Remember when spotting a bald eagle in the wild, if you didn’t live someplace like Alaska, seemed nearly as unlikely as meeting a unicorn? It wasn’t so very long ago. I made my first sighting – a pair, soaring so high that I could barely make out their characteristic white-feathered heads – at Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay in 1993. They were still on the federal Endangered Species List back then, and nobody expected to see one in the Hudson Valley.
My, how times have changed. Nowadays I can reliably visit a resident bald eagle perched in a huge sycamore beside the Plattekill Creek in the middle of New Paltz’s most celebrated view of the Gunks from the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, just south of downtown. They nest in the woods alongside the Ashokan Reservoir perimeter trail and can be seen diving for fish in the Hudson by kayakers in the bay behind the Rondout Lighthouse at Kingston Point. The eagles’ return to our valley is one of the most heartening environmental success stories around.
But that doesn’t mean that seeing wild eagles is any less thrilling than it was before. This is the best time of year to encounter them, with an estimated 150 bald eagles from further north overwintering in the lower Hudson Valley from December and March. And each year, the Ossining-based environmental education center called the Teatown Lake Reservation organizes the perfect opportunity for eagle-watching at one of the most reliable vantagepoints from which to see them: Croton Point Park. It’s called the Hudson River EagleFest, and it’s coming up for its 12th annual visitation on Saturday, February 6.
The centerpiece of the event is a string of riverfront viewing areas, staffed by eagle experts with spotting scopes. Sightings are virtually guaranteed: In 2015 more than 36 eagles were seen at one viewing location. Those are way better odds than, say, a whale-watch boat tour. There are also guided bird walks, a bus tour (for an extra fee) with a Teatown naturalist that makes the rounds of other prime viewing sites in the lower Hudson Valley, live raptor shows, children’s activities, environmental displays and live music in heated tents. Food and beverage vendors on-site include Tarrytown’s RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen and Ossining’s Wobble Café.
Triple Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/guitarist/actor Tom Chapin headlines the concert roster, appearing on the Eaglet Stage from 11:15 a.m. to 12 noon. Also slated to perform are Annie DiRusso, Daisy Jopling and Joe Duraes. EagleFest 2016 goes on from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the two-hour bus tours heading out at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday, February 7 is the alternate date in the event of severe weather.
If you’re planning to head down via Metro-North, you might want to catch the special Eagle Train Car that departs from Poughkeepsie at 10 a.m., staffed by guest naturalists from Wave Hill who know where to look for eagles from the train. Free shuttle buses between the Croton-Harmon Train Station and Croton Point Park will be available throughout the day.
Tickets to the Hudson River EagleFest will be sold at the venue on the day of the event for $15 general admission, $10 for children aged 6 to 11; children aged 5 and under get in free. Advance tickets costing $13 for adults, $8 for kids 6 to 11 can be purchased online at www.teatown.org. You can also find out more about the event there, along with information about the Teatown Lake Reservation, whose lovely nature preserve is worth a visit in itself.