Sunday, Jan. 29 was a special day for Wilton resident Sibylle Kinley. The self-described photography hobbyist (several of her bird photographs are featured on Wilton’s town website) captured this majestic image of a Bald Eagle right here in CT. We asked how she got the shot.

“I’ve been looking for Bald Eagles all winter. We usually spend Thanksgiving in the St. Louis area and I’ve often seen the first ones of the season along the Mississippi River. This year it’s been so warm that the migration southward was later so I missed them.

I’ve known that we have Bald Eagles here in CT and they’ve made a comeback over the past few years. They’ve been followed all along the CT rivers. The Housatonic River has some, the Connecticut River has some, and last year there was a pair that tried to build a nest in Milford, as well as one off the Norwalk coast on one of the islands. It’s a great environmental comeback story really.

I go out most weekends to find birds–I’ve often set out to find a specific type only to find something else or nothing at all. It’s very hit or miss. Time of day, weather, tides all play into it. Sometimes I approach it with a plan in mind, other times it’s just a “let’s see what we find today.”

Sunday I set out to find Bald Eagles. I’ve been trying for weeks and, though I’ve seen plenty, I haven’t been able to get good shots because they were either too far away or flying to high. A few weeks ago we were at Paugussett State Park and observed five–three juveniles and two adults on the ice, fishing, preening, fighting–it was thrilling!

Anyway, today I set out to find some in New Haven–there has been a pair that nests there and we’re getting close to the time they start building the nests. Part of the fun is figuring out how to find them and when you do it’s such a feeling of inner joy.

The Eagles in New Haven are used to traffic, people, noise–pretty amazing really. Because nesting time is getting closer and trees are still bare, it’s easier to spot them “hanging out.” This one today was in a perfect spot to stand by the river’s edge and observe. I was there for about an hour. She was just watching the river, looking for a quick snack, it was wonderful. When I first drove up the road looking for the telltale shape and color I felt such a surge of excitement. Then you have to find a place to park, not make too many sudden moves, gather your gear and hope they don’t fly away right away…all part of the fun and that happens more often than not. Patience is part of the adventure.

Today paid off! Getting dressed for the outings is also a part–layers, drab colors, hats, gloves, scarves. Camera bag (check), tissues (check), phone (check), lock the car and go. Many folks carry their tri-pods. I have as yet never done that but at times it would be nice to have just because cameras with these large lenses get heavy. You never know if you’ll be out five minutes or three hours. Depends on what the winds bring.

I’ve always loved birds–the variety is unbelievable but I think it really got cemented when we moved to our second house here in Wilton. It has a pond and a river and when we first moved there I fell in love with the serenity of it all–my personal “Giverny Garden” complete with bridge. The birds were amazing, especially water loving birds–ducks, herons, egrets, hawks–and of course all of your “regular” garden variety birds–cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, woodpeckers. I’ve always had feeders out but here there were so many more varieties because of the proximity of water.

And then the first winter there was brutal–cold, lots of snow, and long. But we found that our pond didn’t freeze over completely because it was spring fed and pretty deep. The area that was not frozen was filled with geese, herons, ducks, and we even had a swan that winter. Our kids were small and it was a thrill for them to see all the different kinds and it became part of our mealtimes to try and spot as many different ones as possible. Our eat-in area overlooked the feeders and the river/pond. I started to take photos of as many different kinds as possible because I wanted to catalog what I was seeing.

Trying to find a bird in a book or online while observing it isn’t always easy and I found that photographing them was a way to capture the images that I could then go back and find. The great blue herons were among my favorite and one summer I was thinking about what a baby heron looks like and I couldn’t find it in any book but online I found there were live cams that are installed in nesting areas and you can watch from your computer–AWESOME! I discovered the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and suddenly a whole world opened up to me. That summer I watched great blue herons nesting in upstate NY at Sapsucker Woods–a healthy brood of three. And as a bonus, I also discovered the live cam for Red-tailed Hawks–there are a pair that nest right on the Cornell campus in their baseball field light towers every year. I fell in love with these birds immediately–we had our own hawks here and I learned so much about their behavior through Cornell. The herons sadly haven’t come back to nest again, but the hawks are there. I’ve watched every cycle of chicks since 2012. It’s fascinating.

I guess you can say I’m hooked…there are hawks all around us here as well. In fact, there’s a pair of red tails in the center of town I’ve been watching for a while. Not sure where they’re going to nest but they’ve been showing signs of getting ready.