It would be an exaggeration to say that the Eagle Watch boat cruises, which depart from the steamboat dock of the Connecticut River Museum, get you really “up close and personal” to the bald eagles along the shoreline. Frankly, the eagles that you can see from the boat are pretty far away, at least with naked eye.
Still, the boat cruise does get you close enough to make out bald eagles circling in the sky, as well as female bald eagles sitting in their nests, protecting their young. At times Eagle Watch bird watchers even get a glimpse of a male bald eagle diving down to the nests to deliver food to its mate and their young.
Powerful binoculars are provided to passengers to make it easier to make out the details of the bald eagle sightings. Also, telescopic lenses on cameras can help in filming close ups of eagles in their nests.
Well Worth a $40 Boat Ride
The Eagle Watch boat rides are co-sponsored by the Connecticut River Museum and Project Oceanology. The role of the museum is to sell $40 a person tickets for the boat ride, whereas Project Oceanology’s provides a safe and sturdy, 65 foot research vessel to ferry passengers up and down the cold winter waters of the Connecticut River.
Worth noting is the fact that the boat used on the trips, the Enviro-lab III, is clean and ship shape. It has open bow and stern decks, and very importantly, a large, nicely heated cabin for eagle watchers who want to come in from the cold.
The wintry boat cruises take somewhat over an hour and half. This provides boat passengers ample time to get a good glimpse, or a good photo, of the bald eagles that nest along the cold, cold waters of the Connecticut River this time of year.
In addition to the excitement of just going on a boat ride, boat passengers get the pleasure of the viewing the majestic spender of the river this time of year, which at times offer a bright sun shining down on the boat’s decks. You really can’t beat the price, for what you get.
The host-narrators of the boat on a recent Saturday were: (1) Bill Yule, a 15 year veteran narrator of winter boat cruises, and (2) Chris Dodge, a young marine scientist from Project Oceanology. Yule said at the beginning of the cruise that he had a bad cold, and, therefore, could not narrate. However, he would come along for the ride.
This meant that Chris Dodge would be handling the narrating duties of the cruise. Before he started narrating, Dodge explained what might be called the “clock system” for pointing out where the eagles are located in the sky.
This “clock system” meant that when Dodge spotted an eagle in the sky which was dead ahead of the boat, he would call out, “Eagle at 12 o’clock.” Or, if he sighted an eagle in the sky at the stern of the boat, he would call out, “Eagle at “6 o’clock.”
Eagle sightings on the right side of the boat, facing forward, would be at “at 3 o’clock,” and on the left side of the boat would be “at 9 o’clock.” The system worked well, and the passengers on board quickly caught on.
On this clear and sunny day there were a lot of eagles overhead in the sky. The bow and stern decks of the boat were crowded with bald eagle watchers. They changed positions back and forth, depending on “o’clock” positions called out by Dodge.
Eagles Up in the Sky, and On Land as Well
Not only were there eagle spotting in the sky above, the bald eagles were on the shoreline land as well. Suddenly, all this was too much for the benched bird spotter, Bill Yule, to take.
Yule soon began calling out as well over the ship’s microphone, the “clock” positions of where eagles could be sighted. It was now a joyful narrative with two, top ranked, eagle spotters, telling the 40 passengers on board, where to see the eagles. There was genuine excitement on board with Yule’s clear voice helping with the narration.
Still, because of the cold outdoors the cruise was beginning to seem a bit long. Increasingly, eagle spotters going into the spacious heated cabin for warmth.
First Up, and Then Down the River
Over the course of the cruse, the “Enviro-lab III,” first cruised north up the river, going as far as Eight Mile Island. The island takes its name from being eight miles up from the mouth of the Connecticut River, we were told.
Then, the boat came around and sailed down the river, passing the steam boat dock of the Connecticut River Museum, where the tour started, and continuing down towards the mouth of the river.
As the boat got closer to the river’s mouth, the waters of the river became more and more salty and warmer. This can mean that sometimes seals, and even a whale, can be spotted, although they did not appear on this trip.
As the boat got continually closer to the mouth of the river, the wind picked up significantly. In fact, it was blowing so hard, that the decision was made to turn the boat around and proceed upriver again.
At one point on the trip home, one of the passengers asked if the Emvio-lab III could safely go into Hamburg Cove, across the river from Essex. Tour leader Dodge said that the boat, which has a four foot draft, theoretically, could safely go into the cove. However, he said the wind in the cove might blow the boat into shallow water, therefore, it was inadvisable to go into the cove.
With more and more passengers sitting in the cabin for warmth, it was time to end the cruise. With a flawless landing, the boat came to rest at the steamboat dock of the Connecticut River Museum. What a day it had been! What a time to remember!
Bald eagle cruises will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until March 16. Call 860-767-8296 to make reservations. The boats sail from the steamboat dock of the Connecticut River Museum, which is located at the foot of Maine Street in downtown Essex.