Sightings from city hall and the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza confirm the return of bald eagles to the banks of the Kaw.
Fred DeVictor, director of the city's parks and recreation department, said he spotted his first bald eagle of the season a week ago in trees on the north side of the river, about a quarter-mile below the Bowersock Dam.
"Last week we saw the first ones; it was last Tuesday," said DeVictor, whose fourth-floor city hall office gives a panoramic view of the Kansas River and its banks lined with cottonwood trees, where the eagles roost. "There were three out there just (Monday) morning that we saw."
The eagles have made visits to the Kaw an annual event. Each year when the weather turns cold, they're drawn to the river to fish and perch in nearby trees. Eagle-watchers speculate the birds come because the portion of the river near the Bowersock Dam is the only source of fresh water in the area that does not freeze over in bitterly cold weather.
NEARLY two years ago, when construction on the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza shopping center was beginning on the south bank of the Kaw, protestors chained themselves to cottonwood trees marked for removal in an attempt to save the eagles' habitat. The protestors said they feared that removal of some of the trees combined with construction of a mall on the river would chase the eagles away from Lawrence.
Despite those fears, the eagles returned to the site last winter. Their return this year is a treat for customers visiting the center during its first holiday shopping season.
"I can't remember if it was Thursday or Friday, but an eagle attracted a big crowd of watchers," said David Longhurst, mall manager. "For awhile it sat across the river in a tree. Then it started flying up and down the river, flying real low where you could see him really good. Then he landed on the sand bar and started wading in the water.
"He was quite a magnet for customers and workers who stood in the windows to watch," Longhurst said.
BECAUSE eagles are extremely shy of humans, eagle-watchers say the best places to catch glimpses of the birds are from a distance. For those who prefer to watch the eagles from indoors, two sites are suggested: the fourth floor observation deck at city hall and any of the riverward windows at the Riverfront Plaza.
As part of an agreement with the federal government to help protect the eagles, the Riverfront Plaza must prohibit access in January and February to a pedestrian promenade that overlooks the river. Those months traditionally draw the largest populations of eagles to the river.
In addition, access to the promenade must be restricted if Clinton Lake freezes over during the month of December.