This past weekend, Reelfoot Lake State Park hosted its 17th Annual Eagle Festival. The park is one of the most popular areas outside of Alaska for bald eagles to spend the winter due to its swamp and its population of ducks and geese.
On Saturday, I traveled to the park for my first Eagle Festival. Even though this year's festival did not have any presentations because of the pandemic, there were plenty of opportunities to view bald eagles as well as other birds and take in the park's natural beauty.
Right outside the visitor center, the park's resident owls, red-tailed hawks, and bald eagles were on display. The eagles were very vocal when I visited, and I got to see them up close.
Bald eagles have recently built a nest close to the visitor's center near the boardwalk, and I even saw an eagle in the nest.
On the boardwalk behind the visitor's center, I walked among the Bald Cypress trees for which Reelfoot is so famous.
The eagle tours were the festival's main attraction, and the tour I joined had a great turnout. We drove around the park with Park Ranger Dalton and saw four bald eagles. Two were younger and had not yet completely developed their white heads. The last two were in their nest; we saw one land in the nest and join its partner hard at work on nest maintenance. Ranger Dalton brought a sighting scope which allowed us to view the birds up close. The nests were easy to spot from the road because they are so big.
Bald eagles use the same nest year after year and add to it each time they use it. The average Reelfoot nest is six feet deep and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Bald eagles lay between one to three eggs once a year. A female bald eagle does not lay all of her eggs at once; instead, she lays one egg and waits a couple days before laying the next.
In addition to the bald eagles and their nests, we saw a female Northern Harrier hawk flying over a field. This bird lent its name to the Harrier Jet which takes off and lands vertically. We saw a flock of coots swimming; these birds look like ducks with all black feathers. We drove into the Black Bayou Refuge next to the park to look for eagles. Ranger Dalton said that usually there are lots of doves and geese in the Bayou's fields which attract bald eagles, but because winters haven't been getting as cold lately there aren't as many as there used to be.
I learned so much during this tour thanks to Ranger Dalton! If you didn't get a chance to attend the festival, you can still sign up for an eagle tour. Park rangers are hosting tours every day until the end of February. Each tour is two-hours long and costs $14 per adult and $10 for children aged 15 and under. Sign up for a tour on the park's website.
After our tour, I camped at the Airpark/North Campground. It rained for most of the night before turning into light snow because it was so cold!
On my way out of the park early the next morning, I saw huge flocks of ducks in flight. It was a beautiful way to end the trip!
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