Saturday has been designated as a special day to discover bald eagles, which winter over in Utah by the hundreds.
From dawn to dusk, eagle experts - including officers of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, specialists from the Utah Audubon Society and falconers - will be present at six special viewing sites to answer questions during Bald Eagle Day. The sites, from Ogden Bay west of Ogden to Quichipa Lake west of Cedar City, were chosen as places where bird enthusiasts can expect to see some bald eagles.The celebration is free. Visitors will be offered some handouts about Utah wildlife: a handsome poster of a river otter, a poster showing the approximate locations of endangered species, and a published "wildlife notebook" with facts about bald eagles.
"It's something that I think is kind of the wave of the future," said Bob Walters, non-game biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "We are providing the opportunity for the public to look at our nation's living symbol of freedom, very closely."
Also, he said, it's a chance to talk with expert state officers and volunteers who know about bald eagles. They can help identify the gender and age of an eagle, tell about its prey, habits, locations during the rest of the year, and answer many questions.
"Along with the idea is to have fun," he said. "It's a celebration of the presence of the bald eagle in our state."
At least 1,000 - possibly more than 1,200 - bald eagles winter in Utah every year, swooping down from Canada and Alaska. When officials were carrying out statewide surveys, Utah was always in the top 10 states, and sometimes in the top five, in numbers of wintering bald eagles.
Utah has ample food supplies for eagles - fish, when the marshes aren't frozen over or inundated with salt water; rabbits; waterfowl; elk, deer and domestic animals that the eagles scavenge when they find animal remains. In addition, the winters are relatively mild, compared with many other states.
"That's kind of the best of all worlds for a bald eagle, plenty to eat and pretty nice weather," Walters said.
Wildlife experts have checked the viewing sites and confirmed that eagles are there. Some, such as in the southwestern corner of the state, are better than others.
One reason for that, Walters said, is that cold weather drove waterfowl out of the Great Salt Lake area and toward the southwestern part of Utah. Some of the eagles probably followed their prey to the southwest.
Still, each site was selected specifically because there are likely to be at least several eagles there.
"We may not have 120 bald eagles to look at, but we definitely should have some eagles at each of those sites."
Walters suggested that people dress warmly and carry binoculars. Eagle specialists at the site will try to round up some extra binoculars, too, and will have spotting telescopes set up.
Also, visitors might want to take "something hot to drink and a little snack, that sort of thing," he said. "If the weathermen are anywhere near accurate . . . it would appear we'll be having a relatively mild Saturday."
Eagle viewing sites
Six official Bald Eagle viewing sites, staffed by eagle experts, will be scattered from Ogden Bay to a creek near Price. Bob Walters, non-game biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, provided these directions:
1. Quichipa Lake, Iron County: Head west of Cedar City on U-56 for about seven miles, then turn south on Laka Road and reach the site in one more mile. Quichipa Lake is listed on maps as a dry lake.
2. Ophir Canyon, Tooele County: From Tooele, take U-36, which runs through the city, and go south 11 miles passing through Stockton. At the sign for Ophir, turn onto U-73 heading southeast. The site is at the mouth of Ophir Canyon about four miles from the junction of Utah U-73 and U-36.
3. Near Saltair, Salt Lake County: Go 14 miles west of Salt Lake City on I-80 and take the Saltair exit. At Saltair, Bald Eagle Day signs will direct viewers to travel about one mile east on the blacktop frontage road where the viewing site is located.
4. Ogden Bay State Waterfowl Management Area, Weber County: The site is located at the northern side of refuge. For travelers on I-15, take the Ogden 12th Street exit going west until 7500 West; then head south to the end of 7500 West.
5. Beside the Green River, Uintah County: Start at the intersection of U.S. 40 and U-149 at Jensen, Uintah County; go east on U.S. 40 to the Green River.
6. Gordon Creek, Carbon County: From Price take U.S. 6 (also known as 6-50) to the northwest until Gordon Creek, about two miles.