The eagles -- not the football team, not the rock band, but the real thing: American bald eagles, in all their glory -- have returned to Western Connecticut to perform their graceful flight for food in their favorite wintertime spot around New England.
Now that their favorite more northern spots have frozen over and the fishing grounds there are not running with fish, the graceful birds come down each year to the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River in Southbury, in Connecticut's beautiful Litchfield Hills area. They favor this spot because the turbulent waters of the dam not only prevent freezing, but push fish to the surface, easy pickings for eagles who can swoop down and feast on their favorite dish.
Everyone is invited to see these fascinating winter guests with wingspans of between six to seven and a half feet, at the Eagle Observation area near the Shepaug Housatonic Hydroelectric Station.
Admission is free at the organized eagle watch every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through March 5, but since space is limited, reservations are required. This year for the first time reservations can be made online at www.gdfsuezna.com/forms/eagleviewreservations as well as by telephone at 800-368-8954 Tuesdays through Fridays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The shelter, maintained by FirstLight Power Resources, is located 1000 feet from the river, affording safety for the eagles, whose flight speed is between 36 to 44 miles per hour, while providing an excellent vantage point.
High powered telescopes are set up on tripods for visitors. Knowledgeable Audubon volunteers are on hand to assist in spotting and answering questions about this regal American bald eagle. The volunteers maintain a website: www.shepaugeagles.info with information about recent visitor statistics. Reservations can be made at this website as well.
Nearly 140,000 people have visited the observation area since it was opened to the public in 1986. On an average day in past years, six or seven eagles were sighted, but lucky viewers on the best days in the past have spotted as many as 15 to 21 eagles in action. Chances are best on cold clear days when the surfaces of most other rivers and ponds have frozen. Visitors are advised to dress warmly in layers and to allow plenty of time to wait for the eagle action to begin.
For more information about winter activities in the area and a free copy of UNWIND, a full-color 152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine in Fairfield County and the Litchfield Hills of Western Connecticut, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06758, telephone 860-567-4506 or visit their website at www.visitwesternct.com.