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story.lead_photo.caption All eyes will look out for bald eagles at Arkansas state parks, with special tours and programs during the winter months.

Winter in Arkansas is prime time for bird lovers. With the leaves off the trees and the migratory birds fleeing the harsh weather in their northern summer homes, there's a lot to see and Arkansas state parks provide ample opportunities to spot flocks of feathered friends.

Eagle watch cruises and river rides in search of bald eagles and other birds of prey are particularly popular through January and February at parks such as Lake Ouachita State Park at Mountain Pine and Lake Dardanelle State Park near Russellville.

Petit Jean Mountain State Park near Morrilton always dedicates a couple of days to avian visitors with its Eagle Awareness Weekend, happening Saturday and Sunday.

"We have a variety of programs all dedicated to discovering more about the bald eagle, primarily," says park interpreter B.J. Jones. (They also pay attention to golden eagles and other birds in the area.)

[ARKANSAS 360°: Explore Petit Jean Mountain State Park in interactive photos]

Saturday starts out with a presentation called Discover the Bald Eagle, covering everything from mating cycles to migratory patterns, which Jones says have been changing: "They're tending to nest especially along the waterways in summers and stay here instead of following migratory birds back north."

Lynn Sciumbato from Morning Star Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Gravette will visit, bringing a few feathered guests to help her present a program on birds of prey and conservation efforts.

The highlight of the weekend, though, are the visits to Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. Participants will gather at the park, then caravan the 30 minutes or so to the refuge, where park interpreters will set up spotting scopes and binoculars. Refuge entry fees are waived for program participants.

"We always see eagles when we're out there," Jones says. "It's a kind of safari."

Eagle Awareness Weekend

8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Petit Jean State Park, Morrilton

Admission: Free

(501) 727-5441

petitjeanstatepark.com

There are two caravans Saturday and another on Sunday. The eagle awareness program also repeats Sunday.

While there aren't any specific kid-focused programs, Jones says children are always welcome at all the activities.

"Kids usually have a good time. When we set up spotting scopes, we have two and we'll set one up at child level."

Jones recommends dressing warmly in layers: "We don't do a lot of walking outside, but people get out of their cars and look at the scopes. The weather has been known to be pretty frigid out there sometimes."

Snacks and water are also advisable and people have to provide their own transportation for the caravan.

"It's a great way to spend one or two days," Jones says. "It's a great opportunity to learn more about our national symbol. We'd really like people to come join us. It's usually a lot of fun."

Also this weekend, Bull Shoals-White River State Park in northern Arkansas hosts its own Eagle Awareness Weekend, Friday-Saturday. Their schedule includes lake and river tours, guided walks, speakers and demonstrations. Lake cruises are $15, $7.50 for children 6-12, and river cruises are $20. Everything else is free. Call (870) 445-3629 or visit arkansasstateparks.com.

For those who can't get enough eagles, Jan. 25-27, DeGray Lake Resort State Park will host its 40th annual Eagles Et Cetera Festival with tours, hikes, cruises and programs on various birds of prey. Some activities will have fees. Call (501) 865-5810 or visit degray.com.

Weekend on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: Eagle-watching excursions take off at state parks

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