February 11th was the eighth annual Merrimack River Eagle Festival, which celebrates the seasonal return of bald eagles to the Merrimack Valley. Nine youths from the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) and 5 adults braved the threat of snow showers and traveled to Newburyport for a full day of activities. Though the snow never materialized, we were lucky enough to see eagles and a snowy owl!
Our day began with an educational program at Newburyport’s City Hall, where Tom Ricardi of the Massachusetts Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Facility presented a variety of live raptors, great and small. Among the raptors that made an appearance were a Golden Eagle, a tiny but very vocal Screech owl (a crowd favorite), a Kestrel, a Turkey vulture, and a Peregrine falcon.
After the presentation, our group posed for a photo with one of the raptors!
Next, we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Joppa Flats Education Center to enjoy lunch with a view of the Merrimack River. After cleaning up, we explored the center where we made owl masks (thanks Parker!), measured our wing spans, and played a variety of nature games (did you know that the gripping power of a bald eagle is ten times greater than that of a human?).
Then our shrewd leader Rucker got the skinny on an eagle hot spot, and we were off to the wooded shores of Deer Island! There, some very kind naturalists pointed us toward our target--several bald eagles! We took turns looking through field telescopes at the majestic raptors, and we watched with our naked eyes as a juvenile circled closer and closer to our location.
After taking a break to skip some stones and ponder the demise of a half-eaten catfish (did you know that eagles are notorious kleptoparasites?), our group was off again to the nearby Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to spot a snowy owl (that's right, the one that delivers mail to Harry Potter). Though our thirst for raptor-spotting was hardly quenched, it was getting late and we reluctantly headed for home. We all heartily agreed with Manuelito--best field trip ever!
Thanks go out to our leader Rucker and to Irena, our newest volunteer, as well as to Jenae and Sarah of EBNHC.