NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

February 6, 2014

Winged wonders

Eagle Festival celebrates Merrimack River's winter visitors

Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, bald eagles don’t scream.

Their natural sound is not nearly as dramatic — or noisy.

“It’s kind of chirpy and high-pitched,” said Melissa Vokey, administrative manager at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport. “The big, loud cry in movies, that’s dubbed. That’s the sound of the red-tailed hawk.”

That’s just one of the facts that visitors to Saturday’s Merrimack River Eagle Festival will learn. More than 1,000 people are expected to flock to Newburyport and Amesbury to catch a glimpse of the birds currently wintering along the Merrimack River.

Co-hosted by the Joppa Flats Education Center and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the free festival offers a number of indoor and outdoor activities, including guided sightings of the eagles and other wintering river birds, raptor demonstrations, and family nature activities.

“This is just one of the ways we talk to people to let them know what’s happening around us,” Vokey said. “We kind of live in a wildlife sanctuary, just by living in Newburyport and Amesbury. Here at the mouth of the Merrimack River, the wildlife is just fantastic. It’s all among us.

“This is a great way for people to come to be introduced to nature,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn that you don’t know.”

New this year, organizers have been running an Eagle Eye Scavenger Hunt, with participants encouraged to visit 23 businesses in Newburyport to find eagle facts. Those filling out hunt sheets, which are due Saturday, are eligible to win prizes.

“That’s been a lot of fun,” Vokey said. “People have been really enjoying that.”

With last year’s festival canceled due to the February blizzard, organizers are happy about the timing of this week’s snowstorm. They plan to spend today and tomorrow clearing paths and putting down sand, Vokey said.

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