Beth and I took our annual Christmas pilgrimage up to Hampton, VA to visit her Mom and sisters. While there, my brother-in-law, Frank, and I decided to jump in the car and make a quick side trip to Maryland.
Conowingo Dam is located on the lower Susquehanna River just north of Aberdeen, Maryland. Each year from late October until early January the area just below the dam is surrounded by 50 to 100 Bald Eagles.
The eagles are attracted by the fish that get disoriented after passing through the dam. Sometimes the fish are so messed up that they float flat on the surface of the water for some time.
Since the fish are so easy to come by, the eagles are pretty lazy. Their top-of-the-food-chain predator status means there’s little competition for food here. Basically, they sit around for hours until hungry and then saunter over to the river for some take-out.
They circle for a short while and then zero in on a tasty target. Swoop, snatch and off to a nearby tree to enjoy lunch. Yum!
This is my third trip up to Conowingo. The fishing pier shown here was built in 2010 and beats the heck out of standing on the rocks trying to shoot eagles without falling into the cold water. It’s a nice low-to-the-water location but, we prefer the area behind the fence a little further downstream.
This location is nice because there’s somewhat of a pinch point between the river bank and a small island in the middle of the river. It brings the eagles a little closer when they’re fishing so you can photograph them in action. You still need a LONG lens to capture anything but, that’s the deal. 400mm is pretty much as short as you can go.
While waiting for that “ultimate fishing shot” you can get some nice soaring flight shots.
The light is always behind you from the right in the AM to the left in the PM. On cloudless days the sun really reflects off of the mature eagle’s head. The high contrast between the dark body and white head is a challenge for most cameras. Partly cloudy conditions are best.
Sometimes you can capture the eagle a fraction of a second before he grabs the fish. Talons open and ready for business.
Here’s an immature bald eagle in full striking position.
Another nice shot is to get the eagle just snatching the fish out of the river.
I’m usually not a fan of “bird butt” images but, Hey! He’s got a fish!
It’s interesting to watch them take all or part of their fish over to a tree and eat it.
If you’re really lucky the eagle will land nearby and sometimes give you an unobstructed view while enjoying a meal.
The turkey vulture on the right may be pushing his luck!
This one was “fill the frame” close when I made his picture. I thought he was bringing me that fish!
Nice light on this one with just a hint of clouds below.
One last flight shot before we depart Conowingo Dam.
Originally, Frank and I were planing to stop by Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the way back to Virginia. Our plans had to change when we got stuck in the heavy holiday traffic on I-95 South. We decided to swing by Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge instead.
There was barely an hour of sunlight left in the day but, we found an eagle there, too!
You gotta love a nice flight shot in the waning golden light.
This is the same eagle settled in for the night on the Osprey platform behind the visitor’s center. The refuge has a TV camera rigged up to keep tabs on the occupants.
I swung around 180 degrees and made this final shot of the beautiful setting sun.
Ahhh. To be outdoors and surrounded by nature’s splendor.
We packed up our gear, jumped in the Sequoia and Frank piloted us safely back to Hampton, VA. What a nice vacation from a vacation.