Beaver Lake cruise promises magical views of wintering eagles

Beaver Lake cruise promises magical views of wintering eagles
Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

During winter, when people are few and far between at Beaver Lake, bald eagle numbers peak at the 31,000-acre reservoir.

January and early February are the best times to catch a glimpse of a soaring eagle or see one perched on a shoreline tree with its sharp eyes out for a fish to catch. For many years, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area near Rogers has offered pontoon boat cruises to see these majestic raptors.

Eagle viewing cruises depart Rocky Branch Marina at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, through February. Cost is $15 for adults and $7.50 for youngsters ages 6 to 12. Reservations are required and are made through the park visitor center by calling 789-5000 or stopping by the visitor center 12 miles east of Rogers, one-quarter mile east of the Arkansas 12 and War Eagle Road intersection.

Trips last 90 minutes to two hours and venture into the wooded Van Winkle Hollow arm of Beaver Lake east of the marina. This long arm of the lake is attractive to eagles because it’s quiet and isolated. Bald eagles like to be where people aren’t.

Passengers get plenty of bang for their eagle-watching buck aboard the roomy pontoon boat. The cost includes a boat trip on a beautiful lake with a driver and guide who are wise to the ways of bald eagles, other wildlife and the history and purpose of Beaver Lake. It’s the region’s primary water supply as well as a haven for eagles, waterfowl and shore birds.

Volunteer boat drivers and guides stress that a key to enjoying a cruise is to dress for temperatures that are 20 degrees colder than the temperature on shore. There’s a wind chill factor as the open boat cruises over the cold water.

A limited number of blankets are on the boat, but people are welcome to bring their own. There are binoculars available for each passenger or people may bring their own. Hot nonalcoholic beverages are welcome. Pets are not allowed.

It’s important to know there is no restroom on the boat, and restrooms are locked for the winter at Rocky Branch park where the marina is located. A good idea is to stop at the Shaddox Hollow Trail parking area on the way to the marina and use the restroom there. It’s along Arkansas 303 minutes from Rocky Branch park.

This fall and winter have been excellent for seeing bald eagles, says Steve Chyrchel, an interpreter at Hobbs. During November and December, passengers saw 75 bald eagles during 19 cruises. Seven of the 26 scheduled trips were canceled because of weather.

Cruisers saw as many as nine eagles and as few as two. Eagles have been seen on every cruise so far. Eight hawks and four herons, numerous vultures, waterfowl and deer have also delighted passengers.

Average temperature per cruise has been 46.7 degrees. Cruises are canceled during extreme cold, wind or slick roads. Cruises require a minimum of five passengers to set sail.

When cabin fever sets in over the long winter, a pontoon cruise to see majestic bald eagles at Beaver Lake is a fine elixir.


Eagle Watch Tours

Tours are scheduled for Sundays Jan. 22 & 29; and Saturdays Jan. 21 & 28. Tours depart from Rocky Branch Marina promptly at 3 p.m. and are limited to 18 participants. Dates continue into February. Cost is $15 adults, $7.50 children (age 6-12). Registration and pre-payment are required by calling 789-5000.

Categories: Family Friendly