Celebrate Eagle Season at Reelfoot Lake
I never imagined Reelfoot Lake could look prettier than when I visited last fall. Then I saw photos like this one, taken inside Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tiptonville, Tennessee, during some very December weather:
But winter brings more than its stunning snow-and-ice show to Reelfoot Lake: This is the season for eagles.
Vanessa Henson, clerk at Reelfoot Lake State Park’s R.C. Donaldson Memorial Museum and Nature Center, has been booking eagle tours for the 2014 season since September. She recommends calling ahead to schedule yours (731-253-9652). Throughout January and February, the tours run two hours at $5 per person, leaving daily at 10 a.m. with additional Saturday and Sunday departures at 1:30 p.m. Though these are bus tours, Vanessa says rangers stop as often as they can to set up viewing scopes for participants, so bring your gloves, hat, scarf, proper footwear, camera and binoculars.
Consider staying for the Saturday programs at 7 p.m. Year ’round, Reelfoot Lake rangers present bird of prey programs during this time slot. For the 2014 eagle season, Vanessa’s lined up some additional guests: Jan. 25, Mid-South Raptor Center will present; Feb. 8 brings Bob Tarter and his “Creatures of the Night” (including BeeBop the bobcat); Feb. 15 welcomes a state park archaeologist who will interpret regional Native American history as well as your personal artifacts. All Saturday evening programs are free and open to the public (no reservation required). Check in at the state park nature center.
Your best timing, however, may be to visit during Eagle Fest, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2014, when you can:
• Experience a presentation by John and Dale Stokes of Save Our American Raptors (Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Reelfoot Lake State Park nature center). These former Reelfoot Lake rangers will fly raptors – hawks, owls, eagles – right over your head!
• Take advantage of expanded eagle tour offerings (call the state park for times and reservations at 731-253-9652).
• Enter (or browse entries) in the art and photography contest on display Friday and Saturday; join a sunrise photography walk (Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m.); paint a ceramic duck or decoy, or have your face painted, during Saturday’s children’s activity (10 a.m.-4 p.m.); listen to storytelling sessions at 12:30 and 3:30 on Saturday, and much more, all centered around the state park visitor center. View the full festival schedule here, and contact Reelfoot Lake Tourism Council at 731-253-2007 for more information.
• While you’re at the state park, say hi to Vanessa, and thank her for creating Eagle Fest 10 years ago.
If you can’t make it to Reelfoot Lake during eagle season, consider this:
• Remember that Reelfoot Lake State Park’s Saturday evening ranger programs operate year ’round, as does its nature center. The center displays regional history exhibits and animals, from snakes in tanks to raptors in an outdoor aviary. Free admission.
• Thirty minutes from the state park, the new Discovery Park of America devotes a gallery to the ecology, geology and anthropology of Reelfoot Lake. Eye gar, bass, crappie and turtles in the 20,000-gallon aquarium; experience a simulation of the earthquake that formed Reelfoot Lake two centuries ago; listen to oral histories from locals. Taxidermied birds “flying” above you and this collection of antique to contemporary duck calls depict the area’s significance along the Mississippi Flyway:
Where is your favorite birding spot in Tennessee? Tell us in the comments section below.