An outdoor buffet in winter may not sound tempting to most of us, but to our national bird, the regal American bald eagle, it is a rare treat. When fishing grounds in their homes further north freeze over, these graceful birds make an annual journey to the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River in Southbury, in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills.
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. Thrilling to see in full flight, the majestic bald eagle can measure 34 to 43 inches in length with a wingspan of six to seven and a half feet.
Their flight speed is between 36 to 44 miles per hour. Everyone is invited to view these fascinating winter guests at the Eagle Observation Area near the Shepaug Housatonic Hydroelectric Station. An organized eagle watch takes place every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through March 12.
Admission is free but since space is limited reservations are required; group and individual reservations are accepted. In addition to eagle viewing,the CT Audubon will host a birds of Prey show on Saturdays throughout the viewing season. This year for the first time reservations can be made on-line
The shelter, maintained by FirstLight Power Resources, is located 1000 feet from the river, affording safety for the eagles 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 answer questions about the birds.
The volunteers maintain a helpful website, http://shepaugeagles.com, with information about eagles and recent visitor statistics. Reservations can be made on this site. Nearly 148,000 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.