Soaring like an eagle

On this first day of spring, which arrived at 12:47 p.m. EST apparently,. I ventured out with hardy birding afficionados, to sail the Connecticut River for some eagle watching.  That’s bald eagles, as goldens didn’t make an appearance today.

The Connecticut River is a prime winter holiday locale for bald eagles from Canada, New York, and all around New England.  Only four birds are residents here, owners of the most expensive real estate outside of New York City.  These four own two of only 25 Connecticut nests ,staking claim to their territory.

They reuse the same nest every year, so that it grows larger and deeper.  We saw a nest that had reached four feet square, weighing in at over 200 pounds.  That’s a lot of twigs.  And a lot of weight to support for a dead or dying tree, the eagle home site favorite.  But that’s nothing compared to the record-sized 8′ x  21′ nest that literally weighed a ton!

These are big birds, with females larger than males and having a wing span of about 8 and 1/2 feet (Connecticut eagles are about mid-sized, with bald eagles from Florida’s on the small end and from Alaska as the largest).  Move over New York co-ops!  These birds need space.

Eagles mate for life and don’t stray more than 5 miles from their nest.  Homebodies, just like me.  The female lays 3 eggs, one as insurance, as the smallest (and last born) tends to die.  One of the nests this year was a failure because of the continual and late snows.  The other has done well enough.

The eagle information and eagle-eye spotting was courtesy of Mike of Eco-Tours, part of the Connecticut Audubon Society.  My first time with this group was a winner.  Just to be out in the fresh air and sunshine after a long winter (today’s water temperature measured 39.4 degrees and air temps topped out at a balmy 40), but then also to see 18 eagles, six adults, with a group of very congenial bird-hounds, it’s all good.

Yes, we saw 18 eagles, and I didn’t snap a single pix of them.  I was just so happy to be able to spot them.  But soon, even I could pick them out, soaring overhead, eagle-eyeing their world from sandbars, poised at the tops of bare trees.

Now, here’s how you can identify the age of the eagle you’re seeing.  Go get out your binocs!

It takes the eagle four years to get its white head and tail.  At one year old, it will be tawny with speckles.  Except for its size, you might think it’s a turkey vulture.  We saw a lot of those, too.

A 2-3 year old bird will have a white belly, immediately identifiable when flying.  But only the 3 year old will also have a racoon’s mask.  Now, you’re ready to go.

We followed the path that steamers had taken 200 years ago.  But since none of us had a pig, we didn’t have to pay the extra nickel.

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The eagles aren’t the only sites along the river.  There’s Goodspeed Opera House, as pretty as a postcard from the water.

We saw the location of where, in 1814, the British burned 27 American ships in Essex Harbor, during the War of 1812.  And we saw the remains of burned out buildings from a party gone too wild last week.


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My pictures failed of the house with a tree growing through its deck.  And I think I have repair problems!

I do like this little red art studio built over the water (click on any image for a larger view and then you back button to return to this post).

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Then there’s the Academy at Mount St. Johns, where street-hardened boys are brought for another chance.  The motto: “better to make a boy than mend a man.”  Amen.





2014-03-20 11.42.31My favorite was Gillette Castle, the most Romantic spot, with its evocative ruins.  Gillette was an eccentric actor, who spent $1 million to build this castle in 1913.  He promised his wife he would never marry again, if she predeceased him.

And guess what?  He was good to his word.  The castle was party-central for this now-single man with more money than sense.  After his death, he didn’t want “the idiots to run it,” so he left the castle and his land to the state, and it’s now a Connecticut State Park.

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I’ve added it to the list of must-visits!





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Lots of wonderful rock formations.  Above is Elephant Rock, named for its seemingly wrinkled skin, just like a pachyderm’s.  Don’t know the name of this one.

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Then there was this moment, when the river turned glass still.  So quiet.  Pristine.  Near the cove with its 90 degree water.  And the world stopped.  Nary a bird in sight.  Just clouds and trees and sky and stillness.

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At times like this, the imagination can soar like an eagle.  So I’m glad to share an image or two with you, in case you’d like a little time to soar yourself.

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Pictures of the day:

Man.  Rock.  House

Man. Rock. House