SOAR WITH THE EAGLES at Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks

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Looking for something to do on  a “snow day” with your kids?  Bundle them up, grab your camera and binoculars, and begin your search for bald eagles! Eagle viewing is just one of the Lake’s FREE special learning experiences available to visitors and locals alike.  Eagles can be seen at Lake of the Ozarks  from late November through mid-February or early March.   Although the Lake has an official Eagle Days event the first weekend in January every year, you don’t have to limit your eagle watching to such an event. We encourage you to discover nature!

Eagles like to ‘go fishing’ early in the morning below Bagnell Dam.

Spotting one of these spectacular birds is best when it’s very, very cold and even better when Missouri Ameren is running water through the Bagnell Dam flood gates! Early mornings are the best viewing times for their aerial acrobatics!  So today is a great day to jump in your Jeep and head for Willmore Lodge or the Osage River access points above and below Bagnell Dam. One access point is accessible off Bagnell Dam Boulevard at the west end of the dam on Legion Road and the other off Highway 54 by the Osage River Bridge. My friend Ed Franko tells folks to “look for baseballs (the eagles’ white heads) in the trees.”

Did you know Missouri is famous for its bald eagles?  We’re ranked third in bald eagle population in the U.S. – right behind the states of Alaska and Washington! 2800+ eagles migrate to Missouri every year, including more than 100 that winter here at Lake of the Ozarks! Locals know and protect our nesting eagles who are permanent Lake residents.

My first eagle experience was back in January of 1983 at Truman Dam, located in Warsaw, Missouri. My family and I were introduced to Omega, the fist-trained eagle that brushed wings with Johnny Carson, Bryant Gumbel on the Today Show, and President Ronald Reagan. That was a “WOW” moment for my Illinois turned Missouri family and how my love affair with bald eagles began.

The next time Conservation Agent Rich Robbins came into the bank where I  worked, I asked if he would organize an Eagle Days weekend for Lake Ozark.  I still remember the twinkle in his eye as he said “If I can get the eagle, will you help with the publicity?”  Rich twisted arms, I called radio stations, delivered press releases, mimeographed notes for the School of Osage and other area school kids. Our first year we hosted a one day  unsanctioned “Eagle Day” event at the Leland O. Mills grade school gym in Lake Ozark and the rest is history, as they say!

Nothing better than a little person seeing their first bald eagle!

Rich knew we needed bodies to carry off the event so he was able to get the Lake of the Ozarks Park Staff involved.  Carl Lake and the Lake of the Ozarks Lions Club joined our efforts. The Arrowhead Garden Club served hot chocolate and baked goodies – tailgate style- down below Bagnell Dam. The next year the Missouri Department of Conservation added our Lake Ozark Eagle Days to their formal schedule. We were the only volunteer based Eagle Days in the State of Missouri and very proud! Spotting scopes were staffed by five agents, two Missouri Department of Conservation Central Office employees and seventeen members of our local community!  The agents were our team leaders and introduced the indoor programs. Our volunteers rolled Charles Schwartz pencil drawings of eagles, set up signs along the highway, and helped ‘find’ roosting eagles in the sycamore trees below Bagnell Dam. My friend Ed Franko tells folks to “look for baseballs (their white heads) in the trees.”  Gosh, it was cold and my shift outside was always the early morning one – when there were the most eagles!

Omega, our famous Eagle friend, has passed away. A placque honoring her still hangs in the hallways at School of the Osage.My dear friend, Rich Robbins, has also passed away. The State of Missouri no longer has funding available for Eagle Days.  In 2010 the Lake Area Chamber and Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau took up the cause, along with local businesses, who make donations to keep the event going. I was honored to be among the volunteers again down below the Dam during formal Eagle Days weekend and help spot some eagles in the wild. Stop by the Inn at Harbour Ridge Bed and Breakfast. We’ll listen to your eagle stories and warm you up over a cup of hot chocolate! Who knows – we might even see our resident eagle do a flyover on Red Barn Road!

Our national symbol?  Far from the endangered species they once were back in the 80s; we’re happy to be able to share their return with you….happier yet to share Lake of the Ozarks with them!
Sue and Ron Westenhaver
Owners/Innkeepers
Inn at Harbour Ridge

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