Eagle days on the Mississippi River

January 18, 2011 | By | Reply More

Although St. Louis was founded as a fur trading post, it is no longer well known as a place to view wildlife.   But you can still spot wildlife.  Yesterday my family traveled about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis to the “Old Chain of Rocks Bridge,” which spans the Mississippi River. 

The bridge was for a time the route used by U.S. Route 66 to cross over the Mississippi. Its most notable feature is a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the crossing, necessary to allow river traffic to have uninterrupted navigation on the river. Originally a motor route, the bridge now carries walking and biking trails over the river. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

I do need to add that this was a brilliant use of an old narrow bridge.   Click on the thumbnail for a panorama showing the view south from the bridge (Downtown St. Louis is on the horizon to the left).  The bridge is located in a big wide relatively quiet area (except for one other bridge that runs parallel), where one can enjoy the Mississippi River and the surrounding undeveloped areas, just north of the Chain of Rocks rapids and a bit south of the confluence between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.   For one weekend each year, this wonderful bridge is featured as the venue for Eagle Days, a prime spot for viewing American bald Eagles.   This is rather cool, to be able to spot wild  bald eagles right in the heart of the Midwest.   Here’s a bit more description of their migration relevant to the Mississippi.

Bald Eagle along Mississippi

There are approximately 2,000 eagles that migrate to the Middle Mississippi River Valley, making the region’s overwintering population the second largest in the continental United States behind the Klamath Basin area of southern Oregon and northern California. The area’s eagles come mainly from nesting territories in central Canada and the Great Lake states. When the water freezes up north the eagles migrate south to places like the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, the Alton Lake section of the Mississippi River, the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, Pere Marquette State Park, and the Clarksville area where conditions are favorable.

True to the name “Eagle Days,” we saw about 7 bald eagles.   I had some good binoculars, but only a point and shoot camera.  I improvised, holding the camera up to the binocular lens (being careful so that I didn’t scratch either lens), and I ended up with the imperfect photos you can see in this post.  Without this improvising, my little camera would not have caught anything recognizable.  All of the eagles we spotted were far from the bridge, some of them more than 1/2 mile away.

Two bald eagles in the distance

Speaking of birds . . . when we arrived home, a friend of ours (who lives in semi-rural Illinois told us that a red hawk that swooped down and snatched her prize chicken out of the back yard coop.   She was distressed, but also amazed, in that the chicken “weighed four pounds.”   She watched the bird swoop in from high, almost bouncing off the ground, and leaving a pile of feathers in its wake.

And speaking of birds . . . fall and spring are good times to see another big bird migrating through St. Louis, near the locks and dams north of the city.    What are they?  [Drum roll . . . ] Pelicans!  Who would have thought?  More specifically, they are American White pelicans.   I thought one needed to travel to Florida to see them, yet they migrate from Canada to Mexico every year. Well, my wife told me about them a few years ago, and I actually got to see them for myself shortly thereafter.   I saw many hundreds of them.  Here’s their story:

One of the most anticipated events for bird watchers in the Middle Mississippi Valley is the annual migration of the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). During their migration south from nesting areas in freshwater lakes in the northern United States and southern Canada the pelicans arrive in the region beginning in early October with the last leaving in early November. The pelicans make a return trip from the Gulf of Mexico where they winter along the coast from Florida to Mexico. The pelicans arrive in the Middle Mississippi Valley beginning in March and stay in the region for three to five weeks when the last pelicans depart in early April. The prime times to see huge flocks of these magnificent birds are mid-March and mid-October.

I won’t end by saying St. Louis is for the birds.  But there are many beautiful birds to be viewed in St. Louis, and I know very little about birds.   St. Louis also seems to be a hotbed for “birders,” those quiet people who walk around with binoculars around their necks. It’s quite a sight to see one birder spot another at a social gathering–they can talk about birds for hours, it seems.  It’s one of those things that I simply don’t know much about.

Finally, I’m posting a reflective photo I took of the new Chain of Rocks Bridge, north of the Old Bridge.   Nothing to do with birds at all, so don’t strain your eyes looking for a bird.


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Category: nature, Saint Louis

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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