All eyes are on the sky as the Alton region prepares for the annual winter migration of the American Bald Eagle.
Every January, experts anticipate as many as 1,000 bald eagles will migrate to the area reclaiming their winter roosts along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
To celebrate the return of this majestic bird, The Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Center along with the Audubon Center at Riverlands will host the Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival, Saturday, Jan. 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free family-friendly activities, eagle watching shuttle tours and a live American Bald Eagle will be on hand at the Alton Visitors Center, 200 Piasa St. The Audubon Center at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, 301 Riverlands Way, West Alton, will feature live regional birds of prey and offer additional activities suitable for the entire family.
Start your day of eagle activities in Downtown Alton by watching ice carvers create an eagle from a frozen block of ice. Then take part in the always popular ice cube crush giveaway where every participant is a winner when they choose an ice cube to crush. Each ice cube features a special offer from a regional business including: Argosy Casino Alton, My Just Desserts, The Loading Dock Ice Rink, Fin Inn, Elsah General Store, Olive Oil Marketplace, Grafton Fudge, Bowl Haven, Old Bakery Beer Co., Cookie Factory, Grafton Winery & Brewhaus, Be Well Now and Sherry’s Snacks. Or take a chance to win a prize on the ever-popular Plinko game from Argosy Casino. Prizes can include discounts on merchandise and food or free gifts and gift certificates to area businesses.
Liberty Bank will also take part in the kick-off event by sponsoring the Ice Putt Putt Golf contest for visitors. The bank’s mascot, Sam the Eagle, will also be on hand to greet visitors to Downtown Alton.
And, of course, there will be the star of the show: a live eagle meet and greet featuring an eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary at the Alton Visitors Center. All of these activities are free. Additionally, the CVB will offer Eagle Watching Shuttle Tours which will provide visitors with a guided first-hand look at several eagle watching hot spots in the region. All shuttles leave from the Audubon Center at Riverlands. The shuttles will be provided by Argosy Casino Alton. The cost for these 45-minute tours is $5 per person and reservations may be made in advance at www.visitalton.com/shuttle. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. and the last Eagle Watching Shuttle Tour will depart at 1:30 p.m.
At the Audubon Center, located across the Mississippi River, visitors can enjoy the view of the mighty river and its abundant wildlife from the comfort of the state-of-the-art Visitors Center. Multiple spotting scopes are available for use and everyone will be able to have an up-close and personal look at the area’s Birds of Prey presented by TreeHouse Wildlife Center. Representatives of area attractions and conservation organizations will also be at the center hosting family-friendly activities. Chances are visitors will get to see the hundreds of trumpeter swans who make the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary their winter home. All activities at the Audubon Center are free.
The weekend also kicks off the annual Alton Eagle Watcher T-Shirt Giveaway, which is open to eagle watchers of all ages. This giveaway encourages visitors to stop by the various Eagle Watching Hot Spots. Visitors who go to five of the specified hot spots (Pere Marquette State Park, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, Alton Visitor Center, Audubon Center at Riverlands, National Great Rivers Museum, TreeHouse Wildlife Center, Lewis & Clark State Historic Site, Elsah General Store, Columbia Bottom Conservation Area or the Grafton Visitor Center) and have their card initialed by a representative of that site will receive a free eagle T-shirt by returning their completed card to the Alton Visitors Center. T shirts are available while supplies last. The contest is sponsored in part by Alton Memorial Hospital and Phillips 66. For more information on this contest go to www.VisitAlton.com/EagleWatcher.
Every day visitors can travel along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway to visit the “Eagle Watching Hot Spots” featured in the 2018 Eagle Watcher’s Guide. Again this year, the Alton Eagle Watching App will guide visitors during their eagle watching adventure. The free app, available for iPhone and Android, will lead visitors to the eagle watching hot spots, provide information on upcoming events and festivals, allow visitors to share their eagle photos, offer deals from restaurants and shops, as well as a list of the shops, restaurants, attractions and lodging found along the byway.
Annually, the opportunities for eagle watching continue to grow in the Alton region. Visitors can head out to view the eagles on their own, or they can take part in some of the traditional eagle watching events in the region, including eagle meet and greets, eagle watching tours and live bird demonstrations. Events take place nearly every weekend and throughout the week, from January through March. Plus, most of the events in the region are free of charge. A full list of events can be found online at www.VisitAlton.com/Seasons/Eagle and in the Eagle Watcher’s Guide.
For visitors who would like to make eagle watching a winter getaway, there are numerous eagle packages and specials available at hotels and bed & breakfast inns in Alton, Grafton and Elsah. Alton is the place to be for the best eagle events and the largest concentration of American Bald Eagles in the state of Illinois. For the latest eagle watching updates or to receive your free Eagle Watcher’s Guide, call 1-800-ALTON-IL or go to www.VisitAlton.com.