The phone rang and it was our neighbor, Dave Wetmore, and he was excitedly telling me about a bald eagle sitting in a tree in the front yard of our other neighbor, Adam Kelley.
I went to the front door to take a look and, sure as shootin’, there it was, almost in our front yard!
I’m beginning to think that Connecticut wildlife has no respect or fear of the human population in our state. A couple of months ago we had a black bear go through the area. Now a bald eagle? What in the heck is going on?
The eagle spotted me in the doorway and took off through our housing development, passing low from yard to yard as if it was looking for some small critter to grab before it headed out over the golf course. I wondered if it would think our little Bichons, Daisy and Lilly were edible.
I doubt it, but in the May/June issue of Connecticut Wildlife, there is a photo of a bald eagle in Manchester consuming a cat that it had killed in a field.
I’m beginning to think we live in a suburban wildlife management area here on Dogwood Lane. Last week, during the last snowstorm, there were three deer sighted in the small patch of woods between our yard and the connector to the Berlin Turnpike and then three more on January 7th, bringing the deer sighting total to 18 since we have been here, plus a black bear, two coyotes, two wild turkeys, two fox, numerous red-tailed hawks, a couple of raccoons and possums, woodchucks and numerous skunks.
Now, add the majestic bald eagle to our total.
This is the second time I have seen a bald eagle in our area. The first time was a couple of years ago when Edna and I were walking the girls on Reynolds Drive and we spotted one up high above us soaring on the prevailing wind currents. That was exciting, but one right next to our home was unbelievable!
I have always been interested in bald eagles after quite a few encounters with them while vacationing in Maine with my darlin’ Edna. In fact, we had the thrill of having an immature bald eagle swoop down onto the lake in front of us and grab a fish from its surface. During our stay at Hardscrabble Lodge on Spencer Lake up in the wilds of Maine, we also observed a pair of nesting eagles on a daily basis while on vacation there.
And the bald eagles that have been seen on the Quinnipiac River and Hanover Pond the past couple of years only give even more testament as to the value of the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association (QRWA) and the excellent job they have been doing in restoring the integrity of the Quinnipiac River.
It is not at all uncommon to see one and even two of these magnificent symbols of our great country perched majestically in a tree on the shores of Hanover Pond, presumably looking for its next meal. Actually, eagle sightings in the Hanover Pond area have become so common, they are almost expected.
My first introduction to bald eagles in Connecticut came about many years ago up at the Shepaug Hydroelectric dam on the Housatonic River in Southbury when I first started to pen this column.
Back then we observed the eagles from an open hillside above the dam area as the eagles swooped down on the river looking for bits and pieces of fish that were discharged through the pumps at the facility.
From what I have been told, things have changed quite a bit. There is even an observation building for eagle watchers to do their observing from.
You can’t just drive up to the facility, though. You now have to make reservations. The eagle observatory opened Dec. 21, 2013 and will close March 5, 2014. It is open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundasy from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To make reservations, call 800-368-8954 Tuesday and Friday between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Shepaug is one of the top eagle viewing locations in New England. It is run by the FirstLight Power Resources, a GDF SUEZ Energy North America company that owns and operates several hydroelectric facilities on the Housatonic River. Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly and bring binoculars if possible. Believe me when I tell you, it can be an exciting outdoor adventure for young and old alike.
The bald eagle went from being quite common in the early 1700s to extremely rare in the lower 48 states by the 1960s. The decline was attributed to loss of habitat and nesting trees, food contamination by pesticides like DDT and illegal shooting.
According to DEEP information, the bald eagle was no longer a nesting species in Connecticut by the 1950s. When Connecticut’s first official Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species List was passed in 1992, the bald eagle was classified as an endangered species.
That same year, the state documented its first successful nesting of bald eagles since the 1950s when a pair raised two young in Litchfield County. Leg bands revealed that the nesting pair came from a reintroduction project sponsored by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Five years later, a second pair of bald eagles successfully nested in Connecticut.
The nesting population has increased and, in 2010, 18 pairs of bald eagles made nesting attempts in the state. The total may have increased since then and I do not know if the eagles frequently sighted on Hanover Pond are included in that total.
The Hanover Pond eagles appear to be year-round residents. I never, ever, thought I would see the day when seeing a bald eagle on the Quinnipiac River or Hanover Pond would be almost a common occurrence. It is worth repeating that these local eagle sightings speak volumes of the good that the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association (QRWA) has done for the river, the communities that live on it and the wildlife in its watershed. Have you joined the QRWA yet?
I have seen both adult and immature bald eagles on the Quinnipiac River and Hanover Pond over the past years. The adult bald eagles have a snow-white head and tail. The bill, eyes and feet are yellow. Immature eagles are uniformly grayish-brown.
The distinctive adult plumage is attained at 4-5 years of age. Bald eagles are about 35-43 inches long and can weigh 8-14 pounds and have a wingspan of 6-8 feet. The sexes are similar in appearance, although the females are larger. Bald eagles have a life expectancy of 25-30 years and even longer in captivity.
Areas of water are a natural attraction for eagles, especially if they feature tall trees in the area that they can perch on and look out over the watery expanses. Bald eagles primarily feed on fish, but are also opportunistic predators (just ask that cat in Manchester) and will not pass up a meal of carrion, whether it is livestock or game animals like deer.
Some of the most awesome eagle photos I have ever seen were taken in Massachusetts of a pair of eagles fighting in the air over the carcass of a road-kill deer that was placed on the ice. Eagles kill their prey by grasping it with their strong feet and sharp talons. They can carry their prey in flight but are unable to carry much more than four pounds. In flight, an eagle can reach speeds between 36-44 miles per hour. Despite their large size eagles are easily disturbed, especially by unpredictable human behavior.
Winter is a difficult time for any wildlife species. It is important to stay away from nesting areas and disturbing these magnificent birds. Admire them from afar.
As for our Hanover Pond eagles if you enjoy seeing them, thank our DEEP Wildlife Division, and why not join the QRWA.
WALLINGFORD WISHING WELL
The Wallingford Wishing Well Game Dinner will be held Feb. 1 at the Villa Capri in Wallingford.
For tickets and information, contact Plaza Service at (203) 269-3550 or Chick’s Auto (203) 269-5836 or Chris Holcomb at (203) 537-2774.
The event will be held at the Villa Capri banquet Facility, 906 No. Colony Road in Wallingford. Doors open at 5 p.m. Dinner starts at 6 p.m.
That’s it for now. See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be serving.