Climate change notwithstanding, St. Louis is at that dividing line between where the rivers are frozen over and free flowing. The significance of that is that during January and February a large number of eagles move down from the northern states, to take advantage of the fish in the Mississippi and the Missouri. It’s even more appealing to them because the fish flock to the oxygenated water downstream of the dams at Winfield, Clarksville, Alton and the Chain of Rocks and get a little stunned by their trip through the sluices. That makes them easy prey for the eagles that tend to congregate in the trees on the bluffs of the Great River Road, or near the wetlands of the Mississippi/Missouri Confluence or just on an ice flow sliding south.
Oh yeah, it’s cold, but dress warm and you’ll be rewarded. Bring your camera, because you’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
My favorite area is along the Great River Road, which runs from north from Alton alongside the Mississippi and the Illinois River. You can take Interstate 270 to Hwy 67 and go north, where you’ll cross over the Missouri and then in short order the Mississippi into downtown Alton. On your way, you can take a detour by the Edward and Pat Jones Confluence Park, a maturing gem of a state park that takes you right to the point where the Mississippi and the Missouri meet.
Before you drive through Alton, take an hour or so to visit the National Great Rivers Museum by the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. Besides being an interesting destination on it’s own, you can get daily updates on the best places to see the current eagle population. If you’re coming from the Illinois side, just take Highway 3 north.
As you drive through downtown Alton, take note of the waterlines painted on the Peavey Grain facility, you’ll get a feeling for how unruly the Mississippi can be.
The eagle photos included with this entry were all taken along the Great River Road, a couple by the bluffs and one (the one I call Big Dude) at a marina. It’s almost as if the eagles know that they’re the show. When you get too cold, there are plenty of places to stop in and warm up with whatever suits your fancy. We like to drive up to Grafton and have lunch in one of the little restaurants there, or beyond to the lodge at Pere Marquette State Park (a great place for family-style fried chicken).
Another location that’s fun is the Chain of Rocks Bridge (http://bridgehunter.com/mo/st-louis-city/chain-of-rocks/). It once carried the legendary Route 66 from Illinois into Missouri, but now has been given over to pedestrian and bicycle traffic! The view is great!
If you want to make more of a day trip out of things, you can also drive up Highway 79 on the Missouri side through Winfield and Clarksville.
You can get more specific information on Missouri Eagle Days through the Missouri Department of Conservation (http://www.mdc.mo.gov/events/eagledays/), or visit the Great River Road web site at http://www.greatriverroad.com/Eagles/eagleCover.htm.
Then there are just the casual encounters, even in summer. I've sat at my breakfast table and seen a golden eagle land briefly on a patio umbrella, then spreading its wings and flying away (leaving a couple tiny holes in the fabric). And many's the time that I've glanced over to see a hawk perched on a highway sign or fence, just waiting for a field mouse or snake. There's a pair of red-shouldered hawks that like to visit the trees in our backyard too. There’s a picture of one of them here too.