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Teatown's EagleFest Will Still Fly, Though Mainly Virtually

Bald Eagle
Courtesy of Teatown
Bald Eagle

An annual eagle-viewing festival in the Hudson Valley is going virtual, for the most part, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with the head of a nonprofit nature preserve and environmental education center that organizes the event.

It’s called EagleFest, and it’s organized by Ossining-based Teatown, where Kevin Carter is executive director. After record-breaking crowds last year, Carter says the showcase for the migration of bald eagles to the Hudson River will be mainly online.

“So we felt that, you know, rather than canceling it altogether, that we would, we would extend it and make it a weeklong event with mostly virtual programs, but a couple of in-person programs as well, and that we would kind of try to keep the spirit and the DNA of the EagleFest event through virtual programs. So that means partnering up with organizations that we work with, it means working with the birding community and a number of handlers that are willing to do Zoom programs. So essentially, we're trying to give people a way to connect to the overwintering eagles, learn about birds of prey, and understand and learn about how the choices that we make really impact, you know, the wildlife. We have this, this story of the eagle, which is a rare environmental success story, so again, we want to we want to we want to convey that message. We want to do it in a way that that people of all ages can enjoy and that they have their specific kind of interest focuses to different programs that we're doing,” Carter says. “We're doing, working with Zeiss Optics if people want to learn about birding optics, and if they're interested in that, and they have a passion or just as a hobby, they're interested in birding, which we've found a growing number of people during COVID have really taken to this and not surprisingly. There'll be a program on digiscoping, which is how you can connect to your camera or even your, your smartphone up to an optical telescope and take pictures. We’ll help, we can kind of connect people with, with, with some of the best spots that they can go to to spot eagles. We’ll have bald eagles and other birds of prey featured in Zoom programs throughout the week. So yeah, a whole bunch of different options, but as I said, really trying to keep the, the flame burning during this year when we can't be at Croton Point Park with several thousand people and, several hundred people at a time inside of a tent. This was our, kind of our COVID-proof EagleFest and our solution to that, and hopefully by 2022 we'll be back out at the park again.”

There are a few in-person events, but participation is limited and bird walks are sold out. However:

“Teatown’s doing programs with utilizing our birds of prey. We have hawk, we have eagles, we have owls and we have falcons, so we'll be using a variety of our birds for Teatown birds of prey program the first weekend on Sunday, January 31,” Carter says.

Online programs include Raptors for Rookies, Birding for Kids and a new one:

“It's called ornitherapy with Holly Merkel, and, and I think she really explores the, the emotional healing powers of birding

“Is the future EagleFest dependent upon how this one works out?” Dunne asks.

“I don't really think so. For us, EagleFest, as a nonprofit, EagleFest, our goal for the event really is, is to educate and to bring the community together and, and to sort of celebrate the power of collective impact by working with a lot of other partner organizations. It's not really a primary fundraiser for us, we have, we do a big gala every year in the fall. And we have a number of, of digital and direct mail appeals that we do with our membership and our, our community, so for this, it's not really about, about the money. You know, somewhat ironically, the, the, the event usually is somewhat risky financially because you always have this wild card of what the weather's going to be like. Fortunately for us, we've only had to cancel one EagleFest over the last 16 years. We have had to utilize a snow day before,” Carter says. “But it's really the spirit of working together and creating something that's fun but also tends to inspire people to think about what they can do to be good stewards of the environment. So this year's EagleFest, when we, when we made our budget, we really weren't planning to make, you know, a lot of revenue from it. We normally don't anyway, but, but we wanted to do it because it's, it's really one of the times of year where we really kind of step out, and people also learn about our organization so they find out that we have 1,000 acre preserve with 15 miles of trails that are open year round from dawn till dusk and that we do programs for adults and for kids and families, public programs, school programs. So it's really an important one for us but not so much because of the funds.”

“Where are, I know a few but you know far more than I, good places in your neck of the woods, so to speak, to see Eagles?” asks Dunne.

“When there's ice and, on the river, the eagle spotting is a lot better. The cold weather is what they like, which is different from the people, they usually prefer it when it's a warmer day, but the boat launch is really, Croton, is a very good spot for birds, for seeing eagles. George's Island is another one that's, where it's very good,” Carter says. “Bosocbel is another one where the spotting is very good. The Croton dam is another where the eagle watching is good.”

He says eagle spotting has been pretty good this year. Teatown Hudson River EagleFest, a hybrid festival for its 17th year, runs Saturday through February 7. Here’s a link to find tickets, best spots to view eagles and more.

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