high and won Best of Show," she said, thanking Buff Elementary, Culver middle and high schools, and Cascade Middle School, of Bend, for participating.
Partners in the annual event include OPRD, PGE, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Sunriver Nature Center, Oregon Observatory, Discover Your Forest, Madras Garden Center, East Cascade Audubon Society, the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Forest Service and Crooked River National Grassland.