Bird watchers, wildlife advocates, Fairfax District workers, Kaw Point Park boosters and the just plain curious brushed off Saturday’s steady rain for the chance to spy nesting bald eagles.
They came for Eagle Days, sponsored by Friends of Kaw Point Park. It was the first time the event had been held at the park, and it was a confluence of interests at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers.
“The eagle’s been on a major comeback,” said Mike Calwell, a volunteer deeply involved in the park’s ongoing renovation. “In 1990, we had no eagle nests on the Kaw. Now, thanks to the Corps of Engineers fledging birds out of Clinton, we have 27 known nests on the Kaw. It’s very thrilling.”
Six bald eagles were spied Friday and three Saturday, according to volunteers at the site midday Saturday.
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“They like it down here because of the fish,” said Ken Davis, a volunteer with Friends of Kaw Point Park. The park is a triangular patch of reclaimed riverbank that received an aggressive spruce-up in connection with the commemorative Lewis and Clark expeditions in 2004.
A $450,000 grant from the National Parks Service and a grant from the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County fueled the park’s creation, but volunteer labor has contributed most of the work, including a public boat dock. One feature of the park is a series of monuments dedicated to Native American tribes that lived in Kansas.
Calwell said the eagles generally can be seen from the Kaw Point bluff from December to March. He said the adult birds, which weigh about 15 pounds, can pick up a 20-pound fish with their uniquely designed talons. They’re “excellent fishermen but also scavengers” that will eat dead geese or ducks, he said.
The Eagle Days event gave Gary Crain, a volunteer with Operation WildLife, a chance to showcase the rehabilitation services it provides for injured and orphaned wild animals. The organization helps about 5,000 animals a year and is able to return about seven in 10 of them to the wild.
Crain brought to Kaw Point Park examples of wildlife that couldn’t be returned to their natural habitats, including a barn owl hit by a car that will never be able to fly; a great horned owl, also hit by car, that’s missing a wing; and a red-tailed hawk missing an eye that was mauled in its nest by crows.
“We have volunteers who take care of them for the rest of their lives,” Crain said, emphasizing, though, that the prime goal of the Linwood, Kan.-based organization is to provide a temporary, not a permanent, haven.
In addition to educating the public about the area’s wildlife, Calwell said he hoped Eagle Days would expose more area residents to Kaw Point Park.
Calwell said he’s working with NorthPoint Development, which is building a manufacturing facility across from the park, to help call attention to the site. He has plans for a Lewis and Clark-related mural on the side of the building under construction. He expects the redevelopment also to help with new lighting, security cameras, landscaping and a redesigned entry off Fairfax Trafficway. Current access is on a potholed gravel road.
“This used to be a real trashy place,” said Friends of Kaw Point Park volunteer Craig Thompson. “But we started in 2003 to get the park cleaned up and ready for the Lewis and Clark expedition. “It’s really come along.”