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Eagles dine and raptors await fans in Litchfield Hills

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Get ready, eagle-eyed bird watchers: The eagles are back. In what has become an annual migration, graceful bald eagles fly down from more frozen northern climes each winter to Southbury in Western Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. The birds have learned that the running waters of the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River in Southbury prevents ice from forming, insuring a ready supply of fish, the eagles’ favorite dish. To make things even better, when the fish come through the dam turbine, they're a bit stunned and tend to lie on top of the water, making for a tasty buffet.

Eagles have been wintering in this region for decades now and bird lovers flock to watch them in action through telescopes provided at the Shepaug Eagle Observation Area in Southbury.

Those who want close ups of eagles and 20 other species of birds of prey have another option in Litchfield County. Majestic raptors are on view any time of year at the Sharon Audubon Center, where aviaries house some 16 species of birds of prey that are not able to survive in the wild on their own.

SHEPAUG EAGLE OBSERVATION AREA

Over 136,000 people have visited the free Southbury observation area operated by FirstLight Power Resources since it was opened to the public in 1986. Telescopes provide close-ups and volunteers from Connecticut Audubon are on hand to help spot the eagles and to answer questions about the birds. The number of birds in residence varies from day to day. Last winter viewers saw an average of 7.2 eagles each day during the observation period. During 32 viewing days, the high count was 12 and there was one disappointing day when no birds were in view.

The Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observation Area is open through March 5, 2014 on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Reservation are required to insure that the area is not overcrowded and may be made by calling (800) 368-8954 Tuesdays through Fridays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. For more information, see www.shepaugeagles.info. This year an online reservation form is also available at www.gdfsuezna.com/forms/eagleviewreservations

SHARON AUDUBON CENTER AVIARY

Those who cannot make it to see winter eagles in the wild can find them and other birds of prey at home year round at the Sharon Audubon Center. The center has a busy wildlife rehabilitation center for injured birds and those deemed not able to survive on their own are housed here in large outside, predator-proof aviaries that are filled with natural vegetation and various perching options. Residents include falcons, kestrels, and many types of owls as well as eagles. Some of them become ambassadors for their species, accompanying Audubon Staff to education programs at schools and community events, teaching about the importance of protecting these amazing birds and their natural habitats.

The Center’s 684 acres also offer 11 miles of carefully manicured trails and boardwalks throughout pond, swamp, marsh and woodland areas. A natural history museum with an exhibit room, live animals and displays, and children’s adventure room where children can put their sense of touch, sight and hearing to work to explore animal life. Sharon Audubon Center is located on Route 4 in Sharon, about 10 miles north. Grounds are open daily but indoor facilities are closed on Monday. For information phone 860-364-0520 or see http://sharon.audubon.org.

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