Day Trip to Connecticut

Unknown Duck on the Housatonic River

Somewhere along the line I heard that there were a large number of Bald Eagles wintering in Connecticut. I searched online and there were 4 options for eagle viewing. All were endorsed to some extent by the Connecticut Audubon Society.


Housatonic River

One option was the Eagle Flyer in Essex Ct. This is the Essex Steam Train and it only makes it’s Eagle Flyer run on 1 weekend. This year it is Feb 19th and 20th It sounds like fun but I can’t take the time from work to go this year. I’ll try out the train ride over the summer and maybe go on the eagle run next year.

The 2nd option is Eagle Boat Cruises sponsored by The Audubon Society. The cruises are operated by River Quest/Connecticut River Expeditions. They run on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, this year from Feb 5- March 13. The cost is reasonable, only $40.00 and is still a possibility if I can get a day off from work.

The 3rd option I found is a land -based guided tour known as Eagle watches on the Connecticut River. The tours are $20.00/per person and includes lunch. The tours are 8:30-1:30 followed by the lunch. The problem with this option is that 8:30 am is tough since I am about a 3 hour drive away. The second problem was that all the dates available were on the weekend …once again, I am working.

The last choice wasn’t on the Connecticut River but I didn’t realize it when I booked the reservation. This last option is the Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observation Area. They are open from 9am -1pm on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. You must have a reservation to be allowed in. Their season this year is Dec 26,2010 – March 16, 2011.

Shepaug Dam

You make a reservation and go in anytime between 9AM – 1PM. I liked this flexibility because I had such a long drive and wouldn’t need to worry about missing the tour. The other good thing is they are open on Wednesday which is one of my days off so I don’t have to make any arrangements at work for time off.

I made my reservation for Wednesday Feb 2 but we got stormed out with snow, sleet and freezing rain. I called again and we moved my reservation a week to Wednesday Feb 10. The forecast was for clear and sunny but cold. I received my reservation by email and printed it out. It had all the rules and directions. I ran it on and it said it would take 2 hours and 25 minutes. It actually took closer to 4 hours. I hadn’t figured on rush hour traffic.

I hit stop and go traffic on RT 495 and again in Hartford Ct. Eventually I found the exit off RT 84. The directions were great and I found the facility with no problem. A nice man was sitting in his car at the entrance. He had the list to check reservations.

Building used as a Blind for watching the eagles

It became clear why they had security to watch birds. The observation area is located at the Connecticut power station on the Housatonic River. Eagles are fish eaters and the water near the dam for the hydro electric plant never freezes and the water currents force the fish near the surface so the eagles can snag the fish easily.

There were quite a few people there when I arrived in spite of the bitter cold and it was really cold, especially when the wind blew. There is some protection from the elements, however. There is a building set up as a blind but the windows are open so there ‘s no heat. They had a wood stove going in the corner but it wasn’t much help.

Milton, European Barn Owl Ambassadore


Based on the conversation in the room it soon became clear that everyone there was a dedicated “birder”, which I am not. But it didn’t matter . Everyone was really friendly. One fellow in “camo” had a huge telephoto lens on his camera and he said the eagles were out of range for him. So much for getting any eagle pictures!

They were getting some activity when I arrived so I took out the binoculars instead. There were 2 juvenile eagles flying and diving above the ridge line on the opposite side of the river. You could tell they were only around 2 years old because their plumage was brown and white and they hadn’t developed the trade-mark white head. That comes in at around 5 years of age. We all watched them for awhile then the Audubon rep asked if we wanted to see the birds she had with her. Pictures were allowed. J

Of course everyone said yes so we met Milton & Millie and a rescued hawk. None of these birds will ever be able to be returned to the wild. Milton & Millie are owls and both were bred in captivity and have imprinted on humans. Neither would know how to hunt for themselves in the wild.

Millie, American Barn Owl Ambassador

The hawk had been hit by a car and although is healing nicely will never have a full recovery. He would not be able to survive in the wild so he is now a “bird ambassador” for the Audubon Society.

Raptor Survivor and Ambasador

By this time it was almost noon and the eagles seemed to have settled down for the day. I was frozen so decided to call it a day. I stopped for gas ($3.55/ gal here) and picked up a map. I felt there had to be an easier way back.

I took RT 84 but picked up RT 6 to Providence before I reached Hartford. This turned out to be a great way to go. Most of RT 6 was highway but not the “super” highway like RT 84. Still the road was in good condition and the speed limit was 50mph most of the way. It was far more scenic than the “Fast route of RT 84 to RT 90 to RT 495. I stopped for lunch at a Friendly’s and was still at the Rhode Island line by 3:15pm. I did hit some traffic in Providence because I got there just before 4pm so rush hour was starting but even so I was home by 4:30 pm. With my stop for lunch and some other puttering around, I figure RT 6 shaved at least an hour off the time from the morning.

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So…Bottom line…mixed reviews. The eagles were too far away for pictures or a clear view without binoculars but the birds the Audubon rep showed us were awesome and I got some great pictures of them. I wish it had been warmer and it would be nice if it wasn’t such a long drive but I’m glad I went. I can’t say enough about the folks that were there. From the attendant at the entrance to the parking lot guy and the Audubon lady everyone was wonderful, helpful and friendly.




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