By Katie Lovett
---- — Get your binoculars ready and keep an eye towards the sky.
The eighth annual Merrimack River Eagle Festival, hosted by Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, is scheduled for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. But with forecasts calling for a potential nor’easter to hit the state on Friday and Saturday, organizers were watching the weather reports yesterday and said they will make any necessary changes to the schedule by tomorrow morning.
“We will have something on our website Friday,” said Melissa Vokey, a manager at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center
The popular festival draws more than 1,000 spectators to the city each February. Through several free programs and activities, participants have a chance to observe eagles in their natural habitat and to learn more about the majestic national symbol.
The festival highlights several “hot spot” locations along the river, including Cashman Park, the Spring Lane pumping station and Deer Island, where naturalists will be waiting to help people spot bald eagles. Each site will be marked with an Eagle Festival sign. Volunteers will visit each of the tour locations to get updates and to keep track of where the most eagles are being spotted.
Visitors can also attend a live eagle show at Newburyport City Hall when Tom Ricardi of the Massachusetts Bird of Prey rehab facility gives raptor demonstrations at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
More activities for young children and their families will take place at Joppa Flats and the refuge’s visitor centers, including games, arts and crafts and wildlife presentations throughout the day.
“(The festival’s) great for all ages,” Vokey said.
Attendees also have a good chance of spying an eagle this year.
“We’re estimating there’s about 10 eagles in the area,” said Vokey. In 2005, a pair of bald eagles built a nest in Amesbury, above the Point Shore neighborhood on Main Street. It was the first known nest in the lower Merrimack Valley. Now, there are four nesting pairs in the region.
The profound impact that the guests of honor have on the crowds continues to keep visitors flocking to Newburyport each year. The appeal of the large birds could partly be due to their rarity, or their powerful size, Vokey said.
“Everybody has a story about eagles,” Vokey said. Often, as she’s checking guests in, they will share their experiences seeing the birds, she added.
“Eagles mean a lot to people,” she said. “People really feel connected to eagles. You look at an eagle’s face ... and you can interpret human characteristics from it. You can really interpret their expression.”
The Eagle Festival is sponsored by The Daily News of Newburyport and the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank. For more details about the Merrimack River Eagle Festival and a complete listing of events, visit the website, www.massaudubon.org/eaglefestival.
IF YOU GO What: The Merrimack River Eagle Festival When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Where:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center, 1 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport; Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport, and other locations. How:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color Free. For more information, call 978-462-9998 or visit www. massaudubon.org/eaglefestival.