Humans may not fancy the weather in Connecticut this winter, but there are some winged visitors to Southbury in Litchfield Hills who find the temperatures just right.
American Bald Eagles have been wintering in this region for decades. The reason? The running waters of the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River in Southbury prevent ice from forming, insuring a ready supply of fish, the eagles' favorite dish. To make matters even better, when the fish come through the dam turbine, they're a bit stunned and tend to lay on top of the water, making for easy picking.
Every year eagles fly down from more frozen northern climes in search of their annual buffet and eagle-eyed bird lovers flock to watch them at the Shepaug Eagle Observation Area operated by FirstLight Power Resources. Some 130,000 people have visited the observation area since it was opened to the public in 1986. Telescopes provide close-ups and volunteers from Connecticut Audubon are on hand to help spot the eagles and to answer questions about the birds. The viewing station is located 1000 feet from the river, insuring safety for the eagles while providing an excellent vantage point for visitors. With a wingspan that can be almost seven feet, eagles are fascinating to observe as they soar overhead to spot their prey with eyesight many times stronger than human. The flight speed of a bald eagle can range from 36 to 44 miles per hour.
More than 4,300 eagle watchers came to the Shepaug Dam during the 2010 season. They saw an average of six eagles in a day, swooping from perches in the trees to feed at the dam. The count varies from day to day. The luckiest eagle watchers spotted 20 eagles on the best day of last year, while the low for a day was one lone eagle.
The Observation Area is open this year until mid-March on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Admission is free, but advance reservations are required to insure that the observation site is not overcrowded. They can made by calling (800) 368-8954 Tuesday through Friday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. through March 7th, or online at www.shepaugeagles.info.