Eagles, Osprey, Loons, and More!
By Kathy Brown.
This morning, April 9, 2016, I walked on board the RiverQuest boat down at Eagle Landing State Park, just south of the East Haddam Bridge. When my husband and I moved to town more than 20 years ago, I bought binoculars and a field guide book and was ready to see eagles every day, because I heard that they nested along the CT River. The Eagle Cruise was always on my list of things to do, but I never got “a round tuit” as my mother used to say. I only saw my first eagle in the area two years ago, and saw another one (by the Portland Bridge) about a month or so ago, carrying a branch, probably building/remodeling the nest.
It was chilly but sunny this morning, and I was looking forward to seeing some birds, especially eagles. The crew (Captain Mark, Cathy, and Mindy) was extremely knowledgeable and passed on a lot of information, about the river, the birds and even some history during the 2 1/2 hour trip.
Eagle on nest south of East Haddam Bridge
We started heading south, and they pointed out the first eagle’s nest on the west side of the river (the white head of the eagle is visible above the edge of the nest).There were less than 20 people on this particular cruise, so there was a lot of room to move around. The cabin was heated and there was coffee and tea available there. Most people spent their time outside on the decks, looking for wildlife, but the warmth of the cabin was wonderful when the sun went behind the clouds and the wind picked up on the way back.
What we saw in those 2 1/2 hours:
- Canadian geese (2)
- loons (2)
- turkey vultures (2)
- mute swans (7)
- hawks (2)
- osprey (countless)
- cormorant (double crested cormorant and even a great cormorant)
- king fisher (1)
- ducks (2)
- gull (1)
- eagles (8)
Mindy and Cathy tag-teamed with their microphones, spotting birds and calling out locations, so that everyone could look for them either with binoculars or cameras.
Osprey returning to nest with materials
We saw an osprey fly low over the water, bringing back a branch from somewhere to help with nest construction. We saw osprey nests on mile markers, on platforms, and in trees. We saw them flying, perched, alone and in pairs.
Osprey pair in nest
The passengers learned that osprey mate for life, but if their mate dies, they do find a new mate rather quickly. The crew can tell when there is a new mate, just based on activity. They were a font of information. We learned all about their migration to South America, and how they raise their young together. They said that they offer cruises in the summer where you can see the fledglings in the nest, ready to fly.
Captain Mark told us that in the 1960’s DDT was sprayed and though it helped keep the mosquito population down, it was devastating to the wildlife. The DDT affected their eggs, and they would be laid with no shells or very thin shells. There was only one osprey left, when Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996), an Old Lyme resident and naturalist, was part of a plan which brought the eggs of Maryland osprey back to CT. The damaged osprey eggs were replaced with the Maryland eggs, and now there are many osprey on the river. For more information about Peterson and the osprey, see this article and this link.
We saw many immature bald eagles. The crew was amazing at estimating their ages based on the color of their plumage. The highlight for me was when we were watching an immature bald eagle in a tree, when it suddenly took flight, swooped around, and landed back on the tree branch. THAT was “poetry in motion” as they say.
Immature Eagle perched
Immature eagle in flight
Immature eagle landing back in tree
Another interesting highlight, was the story of Joshua Rock. There has even been a song written about it. The link is here. Captain Mark explained that the rock was over 600 million years old. There’s more to the story, but you’ll have to take a cruise yourself to hear it (I couldn’t write fast enough to catch the whole thing on paper). The link to their website is here.
It was a very picturesque ride, and the water was very calm. They pointed out the tourist highlights as well: the ferry (which was pulling in to the Hadlyme dock on our way back), the Essex Steam Train (which blew its horn at us), and Gillette Castle. What a wonderful way to spend a few hours on the river, right here in Haddam.
Essex Steam Train “Hand on the Throttle”