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November 18, 2021 Comments Off on Eagles home for the holidays Latest, Nature, On The Water, Outdoor Events

Eagles home for the holidays

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

Now that people are traveling more, it’s a great time to book a cruise for the whole family.

And talk about a bargain. There’s plenty of bang for your buck on the eagle watch cruises offered at Beaver Lake by Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. The 90-minute trips to see bald eagles set sail at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting.

Cost is $15 for passengers 13 and up or $7.50 for youngsters age 6 to 12. For that bargain price, cruisers get a boat ride on one of the prettiest parts of the lake aboard the park’s spacious pontoon boat. Binoculars are provided free to every passenger, or they may bring their own.

A guide is aboard every cruise to reveal why bald eagles and other wildlife are so fond of Beaver Lake. Passengers not only have an excellent chance to see eagles, but waterfowl, hawks and vultures may be seen on the wing. It’s not uncommon to see deer roaming the shoreline.

Trips leave out of Rocky Branch Marina and ply deep, clear water east to the Van Winkle Hollow arm of Beaver Lake. Bald eagles prefer this three-mile-long arm of the lake because there’s little development. Eagles like to be where people aren’t.

The shoreline is unbroken forest in much of the arm because it’s surrounded by Hobbs State Park. At 12,000 acres, Hobbs is Arkansas’ largest state park. Bald eagles may be seen perched in shoreline trees or soaring overhead.

How close passengers see them is always a guess. On some cruises, eagles stay put even when the boat drifts practically under their talons, as if posing for passengers’ clicking cameras. Other trips, eagles bolt for the sky as soon as they eyeball the approaching boat.

Jay Schneider, assistant superintendent at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, drives the park’s pontoon boat during an eagle watch cruise in 2013. Cruises set sail on Saturdays and Sundays. Some weekday trips are held near the holidays. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo/Flip Putthoff)

Van Winkle Hollow has lots of pretty nook-and-cranny coves the boat can poke into for possible eagle sightings. One large cove features the wide entrance to Eagle Hollow Cave. It’s one of the largest caves at the park, with several hundred feet of underground passages. Shoreline in the hollow is rugged, rocky and beautiful in this natural, wild setting. It’s no wonder Van Winkle Hollow is a favorite arm for kayakers.

Weather plays a role in how many, if any, eagles are seen. The colder and cloudier the weather, the better the chance to see eagles. Sunny, blue sky days are comfy for boat riding, but eagles can be few and far between.

A good tip for passengers is to dress for weather that’s 20 degrees colder than it is on land. Temperatures always seem chillier out on the lake. There’s usually a breeze, and the speed of the boat creates its own wind chill. Warm footwear is highly recommended. Better to err on the side of warmth than to shiver the whole trip. One can always slip out of that parka and scarf.

Another important item to know is there’s no restroom on the boat.

Capacity is 20 passengers, but this year the number is limited to 12 because of virus issues. There’s plenty of room to roam about the boat to get the best eagle views.

Passengers make reservations and pay by calling the park’s visitor center at (479) 789-5000. Or stop by the center one-half mile east of Arkansas 12 and War Eagle Road.

With family and friends visiting for the holidays, an eagle watch cruise is a fine outing for the whole gang. Some weekday trips take place around Thanksgiving and Christmas. There aren’t many other cruises where $15 gets you on the boat.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com