Eagles on the Connecticut River

After going up to the Shepaug Dam to see eagles on the Housatonic I thought it might be nice to try the Connecticut River. This area has been known for having a high concentration of Bald Eagles for a number of years. The Connecticut Audubon Society used to host a festival celebrating the eagles but in the last few years have not been able to get corporate sponsorship thanks to the poor economy.
But eagles don‘t care about the economy. They come to the lower Connecticut River to fish, build nests and mate. The bald eagles of Connecticut are really 2 groups. One is a resident population and the other just passing through on their migration.

Since I had tried the ground based “blind” method of looking for these birds, this time I would try the river. I booked an Eagle Cruise with River Quest. River Quest has been cruising the Connecticut River for 10+ years, 7 of which have included these eagle cruises in conjunction with the CT Audubon.

Other than being thoroughly chilled, it was a great trip.

can be found at http://ctriverquest.com/



The launch location varies depending on the ice on the river. The coast guard normally sends an ice breaker up the river but their ice breaker broke this year! That delayed the start of the Eagle cruises until now. The ice finally “went out” yesterday so the boat will be leaving from Haddam instead of Essex.

It was about a 2 hour drive and I made good time. Even though I was heading from Massachusetts through Rhode Island and into Connecticut during rush hour, there were no traffic delays. Since I arrived early I had a chance to look around a little.

Right away I spotted some mergansers and a mute swan. The ever present Canadian geese were also wandering along the shoreline.

A really amazing building sits right on the water making a picturesque appearance. This is the Goodspeed Opera House, a historic building. I will tell you all about that in another post.

Pretty soon the boat pulled in from their morning cruise. Riverquest has a fully enclosed , heated cabin to take the chill off but the real action is outside so I came prepared. All week we’d had great, warm weather but overnight the temps had dropped to single numbers and on the river was a stiff breeze…closer to a cold wind, truth be told.

I thought I came prepared. I was wearing a turtle neck cotton pull over with a fleece vest over that. Then I pulled on my hooded sweatshirt and over that my heavy winter jacket. I have my baseball cap on with ear muffs over that. Then I pulled the hood up as well and tied it tight to hold all the layers in place. I have a pair of really heavy warm gloves but those would be off and on as needed with the camera.

We got the OK to board and I staked out a corner of the bow. It was windy and cold there but the captain said once he turned to boat to head downstream the wind would be at our back and the sun would be shining on the bow. The return trip would be a different story.

As I was standing in the bow of the River Quest, before we were fully loaded or cast off, someone yelled “eagle” and a fully mature bald eagle came winging right over our heads. That seemed to be a good sign for the cruise.

We were held up leaving because a van of school children had gone to the wrong boat launch so they were waiting for them. They had just decided they had waited long enough when we saw the van come whipping down the driveway so we pulled back into the dock to load about 20 more people. Then we were on our way.

We had a very knowledgeable crew including a representative from the CT. Audubon. In addition to pointing out and identifying the various birds, they told us about the river, the geology and the buildings and homes along the way. A lot of the land in this area is preserved land by way of Nature reserves and State Parks.

The cruise itself was about 2 hours. I stayed in the bow for most of the downstream leg. There were bald eagles, cormorants, Swans, Geese, Mergansers, and Turkey Vultures!

We looked for a Harbor Seal that has been spotted on other trips but we didn’t see it. Of course there were “gulls’. We were told that there is no such thing as a “sea gull”. The flocks we see are made up of a long list of specific types of gulls…none of them “Sea Gulls”!

The Naturalist pointed out an Osprey nest that was on a platform. The osprey haven’t returned yet, it’s still too early in the season.

Someone pointed out a bird they said was a Northern Harrier and another spotted a Red Tailed hawk. There was plenty to see.

 The cruise was very pleasant in spite of the cold and I may well do it again…when it’s warmer. I am still in pursuit of the Perfect Picture as my lens was just too small. At 200 MM I could see the shadows and silhouettes but even after “zooming” in with the computer there was more blue sky than bird. Even though the results are very poor, I am including a few pictures for illustrations. The River is beautiful.

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In the Summer they offer a Sunset cruise…I bet that would be really something!The ride back upriver was , as the captain had predicted, much colder than the ride downstream. I gave up and finished the return trip in the cabin. The cabin has large viewing windows so those inside can see too.

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