Bald eagles making a home in the corridor
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a bald eagle in The Last Green Valley. It was during the 2008 Walking Weekends (now called Walktober), and I was paddling at Mansfield Hollow Lake with a group of people led by Betty Robinson. It was unseasonably warm, and we had noticed a pair of osprey circling overhead when we launched our kayaks.
We had reached the east corner of the hollow, where the Natchaug River enters the lake, when we heard a loud noise coming from a tree along the shoreline. Suddenly, out flew an osprey carrying a fish in its talons with an adult bald eagle in hot pursuit. Both birds flew right over our boats and then circled up and up in the air above us.
The osprey was trying to get away from the eagle and that eagle was bound and determined to steal that fish. The osprey is usually a faster bird but with the weight of the fish it could not easily outpace the eagle, so it kept circling up and up to reach the warm air thermals. We laid back on our kayaks for a minute or two watching them twist and turn in the air directly above us. Finally, with the aid of the thermals the osprey headed southwest over the lake. The eagle flew close behind.
Since that day more than a decade ago, I have seen eagles on many occasions, usually while paddling our many lakes, ponds and rivers. I also see them when walking a river trail, such as the Quinebaug River trail in Putnam or Danielson. I am always thrilled when I see the unmistakable white head and white tail of a bald eagle roosting in a tree or flying overhead. I am in awe of these amazing birds, and with a wingspan of six to seven feet and body length of 30 to 35 inches, they are hard to miss.
Over the past seven years I have volunteered my time for the CT DEEP monitoring bald eagle nests located in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor towns. I also help organize volunteers in our region for CT DEEPs early January midwinter eagle survey.
Brian Hess is the CT DEEP biologist responsible for maintaining and updating data on our state’s bald eagle population. He wrote an excellent article for Connecticut Wildlife Magazine for its July/August 2019 issue with a heartening update on the current eagle population in the state.
“In Connecticut, the first post-DDT nesting territory was established in the spring of 1992, decades after the widespread use of DDT was prohibited in Connecticut in 1969 and nationally in the early 1970s. Many people spent countless hours monitoring the 1992 nest and following the progress of the two chicks that hatched,” he wrote.
Progress with new nesting territories at first was slow with only two active territories by 1999. In 2009, that number had increased to 19 territories and 31 chicks. (Only one territory was reported and known in The Last Green Valley by 2009.) During the last decade the numbers have tripled statewide with the 64 territories and 81 chicks reported in the Spring of 2019. Since the first post-DDT chicks hatched in the early 1990s, Connecticut has had a total of 637 hatchlings.
This year in The Last Green Valley, we reported six active nests and two inactive nest/territories. Seven chicks hatched and fledged. One of the six active nests was not discovered until after chicks had fledged though all signs indicate it was an active nest this year.
“The rivers that form the Last Green Valley are perfect habitat for nesting bald eagles: large trees, clean waters, and healthy fish populations. As a result, there is a growing population of resident eagles in Eastern Connecticut with room in the habitat for more,” Brian shared with me.
Brian is right on target with room for more nesting bald eagles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few eagle nests that we don’t even know about, yet. Each of the nests in our region has a volunteer monitor. They visit the nest site starting in February, when the breeding cycle begins, through egg laying and hatching in March/April to the fledging of chicks in June.
Most folks think of springtime for bird nesting season. Smaller birds need to grow fast, fly and leave the nest before they are discovered by predators – crows, owls and hawks, snakes and mammals, such as raccoons.
Bald eagles are the apex raptor with few predators and have a much longer nesting period than songbirds. Bald eagle eggs takes about 35 days of incubation before hatching followed by 90 days of rearing before the chick is the size of an adult and ready to fly. That puts the young eagles on the wing and learning to hunt for fish during the summer and fall months, well before the harsh hunting conditions of winter in New England.
You can find the July/August 2019 Connecticut Wildlife with Brian Hess’ article online at:
Connecticut Wildlife is a bi-monthly magazine, and at only $8 per year, it is a fantastic value for a full color 20-plus page magazine packed with important information about wildlife in our state.
The winter season is approaching and with it our eagle population will expand with migrating eagles from the frozen north heading southward and to Connecticut to take advantage of our milder winter and open water on rivers and some lakes and ponds
With foliage off the trees it is easier to spot these magnificent birds, especially when they roost in tall conifers like white pine, the bright white head and tail stands out against the green of the pines. January is always a good month to spot bald eagles, which is why we’ve declared it Eagle Month in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. We will also be hosting several programs that will help you learn more and, possible, see bald eagles in the wild. Soon after, I’ll be on the lookout for the signs of Eagles preparing to raise their young here in the National Heritage Corridor.
We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. It is where we live. Bald eagles live here, too and provide yet another reminder to be thankful for the place we call home.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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