By Stacy Walenter
Seven years ago, the Libby Dam’s Eagle Cam, a live stream of eagle nests, went down. Repairing the live feed seemed unlikely and staff at the dam wanted to offer the public something to take its place.
The Natural Resource Management staff considered a public event focused on stewardship. With the loss of the virtual bird watching, there was an idea to combine the two.
“Someone suggested seeing if anyone did falconry or wildlife rehabilitation who had the proper permits and would be willing to help us connect kids, the community and the wildlife in a way they had never had a chance to experience in Libby before,” said Susan James, Park Ranger, during an interview on April 20.
The team researched the possibilities and found Birds of Prey NW of St. Maries, Idaho. According to its website, “Birds of Prey Northwest’s mission is to educate the public about birds of prey, though live raptor presentations and other expanding outreach, and provide medical treatment to injured, sick, and orphaned wild raptors with the goal of returning them to the wild.”
Birds of Prey Northwest was a good fit: they had a bald eagle, they were willing to travel, and they had lots of good stories.
Initially, the program was only intended for 4th graders, as large audiences are difficult for the birds to handle. The dam was able to secure a grant that allowed them to bus 4th graders to the dam for bird viewing and tree planting.
“It’s wonderful for kids to discover that they live someplace special,” said James. “Growing up surrounded by wildlife and woods is a privilege not given to many.”
But the event spread to the community. At the first community gathering, nearly 500 people attended. The hour-long, back-to-back lectures were so popular that people had to be turned away. That particular set up was tiring for presenters and birds alike, so the day’s format has changed.
Now, five birds visit the dam and all have their own perch with handlers nearby. Visitors can walk around, view the birds, and ask questions. On Saturday, April 28, an array of hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles will be present from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and short talks will be given at 30-minute intervals.
The recently released, highly-popular children’s book Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle is about a rescue eagle at Birds of Prey Northwest. Visitors will be able to hear Beauty’s story at the event. Though Beauty does not travel and won’t be visiting Libby, attendees will be treated to either a bald eagle named Liberty or a golden eagle named Dakota.
Janie and Don Veltkamp, who own Birds of Prey Northwest, have devoted their lives to rehabilitating birds and work tirelessly to reestablish them into the wild. The Veltkamps butcher road kill for the birds and also hold fishing derbies to feed them.
Locally, Dave Blackburn’s family at The Riverbend provided a barn for an orphaned group of owlettes from Birds of Prey Northwest.
Now in its seventh year, the event at the dam welcomes other natural resource agencies, such as the Lincoln County Conservation District, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the United States Forest Service.
The event provides activities for kids and information for adults.
Though the eagle cam can no longer stream live, the cam can be viewed at the Libby Dam Visitor Center. According to James, a mother eagle just laid eggs on April 1.
“I hope that this event is an opportunity for folks to come out and experience something unique,” James said. “A face to face (or beak) meeting, a chance to listen to their stories, and to be enchanted by the ineffable strange fierceness of a predator’s gaze up close and personal.”
Visitors are invited to bring a picnic and a pair of binoculars and enjoy the day inside the Visitor Center and outside at the dam. The event is completely free and everyone is welcome.
If you would like more information about the event, please call the Libby Dam Visitor Center at 293-5577 or visit the dam’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/LibbyDamMT.
For more information about Birds of Prey Northwest, visit www.birdsofpreynorthwest.org.