MAURICETOWN - Kate Daniels of Cedarville said the bald eagles must have received the message about the Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival on Saturday.

When she pulled up to the festival headquarters at the Mauricetown Fire Hall there were two adult eagles and one juvenile eagle circling above.

Down the road at Beaver Dam Boat Rentals expert guides pointed out four different eagles off in the distance until suddenly two juveniles soared in and delighted the group with up-close acrobatic maneuvers.

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The age can be estimated by the color of the plumage on the eagle. Usually, first-year birds are very dark, second-year and third-year birds start to develop white patches, and fourth-year and fifth-year birds develop the distinct white heads and tails, said Kyle Chelius, a volunteer from the Cape May Bird Observatory.

Moments later three great blue herons flew over. Then a northern harrier swooped in and perfectly navigated the marsh as it hunted for prey.

“It’s poetry in motion,” said Cape May Bird Observatory volunteer BJ Pinnock as she watched the harrier.

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The crisp winter air didn’t deter fans of the Cumberland County Eagle Festival.

“It’s fascinating,” said Linda Hinkle of Woodstown who had already spotted numerous hawks and eagles. “People think birding is boring but it can be exciting and interesting even in the cold.”

Expert guides were on hand with spotting scopes and binoculars at six staffed viewing sites. They pointed out species and shared their knowledge with visitors throughout the day, and the birds cooperated by offering a variety of sightings.

Jenna Martin, 13, of Mullica Township, comes every year with her dad, Rik Martin.

“I like it,” she said. “It’s hard to see the birds where I am because I live in a more populated area. It’s cool to see them in their natural area.”

Viewing sites included East Point Lighthouse in Maurice River Township, the Bayshore Center at Bivalve in Commercial Township, and the impoundment ponds on Maple Avenue, Turkey Point, Beaver Dam Boat Rentals and the Newport Landing Site, all in Downe Township.

Guided nature walks immersed visitors in many of the county’s ecological treasures. The day kicked off with a 7 a.m. sunrise walk at Turkey Point. Volunteer guide Karen Johnson said about 30 eagles were spotted during the walk. She also guides the evening owl watch with her husband, Brian Johnson, each year. A vantage point from the Turkey Point Area offers expansive views where great horned and short-eared owls are often spotted.

Other walks included the Tat Starr Trail Walk, the Bayshore Wetlands Bird Walk, the Robbinsotwn Road Trail Walk, the Bald Eagle Trail Walk and the Bayshore Wetlands Bird Walk.

“I always see eagles,” said George Loos of South Dennis as he watched a juvenile bald eagle soar over the viewing site at Newport Landing. He attends the festival every year.

“I enjoy the lectures,” he said. “They are always interesting and they always have quality speakers.” 

Visitors warmed up at the fire hall as they enjoyed lectures, exhibits, vendors and food. Children made figurines and ceramic tiles thanks to Clay College, and the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge offered up-close views of raptors.

Presentations explored a variety of raptor-related topics including “Birds of Prey: Profiles in Magnificence,” by Pete Dunne, NJ Audubon ambassador for birding; “Winter Raptors in New Jersey” by Brett Ewald of NJ Audubon Cape May Bird Observatory; “Golden Eagles: Ghosts of the Eastern Forests” by Trish Miller of Conservation Science Global; “Thirty Years of Avian Studies on the Maurice” by Clay Sutton, naturalist and biologist; and “Project SNOWstorm: Unraveling the Mysteries of the North” by Michael Lanzone of Cellular Tracking Technologies.

The 18th annual Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival was presented by the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission, the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Natural Lands, East Point Lighthouse, Cape May Bird Observatory, New Jersey Audubon, Bayshore Center at Bivalve, CU Maurice River, Conserve Wildlife, Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, American Littoral Society and ANJEC.

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