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Eagle Eyes

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Winter Eagle Festival on Saturday, February 1, will have you gazing skyward.

Eagle Fest participants in a previous year at Natural Lands–Glades Preserve. PHOTO: STEVE EISENHAUER
by J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River

Each year there is a marvelous opportunity to gain greater insight into the New Jersey Delaware Bayshore and its avian denizens, especially our eagles and their compatriot raptors and waterfowl. This year’s Eagle Festival is happening in just a little over a week, and it’s a super way to spend your Saturday on February 1.

This will be the 20th year for the Cumberland County, NJ Winter Eagle Festival. I’ve had the pleasure of being involved since its inception and each year it just keeps getting better. Many organizations are involved in providing opportunities to enjoy the day. The County Freeholders/Cultural and Heritage Commission/Staff orchestrate the event while CU Maurice River, NJ Audubon, Conserve Wildlife, Bayshore Center at Bivalve, Natural Lands, Association of Environmental Commissions, South Jersey Lands Trust, local historic societies, The Nature Conservancy, Clay College, Woodford Cedar Run, and PSEG all host various aspects. A great assortment of indoor and outdoor activities is offered.

The day begins at 7 a.m., prior to check-in, with a Sunrise Walk off Turkey Point Road. At 8 a.m. come to the Mauricetown Firehall in Mauricetown and register at the reception desk for a map and schedule of events.

The firehall hosts presentations beginning at 10 a.m. and ending around 4 p.m. The line-up of presenters this year features great outdoor experts and enthusiasts.

I will be the first presenter, so expect my usual antics mixed with lots of facts and odd encounters with barred owls. The next two speakers are beloved naturalists and authors Pat and Clay Sutton. Pat will discuss common backyard birds and how to attract them to your yard; Keynote Speaker Clay will debut a new presentation: “All about Eagles.” He has completed more than 30 years of observations of eagles and other local avian species for CU Maurice River and other groups. From the Burlington County Parks system we have invited naturalist Jennifer Bulava to present “Birds and Bare Branches.” And finally the famed Emile DeVito, Ph.D. from the NJ Conservation Foundation will complete the indoor portion of the day with “A Pine Barrens Extravaganza.”

Other indoor activities include Woodford Cedar Run’s live raptors with natural history interpretation by their staff. Clay College and the Cultural Heritage Commission will offer arts and crafts for families. Non-profit organizations and commercial exhibitors will have booths. Firehall volunteers will be selling local fare—refreshments and lunch, with their famous fried oysters and clams on offer. Also the Bayshore Center in Bivalve’s Café will be holding a Souper Fest featuring 10 varieties of soup from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Concurrently, five outside viewing stations will have interpreters helping you to spot and understand our avian residents. There is a series of guided walks, and I will be leading a hike with my sidekick Christine Brown at noon, beginning at Berrytown Road. If you come I would love to meet some of my readers, and you’re going to adore my favorite Brit—Christine. Natural Lands will be leading interpretative walks as well on their remarkable bayshore preserves. A schedule of these walks will be available at the firehall.

On the other side of the river, the Maurice River Historical Society will have the East Point Lighthouse open for visitation. Go visit this historic structure that has been newly refurbished and still operates to aid ships in navigating the mouth of the Maurice.

It’s traditional as the festival concludes for people to amass along Turkey Point Road to try to spot some owls. Presenters, walk leaders, and the day’s coordinators often turn out and offer lots of fun dialogue about owls.

As a follow-up to the festival two of our top-notch naturalists, Mary Watkins and Tony Klock, are leading a walk on February 8. It’s billed as “The Duck Waddle” and is a great way to discover lots about waterfowl. On February 22, I’ll do a walk where we learn about our old-world vultures.

Make 2020 the year you discover more about the natural lands, species and history of our region.