Thanks to my eagle-eyed wife, a walk along Buffalo Rock State Park’s river bluff trail today yielded our first bald eagle sighting this season. One of the reasons I enjoy living in La Salle County is the annual opportunity to see bald eagles by the Illinois River during the cold-weather months. The raptors most easily can be found perched in trees on Plum and Leopold islands and flying over the river searching for food near Starved Rock Lock and Dam between late December and early February. If you’re lucky (and observant), you can sometimes spot a bald eagle along the Illinois River bluffs in October or November.

The eagles migrate here from Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin and congregate near the lock and dam after the water surfaces freeze elsewhere. The number of birds seen varies each winter, depending on the weather. If the weather stays warmer than usual, the eagles spread out along the area rivers, whereas colder weather forces them all to hang out in the same, few areas (like the Starved Rock Lock and Dam) where the water is still open to fishing because the surface hasn’t frozen.

Sometimes you can count the number of bald eagles at Starved Rock on two hands, but other times there are dozens there at once. During a visit to Starved Rock a few years ago, a park ranger told me 115 different bald eagles were counted there that day. That was quite a sight.