Hudson Valley winters aren’t just for skiers and celebrities looking for ‘down time,’ a famous face often seen along the Hudson River belongs to the American Bald Eagle. The birds are one of several species of raptor that ‘winters’ in the lower Hudson Valley, the eagles were celebrated at the Teatown Lake Reservation’s annual EagleFest.
Held at the island peninsula of Croton Point Park, the EagleFest encourages visitors to engage in the protection of the American Bald Eagle through petitioning lawmakers and participating in environmental organizations that preserve open space.
To give visitors a good look at the fragile lives of these birds of prey, expert and handler Paul Schnell from the Institute for the Environmental Learning in Hilton, N.Y. led a lecture and demo titled, "Raptors in the Modern World."
The birds, which include eagles, owls and hawks, are known as raptors from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. Their hunting skills are based on vision hence they pay ‘rapt attention’ to their prey.
The survival of all of these birds depends on the preservation of their wooded hunting grounds. Schnell explained Bald Eagles were first reintroduced to New York State in the 1980s.
Many of the birds were relocated from Alaska and have managed to thrive in the Empire State. Schnell says there are now 220 nesting pairs around the state, one pair lives nearby at St. George’s Island Park in Monstose, N.Y.
While showing the audience the captive Screech Owl, Bard Owl, Red-Shouldered Hawk and the star of the show, ‘Liberty’ the Bald Eagle, Schnell explained the manmade dangers these raptors continue to face.
New York State’s Bald Eagles have been victims of Amtrak Trains. The birds hunt along the river’s edge, where the train tracks are and occasionally get hit by the trains. Schnell also sights a controversial issue among environmentalists, wind turbines. He says the popular source of green energy regularly kill between 500,000 and 1-million eagles annually with their powerful blades.
Not all of the raptors at the EagleFest were captive. A ‘bird walk’ around the Croton Point Park gave visitors a chance to see the wild eagles, hawks and owls in the trees. The birds are in and around the park all year long. When bird watching, park officials suggest people be patient, avoid making loud noises, bring binoculars or a camera with good lens and never try to get close to any wild animal.
If you missed the EagleFest, the Teatown Lake Reservation has maps of the 23 best viewing sites along the Hudson River curtsey of the New York State Department of Environment Conservation.