Binoculars, iPads, smartphones, and telephoto lenses were all pointed toward the sky as two large raptors soared above the water.
Their dark, speckled plumage suggested they're immature bald eagles. Across the bank of the Wisconsin River perched at the top of a tree was an adult -- unmistakable by its stark white head and tail feathers.
These magnificent birds of prey are drawn to the open water for fishing in winter, and there are some great spots to watch them in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. This gathering place of sorts is the impetus behind Bald Eagle Watching Days, held January 12-13, 2018 in the Sauk Prairie area just north of Madison.
Earlier this week, dozens of people hoped to catch a glimpse of the eagles before the crowds arrive over the weekend for the 31st annual event. Popular locations are the VFW Park, 700 VFW Dr., and a mile north at the Alliant Energy Hydropower Dam.
The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council also maintains overlooks in both of the cities that have spotting scopes for a closer look. You'll see the nonprofit's kiosk with information and photos at the public parking lot near Water and Washington streets, which is also adjacent to the new Great Sauk State Trail. However, a portion of the trail from Lincoln Avenue and just north of the Hwy. 60 bridge is being temporarily diverted (from late December through February) to Water Street to reduce eagle disturbance.
Educating the public on how to respectfully watch the eagles is one of the nonprofit's goals. Since people on foot scare eagles, they are asked to observe from the designated overlooks or remain in your parked vehicle and use it as a blind. FBEC also shared that they should not walk along the river, especially at the dam since that is the eagles' most active feeding area.
Eagle watching etiquette
Photograph and watch eagles from a distance
Respect "No Trespassing" and "Eagle Buffer Zone" signs
Stay in your car or at the designated overlooks where eagles are used to seeing people
Do not walk along the riverbank or approach eagles
The best time to watch eagles is during the morning when they are often fishing, although they can be seen through the afternoon scoping out their next meal from the top of trees by the river. During Bald Eagle Watching Days, viewing at the two overlooks will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and there will also be free bus tours on a first-come, first-served basis from 9-11:30 a.m.
But there's more to do at Eagle Watching Days than stand around in the cold waiting for eagles to appear. The River Arts Center at Sauk Prairie High School will host live birds of prey presentations on Friday at 7 p.m. and at 10 a.m. Saturday. Also on Saturday there will be a pancake breakfast, raffle, kids activities, Golden Eagle Project presentation, educational exhibits, and items for sale.
You can find the state's largest private bird collection and learn about eagles in Native American culture at the Tripp Heritage Museum, 565 Water St.
And you can even head across the river to enjoy an "Eagle White" wine tasting at Wollersheim Winery & Distillery, 7876 Hwy. 188, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. While you're in the area, you could also dine at Vintage Brewing Co., which just opened its $7 million facility this week along the riverfront.
If you can't make it this weekend, eagle watching tours will continue Saturdays through February 17 at 10 a.m. from the Cedarberry Inn. The cost is $5 per person and kids 5 and under are free. Call 608-643-6625 for reservations.