For the fifth year, a team of 40 stalwart volunteers from The Last Green Valley, Inc. (TLGV) loaded up binoculars, cameras and cold weather gear and set out to count bald eagles. The group split into teams to survey 34 locations in the watershed on January 11 from 7:00 to 11:00 am. Teams were placed at locations on the Quinebaug, Shetucket, Willimantic and Natchaug Rivers, and on lakes and ponds.
The Midwinter Eagle Survey is organized by Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Nationally, the program is a project of the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. Across the states, every team observes on the same date and during the same hours to make the Midwinter Eagle Survey a national, state and regional snapshot of the health of the eagle population.
Bill Reid, TLGV’s Chief Ranger, organized his team of volunteers to participate in the Midwinter Eagle Survey.
“Bald eagles are extraordinary birds of prey,” Reid remarked. “They are very large with a wingspan of up to 96 inches and body length of 28-40 inches. Bald eagles are hard to miss.”
In 2010, only 13 eagles were sighted during the annual count – the first year that TLGV participated. This year TLGV’s team sighted 21 birds and Reid thinks that this indicates around 14 or 15 individual bald eagles.
“Most of the eagles sighted during the survey period arrived in The Last Green Valley over the past two months from northern states where the cold weather has frozen over rivers and lakes,” Reid stated.
Bald eagles are primarily fish eaters, although they have been reported to eat ducks and other prey they can capture. They are in The Last Green Valley because the habitat can support them with excellent food sources in the rivers and because the warmer climate here keeps most rivers from completely freezing during the winter months.
This year the survey team was thwarted by fog and rain. Also, many of the lakes and ponds were still frozen over from the cold snap the week before. Most of the sightings were on the rivers, although two eagles were seen over one of the northern most lakes. Despite the weather and ice, it was still a record count.
The Last Green Valley is home to some bald eagles that live here year round. At least two pairs of adults have built and nest and successfully hatched and fledged eaglets in the past several years.
The Last Green Valley is a National Heritage Corridor – the last stretch of dark night sky in the coastal sprawl between Boston and Washington, D.C. A dynamic nonprofit organization, TLGV is a steward of that special place, working to celebrate our heritage, conserve our natural resources and respect our working lands.