For the past few months, a group of people has been gathering each night along an industrial stretch of Route 5 in Hamden. There, next to a nondescript building, they lift their binoculars, focus their telescopes and gaze across the street--past the traffic, over the railroad tracks, and up about 70 feet high.
Nestled in a crook of two branches in a tree sits a large nest. Inside is a bald eagle chick, with a watchful adult hidden nearby.
"This is the only birdwatching I’ve ever done."
Michael Lejeune works at the town library.
"I essentially have been coming down every night. I invested in a spotting scope, and ever since I’ve been coming down and watching eagles."
He says all kinds of people are connecting here, sharing photos of the eagles, talking to each another."
"Really a community of varied people that more than likely would never have come together if it wasn’t for these eagles."
Trucks are back and forth to local businesses during the day. It’s a pretty busy spot.
Maureen Quinn of North Haven says she can’t believe the eagles chose this urban setting to raise their young.
"Wouldn’t be my prime choice of land. And I would think you’d never see them this close to a road. Especially a road like this. The trains come by and they really lay on the horns. Not a flinch."
The eagles’ first nest was down the road behind the bus depot, says Lejeune.
"The blizzard in February destroyed their nest. The weight of the snow just crushed it. Eagles always build a contingency nest.."
…in case something happens to their primary nest. So since February, they’ve been here.
Though their front yard is busy, in the back, on the other side, is a wide-open marsh with plenty of fish: the Quinnipiac Wildlife Management area.
Bald eagles are no longer endangered nationally, but remain threatened in Connecticut. Between the 1950s and 90s, there were no bald eagles in the state, largely because the pesticide DDT had entered their food chain, so they’d lay eggs with fragile shells that would break and never hatch.
But state wildlife biologist Kate Moran says after DDT was outlawed in the 1970s, bald eagles began to return.
"For 2013, we have about 35 active pairs. Most are in the central part of the state along the CT River, but we’ve got representatives in all four corners."
And she expects the population to continue to grow: "Its mainly a matter of habitat. They need riverside or lakeside habitat and they need the peace and quiet to successfully bring up their young."
In Hamden, there’s mounting excitement as the chick prepares to fledge.
Noreen Polio of New Haven had never seen a bald eagle before. She says she’s enjoyed the birdwatching experience: "I don’t see anyone on their cell phones or tweeting or anything. You know its nature in the city and it's just wonderful."
Once the chick takes flight, the eagles will leave their Hamden nest. And Route 5 will never be quite the same.