David Mcnew  /  Getty Images
A bald eagle flies over Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska. Each fall, the world’s largest gathering of bald eagles takes place when more than 3,000 birds congregate in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/23/2007 12:18:24 PM ET 2007-10-23T16:18:24

Break out the binoculars and spotting scopes — as noted in this space last week , the bald eagle is back, and now’s the time to see them. Populations are rising, leaves are falling (making for easier viewing) and, with winter approaching, it’s prime time for sightings.

The 10 states below, for example, have the highest populations of nesting pairs, a crucial factor in the government’s decision to remove the bird from the Endangered Species List. And for the next several months, they’ll be feeding, flying and posing for photographs from coast to coast. (Note: States are listed in descending order by nesting pairs, not by the numbers that congregate in any one locale.)

Each fall, the world’s largest gathering of bald eagles takes place when more than 3,000 birds congregate in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines. Roadside pullouts, interpretive sites and raised boardwalks make it easy to the catch the avian action, while an annual festival (November 7–11 this year) offers educational workshops, guided excursions and demonstrations with live birds. Visit the American Bald Eagle Foundation's Web site for more information.

Fifty-five miles south of the Twin Cities, the city of Red Wing attracts eagles thanks to a local steam plant that keeps the Mississippi ice-free. Resident eagles can be seen year-round — head to Colvill Park or Bay Point Park — with migrating birds showing up in early November. Volunteers with spotting scopes are on hand many weekends during February and March. The new National Eagle Center in Wabasha, 30 miles south, is also worth a visit.

With approximately 1,200 nesting pairs, Florida is flush with bald eagles, although they don’t congregate in any one area. Nevertheless, several natural areas outside Orlando offer good, year-round viewing opportunities with Lake Kissimmee State Park, east of Lake Wales, considered among the best. Click here for a map of viewing spots throughout the state.

Just outside Madison, the Wisconsin River flows through the twin villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac where high bluffs and a hydro-electric plant keep the river sheltered and ice-free. Bald eagles begin arriving in mid-November; by January, there may be 200–300. During Bald Eagle Watching Days (January 19–20), visitors can experience live-bird displays, guided bus tours and tastings of nearby Wollersheim Winery’s Eagle White wine. Visit the Sauk City Web site for more information.

Every winter, 500 or more eagles make their way to the Skagit River to feed on spawned-out chum salmon (M’m! M’m! Good!). The most popular stretch is along Highway 20 between Marblemount and Rockport, with the best viewing between Christmas and mid-January. Visit the Skagit River Interpretive Center in Rockport, take an eagle-viewing raft trip and, if your schedule allows, attend the Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival January 26–27. Click here for more information.

In 1969, the federal government created the first national wildlife refuge established specifically for the protection of bald eagles. Today, the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, 18 miles south of Washington, D.C., is the winter home to 50 or more birds. From November to March, the Great Marsh Trail provides the best viewing opportunities as the birds court, breed and prepare their nests for April hatches.

With its open water and abundant waterfowl, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, outside Saginaw, attracts migrating bald eagles throughout the winter and early spring. To see them, follow the Ferguson Bayou Trail two miles to Grefe Tower, a 10-foot-high platform overlooking marshes, pools and grassland. (Note: Trails in the refuge are closed on select days during the fall hunting season; see the Web site for details.)

Several states have more resident bald eagles, but the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex on the Oregon-California border draws more birds than any other single spot in the lower 48. Highlights include early-morning “fly-outs” as large numbers of eagles leave their night roosts in the Bear Valley Refuge and the annual Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls, which will take place February 15–17.

Thanks to its extensive coastline (almost 3,500 miles!), Maine has more bald eagles than the rest of New England combined, with the heaviest concentrations Downeast between Lubec and Calais. Cobscook Bay State Park and the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge both have resident eagles; the refuge also features an observation deck with spotting scopes trained on an aerie right next to Route 1.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the state’s Eastern Shore is home to the largest nesting population of bald eagles in the eastern U.S. outside Florida. Visitors can usually view the birds along the refuge’s Wildlife Drive or from a second-floor observation deck in the Visitor Center. The refuge also hosts an annual Eagle Festival in March, which features live birds, “eagle prowls” and Native American presentations. Visit the Friends of Blackwater Web site for more information.

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