Five boat tours carrying about 160 people made their way down the waterways Friday and Saturday, many of them with cameras and binoculars on hand, eager to see an eagle perched on top of a tree or spreading its wings to fly or maybe an osprey clutching a fish with its talons.
One of the tours consisted of two pontoon boats run by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium based in Cocodrie, which loaded up about 20 people between the two boats at the Bayou Black Marina in Gibson. The tour proceeded through the intra-coastal waterway into Turtle Bayou.
Bird guides Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittman of the LSU Museum of Natural Science’s bird research collection spotted about 30 to 35 eagles on the LUMCON tour.
Cardiff said, “This seems to be the most productive tour as far as just sheer numbers and variety of birds.”
Dittman said the Eagle Expo and boat tours provide the region with ecotourism.
The LSU Museum of Natural Science was partner in the expo.
“It benefits the local economy. … It’s educational,” Cardiff said. “The local governments sort of develop an appreciation for that side of the nature lover aspect of it. So it’s kind of a good collaboration.”
Cardiff saw about 68 eagles on the two tours he guided Friday on Turtle Bayou, he said.
Though eagles are the birds that drew many birdwatchers to the expo, festival-goers got to see many other types of birds, including osprey, owls, red-tailed hawks, egrets and coots, just to name a few.
“It varies from year to year, but you can literally see tens of thousands of waterfowl and marsh birds,” Cardiff said.
The reason people are able to see so many bald eagles, hawks, osprey and other birds of prey is due to the wide variety of birds and other animals in the marshes and bayous those predator birds can feed on, Cardiff said.
“A lot of those water birds are food for the hawks. And the eagles, everybody thinks of them as fish-eating birds, but they also eat nutria,” Cardiff said.
Though nutria are an invasive species and can destroy much of the marsh, they actually have probably helped the bald eagles survive, he said. “The eagles here have a real nice variety in their diet,” Cardiff said.
David Hancock of Vancouver, Canada, which he said is called “the Bald Eagle Capital of the World,” attended the expo as an invited speaker with his wife, Mary, and went on the Turtle Bayou tour. Hancock, a biologist, started the Hancock Wildlife Foundation in 2006, the purpose of which is to provide live streaming wildlife cameras, according to its website.
In 2006, the site first broadcast a live feed of a bald eagle nest on Hornsby Island in British Columbia.
“We come down here to give a talk and enjoy the area,” Hancock said. “I’ve been dealing with eagles since I was 14, which was 60 years ago.”
Barbara Kincannon of Lafayette went on the Turtle Bayou tour to take photos of the wildlife. Kincannon is a professional industrial photographer but also enjoys photographing nature and architectural scenes, she said. She has attended almost all the Eagle Expos, she said.
“It’s just a really great experience if you’re a birdwatcher or a photographer,” Kincannon said. “The BTNEP (Bartaria- Terrebonne National Estuary Program) people and the LUMCON people, I know it’s their job, they get paid … but they have made it come alive for people.”
The expo is hectic for its organizers, but, as a bird guide, Cardiff’s job description is simple, he said.
“This is an easy one for us because we just have to show up and get on the boat and point at birds.”
Eagle Expo was organized by the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau. The LSU Museum of Natural Science and Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium were partners in the event.