It had already been an awe-inspiring trip into the natural world, with everything etched in strokes of white after the season's first real snow.
With the biting north wind still a no-show, snow hung on branches, clung to pine boughs and lay plastered on tree trunks, creating a beautiful monochromatic landscape. A close second to autumn's peak foliage, the first snowstorm is a wonderful time to hike, with everything feeling fresh and new.
My location, Pistapaug Mountain, is a traprock ridge in Durham overlooking Pistapaug Pond, a manmade reservoir with banks lined by huge white pines. My column would focus on the snow crunching under my boots, the beams of the late autumn sun reflecting the snow like diamonds off the icy tips of branches, the … pair of bald eagles soaring over the pond!
As I reached a clearing along the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's Mattabesett Trail that takes visitors to the top of the 700-foot mountain, I looked out across the pond and watched what I thought were a couple of chunks of snow fall. Except the snow was the white heads and tails of two bald eagles soaring across the sky.
Although I've been to hundreds of places across the state in my journeys over the years, I've only seen bald eagles twice. The first one I saw was sitting high in a tree watching over East Haddam's historic swing bridge. The other sighting was while walking along the Quinnipiac River Gorge Trail in Meriden, when an eagle flew along the waterway mere feet above my head.
Sure, I could go on a cruise along the lower Connecticut River or the Shepaug Eagle View in Southbury, but it's hard to beat the shock and awe of a rare and unexpected sighting of the national symbol. An already surreal morning had turned into one of my most memorable days in the natural world.
As I readied my camera for another pass, the majestic birds disappeared as quickly as they had filled the viewscape. According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, approximately 100 eagles winter in Connecticut from December to early March.
Even without the eagles, the view from the top of Pistapaug is incredible, with distant snow-covered mountains taking on a purplish hue and the red barns of nearby farms adding a bit of color to the landscape. One of my favorite views is to the northeast, out to a rock formation known as the Three Notches. With the traprock knobs covered with snow, the formation looks more like an iceberg looming in the distance.
Although the ascent through Paug Gap – a valley between Pistapaug Mountain and Fowler Mountain to the north — to the top of the mountain is a bit difficult, the trail levels off once you reach the summit. Visitors should be wary of the steep slopes that drop down to the reservoir and keep away from the edge.
Every year as the calendar turns to winter, I try to hike soon after the first snow. This year a pair of bald eagles turned what was already a memorable journey into an unforgettable one.
The trail crosses Howd Road just to the northeast of the reservoir near several concrete blocks. Visit http://www.ctwoodlands.org/bluetrailsmap for a trail map.Copyright © 2015, CT Now