FRANKFORT, Ky. – Nature lovers should make plans to participate in a unique Kentucky State Park tradition – Eagle Watch Weekends in January and February 2011.
The park system will be sponsoring this wildlife-watching opportunity as American Bald Eagles gather around the major lakes of western and south-central Kentucky looking for food. The park tours allow you to observe and learn about these beautiful birds of prey.
For four decades, the Kentucky State Parks have offered Eagle Watch Weekends, a chance to view the eagles from land and water and learn about the national symbol and other wildlife.
“These weekends attract both beginner and experienced birdwatchers to see these animals in their natural habitat,” said Parks Commissioner Gerry van der Meer. “This is one of the more popular wildlife events we sponsor.”
The tours take place at four resort parks during weekends in January and February on an excursion yacht, barges and by van, depending upon the location and tour. They are led by state park naturalists and Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.
Ticket prices for the tours range from $20 to $55 a person. Most tours last between two and three and one half hours. The weekends also include an evening program on birds of prey.
The parks, phone numbers and dates for the 2011 Eagle Watch Weekends are:
Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park (800-325-0146): Jan. 21-23.
Lake Barkley State Resort Park (800-325-1708): Jan. 28-30.
Dale Hollow State Resort Park (800-325-2282): Feb. 4-5.
Kenlake State Resort Park (800-325-0143): Feb. 4-6.
The Eagle Watch Weekends at Kentucky Dam Village, Lake Barkley and Kenlake will include an option to view eagles from the CQ Princess, a 96-foot yacht. Guests can view eagles from inside the CQ Princess or from outside decks.
Guests should bring warm clothes, rain gear and binoculars. These trips can take place under extreme weather conditions. These resorts offer lodges, cottages and restaurants. Registration is required for the Eagle Watch Weekends. Call the parks for registration, details and fee information or visit:www.parks.ky.gov and look for the “Wildlife” tab and “Eagle Watch Weekends.”
Guests attending Dale Hollow’s barge tours need to bring their own personal flotation devices.
Any group or organization interested in a special cruise on the CQ Princess should call Tammy Nanney at Kenlake at 1-800-325-0143 for details.
The weekends are offered in cooperation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The brown and brittle grass and the cracked scorched earth across Kentucky left by this year’s drought eased somewhat with the recent rains. If the rain continues heading into opening day for duck and Canada goose seasons, Kentucky waterfowl hunting should be productive.
The season for Canada goose, white-fronted goose and brant opens Nov. 23 (Canada goose season in the Northeastern Goose Zone opens Dec. 25) while duck season opens statewide Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day).
“There is still a lot of hope for this season, despite the drought,” said Rocky Pritchert, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We have high expectations and wouldn’t be surprised if we have a really good waterfowl season this year.”
A lot of waterfowl food in moist areas awaits rain. “On the plus side, it’s dry in the moist soil areas and basins,” Pritchert explained. “When we get some water in there, there’s ample food waiting for waterfowl. We had a pretty good crop of moist soil plants. I feel reasonably good about conditions later this year when we get the fall rains.”
States to the north of Kentucky report good duck numbers. “In northern Illinois, duck movement is increasing,” said Robert Colvis, area manager at Ballard Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Ballard County, near where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. “We are a little short on water out here, but the ducks are using what water we have.”
Colvis reports good numbers of gadwalls, northern pintails, shovelers and mallards using the area. “The rain will help,” Clovis said. “If we can pump water for a week and a half or so, we’ll be at full pool. We had about 12,000 ducks on the area last weekend.”
Nationwide, duck numbers remain about the same as last year. Figures released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal a total national duck population of about 41 million birds. Mallard ducks are the biggest population, with well over 8 million birds. Blue-winged teal are the second largest population of ducks with slightly over 6 million birds while roughly 4 million northern shovelers make up the third largest duck population.
Duck populations, except northern pintail and scaup, are up double digit percentages from the long-term average. Green-winged teal populations are 78 percent while northern shovelers are up 76 percent. The population of gadwall is now 67 percent higher than the long-term average and redheads increased 63 percent.
“The wetlands to the north of us were in good shape this year,” Pritchert said. “They had good breeding and brood rearing conditions.”
The first segment of statewide duck season opens Nov. 25 and closes Nov. 28. The season opens again on Dec. 6, 2010, and closes Jan. 30, 2011. Canada goose, white-fronted goose and brant season opens Nov. 23, 2010, and closes Jan. 30, 2011, except in the Northeastern Goose Zone. This zone, comprised of the counties surrounding Cave Run Lake, opens to hunting Dec. 25, 2010, and closes Jan. 2, 2011. The second segment of goose season in the Northeastern Goose Zone runs from Jan. 19-31, 2011. Hunters no longer need a special permit for goose hunting in the Northeastern Goose Zone.
Hunters must possess a valid Kentucky hunting license, Kentucky waterfowl permit and a Federal waterfowl permit, commonly called a duck stamp, before hunting waterfowl.
For more information about waterfowl hunting, pick up a copy of the 2010-2011 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Waterfowl, available free wherever hunting licenses are sold. A free copy also is available by calling 1-800-858-1549. The guide is available in print form on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.