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Marge Gibson releases a rehabilitated bald eagle. / Submitted by Gary Engberg
Eagle perching in Sauk Prairie. / Submitted by Gary Engberg
A nice walleye. / Contributed by Gary Engberg

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This coming weekend, there are two events that give people a choice of a couple of things to do to beat the “winter blues” and get you in the outdoors. Temperatures are going to cool down again this week and help the activities that I’m recommending by concentrating the eagles and building more safe ice. After hearing that 2012 was the warmest year on record, it’s great to be outside in chill of winter. Actually, the weather that you’re having is about normal for the middle of January and it’s good to be outside in the fresh winter air.

The first event that I’m mentioning is the 26th Bald Eagle Watching Day in Sauk Prairie this coming Friday night and Saturday. Local residents (including me) have a tendency to take the winter population of eagles for granted. The Sauk Prairie area is the winter home for hundreds of bald eagles and well-worth visiting on the Bald Eagle Watching Day and on most winter days till the first week of March. The important factors that attract eagles to this area are the open water below the Prairie du Sac Dam where eagles gorge themselves on the protein rich gizzard shad, the undeveloped shoreline with large trees for perching, and the numerous sheltered valleys with large hardwood trees for roosting and getting out of the cold of winter. The Sauk Prairie area has all of these eagle requirements plus a population of people who cherish and respect these magnificent birds. The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and its members put in hundreds of hours of volunteer work to keep the eagles returning every year. One has to remember that it wasn’t that long ago (1970’s) that the eagle population was at one of its lowest points and on the endangered species list. But, through research and hard work the eagles are still coming to the Sauk Prairie area each and every winter.

I was a little worried that the weather was getting too warm and the snow melting might spread the eagles out over a larger area, but the colder weather has returned and concentrated the eagles near the waters below the Prairie du Sac Dam. The River Alliance recently had an auction and fundraiser where I donated an afternoon of eagle watching to the highest bidder. Sharon White, a River Alliance employee, bought the trip for her parents (Jon and Mary Reddin) who live in Milwaukee and Ellison Bay. I met them in Sauk City to take them eagle watching and later to the Sugarloaf Roost where I count eagles every other Sunday afternoon. Sunday morning, I was working at my desk over-looking the Wisconsin River and the eagles were very active fishing and perching in my backyard. Here, I am less than 30 miles from Madison and I have bald eagles within 10 yards of me while I working on my computer. What I see regularly would be a lifetime experience for many people! I was worried though that we might not see eagles like this when I met the Reddin’s for their viewing and photo taking experience. But, the eagles didn’t disappoint us and we found eagles to see and photograph all within a few miles of town.

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I also took Mary and Jon with me to meet Tim Moermond and Donna and Bill Stehling to do our regular counting on Sunday afternoons for the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council. Again, the eagles cooperated and we counted over 30 bald eagles going into their roosts for the night. Jon took many photos and I know that they had a great time after once coming to the area 15 years ago to eagle watch. They said that things had changed some with them seeing many more eagles than their previous outing to Sauk Prairie. It’s nice to hear that people enjoy these precious birds and come to see them regularly during the winter.

This weekend there is something for all family members. Friday night, January 18th, the Raptor Center from the University of Minnesota brings their live birds of prey show titled “Raptors in Wisconsin.” They will have live birds that have been rehabilitated for all to see up close. There also will be children’s programs, eagle viewing bus tours around town, demonstrations on digiscope photography, and even a release of a live rehabbed bird. Plus, there’s much, much more for the family to see up close and enjoy. There are activities for all on Saturday, the 19th of January, so come and plan to spend the day! Remember that this is a family event which will have the whole family involved and seeing things that people rarely have the chance to view!

Another winter activity that is taking place on Saturday the 19th is the Yahara Fishing Club’s Ice Fishing Derby on Madison’s Lake Waubesa. There used to be a Derby or Jamboree on the Madison Lakes going back to the 1960’s and 1970’s which was an annual event drawing ice anglers from all over the area. Jim Kloth and members of the Yahara Fishing Club are trying to revive this fishing event to raise money for the children’s fishing events that the club sponsors and puts on for area children. The entry fee is $10.00 which includes a ticket for the many donated prizes. There are also tickets for other great raffle items at $2 or 3 tickets for $5. You have to be present for the 3:00 pm drawing of the great prizes to win.

The Ice Fishing Derby is based out of the Green Lantern Restaurant which will have food specials all day for hungry anglers. There also are cash awards for the largest walleye, bass (both large and smallmouth), pike, and the top 10 panfish (bluegills, crappies, and perch). First place in a category wins $75.00 and $25.00 for second place There is another award for the child who has the single largest panfish. The weigh in will be at 2:00 pm. I’ll be the MC for the weigh-in, so stop and say hi. Contact Jim Kloth at (608)-635-0116 or jkloth@charter.net for any questions that you may have. All Wisconsin fishing rules apply for the event. This is also the first winter free fishing weekend by the Wisconsin DNR. People can fish without buying any licenses or stamps this coming weekend. This is a good opportunity for people to try ice fishing and see why so many people love this sport.

There’s plenty to do this coming weekend in the outdoors with eagle watching and ice fishing. The weather looks good and you can do something in our outdoors with your family without spending much money. These are events and activities where the entire family can enjoy our great natural resources and be outside instead of watching football on the couch. I look forward to seeing many of you in the Wisconsin outdoors!

Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.

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