by Andrea Brassfield

It is said when a storm is coming, all other birds seek shelter and only the Eagle will avoid the storm by flying above it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I love the analogy. Storms and adversity come upon all of us throughout our lives. There is a lot to be said for “soaring above it”… and though we can’t literally take flight to avoid life’s storms, our hearts can! Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The Bald Eagle was chosen as the National Emblem of the United States of America on June 20, 1782 because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. It is a symbol of freedom and all that freedom stands for, and is worth fighting for, including honor, respect and dignity.

Respect for this mighty bird is biblical and here, in the United States, it is a symbol of greatness. Maybe these are the reasons we stop and take notice of the Eagle when we catch a glimpse of one either perching high in a tree or soaring magnificently through the sky. Or, why we set out purposefully to find one.  I even spent a few hours of New Year’s Day with this very goal. I drove the Great River Road to Warsaw, IL, a beautiful drive by the way. If you find yourself in Warsaw, be sure to visit the Fort Edwards State Memorial, located on a promontory overlooking the Mississippi river.

I then returned to Keokuk, and took Bank St. down to Mississippi Drive, spotting a tree where a couple Eagles were perched.  They provided almost an hour of entertainment, as I watched them take flight from the tree, soar over the river and then dive down, scooping fish out of the mighty Mississippi before returning to their nesting spots.  I even managed to get a picture or two!

Forty years ago, the bald eagle was in danger of extinction. Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, prohibiting the killing, selling or possessing of the species. By 1963, only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained. Through habitat protection and the government’s ban of DDT, (DDT is a pesticide that was used to control mosquitoes. However, it was absorbed by aquatic plants and fish, in turn poisoning birds that ate them. The chemical interfered with the ability of the birds to produce strong eggshells. As a result, their eggs had shells so thin that they often broke during incubation or otherwise failed to hatch.), the Bald Eagle population has rebounded. They were officially removed from the list of threatened and endangered species lists on June 28, 2007. Both the Bald and Golden Eagle still remain protected and it is illegal to kill, sell or otherwise harm eagles, their nests, or their eggs.

Thankfully, Eagle sightings today are becoming more and more common. Typically, they are found near large bodies of open water where they can find fish. Many Mississippi River communities have eagle viewing locations. Close by, these areas include the Great River Road from Nauvoo to Hamilton, IL, Keokuk, IA near Lock and Dam #24, Canton riverfront near Lock and Dam #20, Quincy, IL near Lock and Dam #21, and the Battle of Athens State Historic Site along the Des Moines River sections.

Additionally, Keokuk hosts Bald Eagle Appreciation Days each year in January. This year’s 33rd annual event is being held January 21st — 22nd. Personnel from the Lee County Iowa Conservation Board, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the US Army Corps of Engineers will staff viewing points. Additionally, indoor activities are planned at the River City Mall at 300 Main Street from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Activities include displays from state agencies including the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources, US Army Corps of Engineers and Lee County Iowa Conservation Board. The Iowa State University Insect Zoo will also be giving hands-on lessons in biology and ecology with hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, beetles, scorpions and millipedes taught by the Entomology Department of Iowa State University. There will be a Native American Cultural area, woodcarvers’ exhibits and demonstrations, and the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis will present Raptor Awareness programs featuring the American Bald Eagle, Spectacled Owl, Barn Owl, Harris Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and the

Raven. For more information about Bald Eagle Appreciations Days, visit their website at https://www.keokukiowatourism.org/eagledays.htm.

Whether you want to scout out on your own to catch a glimpse of these majestic birds in their natural habitat, or attend organized educational activities, there are many opportunities and locations in the Midwest to do so. Visit http://www.greatriver.com/eagle.htm to research the January-March schedule of Eagle watches.