When you think of birds flying south for the winter, you probably don't imagine that their warm weather destination is... Connecticut!
From January through March, though, many Bald Eagles (and occasionally some Golden Eagles) leave their homes in Canada and other points north for the warmer winter waters of the lower Connecticut River. According to the Connecticut Audubon Society, the Connecticut River Valley's winter population of eagles can number as many as 100 birds.
When Bald Eagles Return to the Connecticut River... It's Time for a Winter Eagle Watch Cruise!
One of the best ways to view these spectacular eagles is to book passage aboard a winter eagle watch cruise. Winter Wildlife Eagle Cruises, which are operated by RiverQuest/Connecticut River Expeditions,will be offered by the Connecticut River Museum from February 4 through March 12, 2017. Departures from the museum in Essex, Connecticut, are scheduled for Fridays at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. These eagle-watching excursions, which run about two hours, give birdwatchers many opportunities to see majestic eagles perched and in flight as the cruise boat makes its way along a route that varies based on recent eagle spottings.
Tickets are $40 per person including museum admission, free coffee and use of binoculars; passengers must be at least 10 years old. For reservations and details, call 860-767-8269. Tickets may also be purchased online.
Winter Adventure overnight packages are also being offered with accommodations at The Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut. Your getaway, priced at $195 on Thursday or Sunday night or $225 for Friday or Saturday night, includes continental breakfast, two Winter Wildlife Cruise tickets and admission to the Connecticut River Museum. Call the inn at 860-767-1776 for more details and reservations.
The Connecticut Audubon Society will also sponsor a day of Eagle & Osprey Cruises aboard the Becky Thatcher riverboat during the winter of 2017. The cruises depart from Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam, Connecticut, on Saturday, April 29, at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. These trips, which run about two and a half hours, are suitable for ages 8 and up. For 2017, Eagle & Osprey Cruise prices are $40 for all. Reservations are a must and may be made online or by calling Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel at 860-767-0660.
Eagle Watching Tips
To improve your chance of getting a good view of bald eagles and other birds, bring along a strong pair of binoculars and a camera with a good telephoto lens.
Keep in mind as you're preparing for your eagle cruise that even on what might be considered a sunny and mild winter day in Connecticut, the temperatures on the river can be quite a bit colder, and it's quite windy on the water, too. Although you can find warmth and protection from the wind inside either boat, you'll have better views of the birds and the winter scenery if you can brave the cold on the outside deck. You won't regret bringing along an extra scarf and a pair of earmuffs.
More Ways to Spy on Bald Eagles in Connecticut
If a cruise isn't quite your speed and you'd still like to see eagles while they're "vacationing" in Connecticut, here are a few other options:
Annual Eagle Watches on the Connecticut River - Haddam, CT
Eagle enthusiasts will enjoy land-based guided tours of several sites along the Connecticut River that allow for excellent eagle viewing. Tours begin at the Audubon Shop in Madison and are followed by a luncheon at Otter Cove Restaurant in Old Saybrook. 2017 dates are February 4, 11, 18 and 25 and March 4 from 7:45 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Call ahead for reservations: Pre-registration is required, and tours often sell out. The tour price is $25 including a soup and sandwich lunch.
Binoculars are available for rent. For more information and reservations, call 203-245-9056.
Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observation Area - Southbury, CT
Connecticut Audubon Society staff naturalists and volunteers will be on-hand to provide information and answer questions at the Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observation Area in Southbury through March 12, 2017 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Reservations are required and may be made online or by calling toll free, 800-368-8954, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. There is no fee.
All Aboard the Eagle Flyer - Essex, CT
Essex Steam Train will operate its Eagle Flyer train rides February 18-20 and 25-26, 2017. Bring your binoculars, and spy eagles with the help of on-board Master Wildlife Conservationists from the Connecticut DEEP, as you enjoy a leisurely train ride through the Connecticut River Valley. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children in coach or $40 for first-class for all passengers ages 2 and up, and they can be purchased online or by calling 860-767-0103 or toll free, 800-377-3987.
The Eagle Flyer departs from Essex Station in Essex, Connecticut, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these two-and-a-half-hour eco-trips.