As we now know, winter in Oklahoma can be hit or miss. One day sub-zero temperatures and a blizzard and then sunny days in the 60's. The uncertainty of Oklahoma winter weather and the natural wish to avoid it is a direct cause of cabin fever and there is a cure....get out of the cabin once in awhile. One of the most popular winter activities in Oklahoma is eagle watching. Some years as many as 2,000 eagles make their way south to the (relatively) warmer climes of Oklahoma from the frozen north. In the western part of the state, golden eagles cluster around open water and share space with magnificent bald eagles. In eastern Oklahoma, the bald eagle is predominant.
Out west, the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge near Jet is home to wintering eagles and many times you don't even have to leave the car to see them. On one trip, my photographer, Tommy Evans, and I got great video of a mature bald eagle soaring high overhead. Down the auto trail a bit later, Tommy got out of the car to shot some video of a flock of waterfowl, mostly mallard ducks, on a pond beside the road. Our naturalist guide and I were standing beside the van when the guide caught my eye and pointed up. Almost directly over Tommy's head sat an immature bald eagle (no white feathers, yet), in the tree also watching the ducks. Tommy got some great video of the bird and when it finally got tired of the attention, it launched itself from the tree. Terrified ducks flew in every direction but the eagle kept on going. In northeast Oklahoma, the trees below the Keystone Lake dam often hold bald eagles. The water holds fish, bald eagles love fish, people love to watch eagles. Everybody's happy...except the fish. The bottom of the food chain is a place joyless and scary.
Along the Illinois River near Tahlequah, on some winter days, more than a dozen bald eagles drape tree limbs along the river bank and can be easily seen with little effort on your part. One of the most spectacular sights I have seen was at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge near Vian, Oklahoma. It involved not so much an eagle, but an eagle's nest. Many people think they have seen eagles only to be fooled by large hawks. Once you have really seen an eagle you will never be fooled again. The size of the bird is amazing...massive wingspan..huge body..and then consider the size of the nest this big bird builds. At Sequoyah, my wife and I gawked at a nest in a tree barely a hundred yards off the road. With the binoculars you could see a head peek from the nest occasionally (I think..or it might have been my vivid imagination) but the nest alone was awe inspiring. With the sunset blazing bright orange, flocks of birds flying past, and that massive nest in a skyscraper tree, I took a picture to last a lifetime. It wouldn't have happened if we hadn't gotten out of the cabin.