Big Bird. Big River.

A dozen eagles fly and fish around Clarksville. The birds are sparse & spread out amid mild weather. Several telescopes zoom in on clusters of eagles and big nests.

But the weather is poised to turn sharply colder. In a few days, hundreds of eagles may gather at this spot, a proven fishing spot below the lock & dam across the Mississippi River, where the spillway keeps the river from freezing over.

It reminds me of a visit three decades ago:

“Don’t be disappointed if we don’t see any eagles,” I warned my two young daughters as we drove round the last curve before we reached the river. A frigid January had tamed the top of the Mighty Mississippi. Only the churning water below the Clarksville lock and dam kept the ice from forming over a pond-sized pool.

That’s where we headed.

As it turned out, we weren’t the only visitors. The river came into view and, surrounding it, more white-headed sea eagles than any of us expected. You know them as American bald eagles. They were everywhere, in the sky, in the trees, on both riverbanks. Must’ve been a thousand, by my estimate.

Hitchcock never saw so many birds.

They were flying and fishing and tumbling through the air, and doing all the things that large birds of prey like to do. We did what we like to do: We watched. We walked. We ate. Then we left for Hannibal, driving up Highway 79, along Missouri’s Great River Road. We vowed that we would return, when we had more time. That was a generation ago.

The intervening years have witnessed even more eagles.

Great programs, especially by World Bird Sanctuary, give these birds personality, including the big golden eagle brought to the sanctuary not because she was injured or sick, but because she had developed a taste for baby lambs in North Dakota.

Nowadays we see eagles everywhere. But to see birds fill the skies, trees and riverbanks, visit the eagles in Clarksville this winter.

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