Bald Eagle Viewing In Wabasha, Minnesota

Do you remember the old movie Grumpy Old Men? It was set in Wabasha Minnesota, a cool little town on the Mississippi River. The two curmudgeons fished on “Lake Wabasha” which in real life is Lake Pepin, a wide spot in the Mississippi River that is famous for being the birthplace of waterskiing.

Jules and I have been talking about going down to Wabasha in the winter for several years because the area has become increasingly well-known for something else… some of best Bald Eagle viewing in the lower 48. A couple weeks ago we finally went and had a blast despite the lousy weather.

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Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 binoculars. Some of the best eagle viewing in the lower 48 and very accessible. Be sure to stop by the National Eagle Center. To get there either take Highway 61 on the Minnesota side or the more scenic Highway 35 on the Wisconsin side.

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bald eagle, wabasha, national eagle center, eagle viewing

Majestic Eagle at National Eagle Center

Why Are there so many Bald Eagles near Wabasha?

So, why are there hundreds of Bald Eagles in such a small area? The short answer is because of food. The Mississippi River near Wabasha does not freeze so the eagles are able to catch fish all winter. According to the National Eagle Center warm water flows out of Lake Pepin near where the Chippewa River enters the Mississippi. So, you have turbulence from two river mixing together and warm water preventing ice from forming over the whole channel.

Interesting fact: there are also a few Golden Eagles in the area too but they tend to stay away from the river and hunt the wooded bluff lands nearby.

Today, Wabasha is the northern most stretch of the Mississippi that stays open all year so, it attracts migrating eagles from northern Minnesota and Canada. Note: the information at the National Eagle Center states that if global warming continues it is possible that there will be stretches of river further north that don’t freeze altering migration patterns (see my opinion post for thoughts on a pragmatic approach to climate change).

When Is The Best Time to Go?

While there is a sizable population of eagles year round, winter is the best time to  go; specifically, February and March. We went on February 9th and saw tons of birds but that was before the peak. If you have flexibility, simply monitor the

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A couple Bald Eagles perched along the Mississippi River

weekly Eagle count on the NEC site and go when there are lots of birds. You should be able to see eagles throughout the day. Most of the time they will be soaring, sitting on the ice or perhaps chilling in a tree. As evening approaches they will start to head for the trees to roost and you may see several perched close together. We saw 16 roosting in one small area.

Where To Go?

There are several places you can go and have a good chance of seeing eagles, including right in town at the National Eagle Center but the best spot seems to be  Reads Landing, which is where we went. Reads Landing is a few miles north of Wabasha right off Highway 61. Again the Eagle count is a great resource. It’ll tell you how many are at the key spots. As of today (2/22/13), there were 245 birds at Reads Landing- more than twice as many as any other spot. When we went the prior day’s count was 168.

A bonus perk at Reads Landing is that there is a cool brew pub you can duck into for a quick drink or bite to escape the weather.

The National Eagle Center

Even if visitor centers and “official programs” are not your thing you should still take time to check out the National Eagle Center. If for no other reason than your $8 entry fee goes to a great cause… the eagles.

They have a few eagles that were injured and are unable to be returned to the wild. As expected, they have scheduled programs with the eagles that including  feeding session and enough factoids to satisfy Cliff Claven. Even cooler, is the  room where you are able to see (and smell!) a few birds up close. A great opportunity to take photos or fire questions at the helpful volunteers.

Don’t forget to show the NEC some love!

What To Bring

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Jules getting all NatGeo

Bring binoculars or even better, a spotting scope. You are not going to be moving around much so dress warm and if you are smarter than we are you will bring a thermos of something something. And of course, bring your camera. At the NEC you will get awesome pics without a telephoto but when out viewing you will need a telephoto (the bigger the better) to get great shots.

Recent Eagle Count (source: National Eagle Center)

Week of 2-22-13

Red Wing Colvill Park Adults + Imm. n/a
Reads Landing Adults 182 + Imm. 63 245
Wabasha Adults 53 + Imm. 38 91
Alma Adults 35 + Imm. 17 52
Buffalo City Adults 9 + Imm. 7 16
Minneiska Lock & Dam 5 Adults 3 + Imm. 2 5
Weather brief
Ave Temp: 17 degrees F
Precipitation: .17″

Also In The Area

We stayed at a really cool B&B called Turning Waters that we absolutely loved. Great room. Great hosts. Great breakfast. They also have a guiding business for kayaking, snowshoeing etc. Say hello to Michael for me!

Whitewater State Park isn’t far away and has awesome hiking and some of Minnesota’s best trout fishing (winter catch & release season is open now). There are also several spots along Highway 61 for quick hikes. I’ve got a few from a trip last fall that I will be writing about so check back or ask Michael at TWB&B.

Not So Random Spud Post: cool pic I took of eagles on an iceberg in Alaska

 

3 thoughts on “Bald Eagle Viewing In Wabasha, Minnesota

  1. Pingback: Quick Hikes Along Highway 61 In SE Minnesota - Trail Potato

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