Editor’s Note: Driftless Gems is a new monthly column celebrating the nonprofit arts, culture, humanities and nature organizations that make our region unique. If you would like to showcase other Driftless Gems, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is from ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org.
The Sauk City-based Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is an all-volunteer grassroots organization working to protect, enhance and maintain bald eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research and management activities. We work with schools, area residents and the community to keep the eagles returning every winter. We feel privileged to share the Lower Wisconsin River Valley with these magnificent birds and want to make sure they will be here for future generations.
The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council was founded in 1988 by a small group of environmental and bald eagle enthusiasts “to protect, maintain and enhance bald eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research and management activities.” They modeled the group after the Eagle Valley Environmentalists, a similar community group studying eagles along the Mississippi River in Grant County for several years.
The Ferry Bluff roosting area, at that time the roost best known to the founders and thought to be the main roost within the Sauk Prairie habitat area, was designated a State Natural Area under the direction of the FBEC and Department of Natural Resources. The area is still managed by the DNR, in conjunction with input from the FBEC. In 1991 the group hired three interns to map the Sauk Prairie habitat area, identifying roosting, perching and feeding areas. Since that time an extraordinary volunteer force has continued these efforts. What were six roosts along 15 miles of river were mapped and counted by 1992. Now, FBEC monitors 15 roosts along 30 miles of river and hundreds of square miles of land off the river.
In 1990, a viewing area was established in the municipal parking lot in Prairie du Sac, overlooking Eagle Island, giving visitors a protected area to view and photograph eagles. This viewing area, the Overlook, is still one of the best areas for visitors to view bald eagles. In 1993, a permanent telescope was installed at the Overlook, and in 2014 a permanent telescope was installed on the Sauk City Riverwalk.
In January 1990, FBEC joined with the Bureau of Endangered Resources in staging Bald Eagle Watching Days, a family-based celebration and educational event of bald eagles in general and specifically bald eagles in the Sauk Prairie area. At that time, Bald Eagle Watching Days were held in the local community center, but the popularity of the event led to the addition of speakers and events and it quickly became community-wide. Today it is a premier winter destination that attracts bald eagle watchers of all ages from throughout Wisconsin and beyond.
For more information about Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, including the Jan. 15-16 Bald Eagle Watching Days, winter roost counts and volunteer opportunities, see ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org.