Eagle tours set sail on Beaver Lake

Posted: October 31, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Eagle cruises held by Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area take passengers on Beaver Lake to see bald eagles during fall and winter.

Have you always wanted to go on a cruise? A good place to start is Beaver Lake and the eagle-watch cruises offered by Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area.

Cruises start Saturday aboard the park's 20-passenger pontoon boat. There's a cruise most every Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. through February. Weekday cruises are offered during the holidays. What better outing with friends and family visiting over Thanksgiving and Christmas than a trip to see eagles.

Cost is $10 for adults or $5 for children 6-12. No charge for kids under 6. Call the park visitor center, 479-789-5000, for reservations.

The colder it gets, the better the cruise, at least as far as seeing eagles. Bald eagles make their way in good numbers to Beaver Lake during fall and winter, coming from their summer habitats up north in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region and Canada. The number is highest in January, when eagle watchers bundle up for the best viewing of the cruise season. But bald eagles are on the lake now.

The boat heads out of the marina and into quiet coves and creek arms that eagles prefer. There's no guarantee when you're dealing with wildlife, but bald eagles are seen on almost every trip. The best viewing is when eagles are perched on shoreline trees. Other times they're seen soaring above the boat, putting on an aerial show.

Talk about value. For ten bucks you get a great boat ride on a beautiful lake and a chance to see bald eagles, ducks, geese, kingfishers and other water birds. Plus, there's a volunteer guide on each trip to answer questions about bald eagles and regale passengers with amazing facts about Beaver Lake.

Such as, how deep is the lake? Try about 250 feet near the Beaver Lake dam. Are there any bald eagle nests on the lake? Yes. There are six known nests.

Some bald eagles fly to the next county when the pontoon boat approaches. Others stay put on their treetop perches, as if to say. "Got me a good fishing spot here. I'm not moving." Fish and unfrozen water bring bald eagles to Beaver Lake.

These roosting eagles offer some of the best photo opportunities. Passengers click away and take home some fine pictures. One thing new this year is that passengers are asked not to bring tripods on the boat.

A tripod takes up a good chunk of room. It hinders other passengers from moving about the boat to get the best look at a bald eagle. Bring a monopod if you must, but please, no tripods.

What passengers can bring are snacks, small coolers and Thermos bottles of hot drinks. No alcohol or pets are allowed on the boat. Dress for weather that's 20 degrees colder than the air temperature at home. It's always chillier on the lake, especially if it's windy.

Life jackets and binoculars are provided. There are blankets on board, but follow the 20 degree rule and you won't need one. There's no restroom on the boat, so a visit to the nearby port-a-pot may be prudent before setting sail. Trips last about 90 minutes.

Wind is the main consideration if a cruise has to be canceled. Trips don't go if the lake is a froth of white caps, the temperature is extremely cold or roads are slick. Passengers can reschedule or get a refund.

When the cold wind blows, it's good to see our royal winter visitors, bald eagles, come back to Beaver Lake.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWA Flip

Sports on 10/31/2017