FARMINGTON -- Dallyn Platt was wide-eyed when he saw some bald eagles on Saturday.
"I'm surprised at how long their wings are," he said. "They're longer than a person's body."
The 8-year-old Cub Scout was just one of almost 1,000 people to show up at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on Saturday for the 2011 Utah Bald Eagle Day. It was the 22nd annual event for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Watchable Wildlife Protection Coordinator Bob Walters has been there for all of them.
"I've been doing this a long time," Walters said.
But Walters has yet to grow tired of the sight of bald eagles spending time in Utah before heading north.
Utah hosts one of the largest state populations of wintering bald eagles, with more than 1,200 counted in recent years. About 150 have been seen recently at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.
Eagle enthusiasts also enjoyed similar viewings at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area.
Saturday was the third time that Leon Hadley, 55, of Grantsville, had come to Farmington Bay to see the bald eagles.
"I keep coming back because of the great pictures I get," Hadley said..
Hadley had his camera with a powerful telephoto lens set up, allowing him to get a close-up view of the birds. He was kind enough to let others look through that lens so they could enjoy a better view.
Walters said he understands that the pictures taken on Saturday were important, but apologizes to photographers when he says there is more to the day than snapping shots of the eagles.
"Those photos are nice mementos to help you remember how long it took you to get that shot and you can tell great stories about it, " Walters said. "But I really think to best appreciate things, we need to get people out of their homes, out in the wild to see this. This is life as good as it's going to get."
Walters said there are a couple of things that get thousands of people to participate with Utah Bald Eagle day each year.
"First and foremost, they are the living symbol of freedom in this country, if not our national emblem," he said. "Beyond that, they are very large, they're very majestic in their appearance and, like every living thing, they do a lot of interesting things."
Since this is the time of the year that the eagles are making their way north to nest in Canada, when they stop over in Utah they usually fight over food.
"You see all these interactions between birds usually focused on eating, and trying to get their share, and just like any other family there are disagreements and interesting displays and threats having to do with ensuring they get something to eat," Walters said.
"Their job in the world is not to look good, but to make a living to the extent that they can live a life and go on and make more of their own in parts north of here."
Normally, people do not get close to bald eagles, but on Utah Bald Eagle Day the DWR makes it possible to feel closer to the birds. Thanks to plenty of binoculars and viewing scopes, people got to see the eagles interact with one another, and at times hear the loud, squeaky voices as the birds communicated.
"It's a day to come out and use our equipment ask questions and get good answers, hopefully, and it all comes together to make what we call Utah Bald Eagle Day," Walters said.