Flying High

In a little known area on the Susquehanna River within the edges of the Susquehanna State Park is a seasonal enclave of America’s majestic national bird – the Bald Eagle. Chosen to represent the United States in 1782 due to its long life, great strength, and stunning looks. The Bald Eagle is unique to North America, and even though it was placed on the endangered list, the population of Bald Eagles have resurged resulting in the Eagle being removed from both the endangered and threatened species lists by 2007.
 
The Conowingo Dam has been operational since 1928 and provides hydroelectricity to the area. Exelon who owns and runs Conowingo Dam invested in a large fish wharf and provides visitor facilities as well. Because of the dam’s activity, fishing is plentiful and easy for birds that depend on fish as their primary source of food. 
 

The Dirty Dozen

 
It’s like that Farah Fawcett commercial – one friend tells two friends, then two friends tell two more friends. In the winter months, a large number of Bald Eagles migrate and stay at Conowingo Dam, along with other bird species to partake in the easy pickings of American Shad. Sightings of the Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam are best during the months of November through January.
 
I was pretty excited about the prospect of a photo field trip to see and photograph these majestic birds. So excited about it, I went and rented a Canon 400mm 2.8L IS lens from Borrowlenses.com. Now this is a honking lens, and it is the price of a small car, so this field trip was going to be special. With my Manfrotto 290 tripod, and the affordable Manfrotto 393 Heavy Duty Gimbal Type Lens support I was ready to go.
 
Let me say right now, my camera body of the day was the Canon 60D. Little did I know that when I went out on this field trip, it was totally messed up. After some fussing with the camera, it finally started to shoot. So these photos would most definitely have been better if the body was working properly. The lens I rented is a serious lens, so do not look as these photos in hopes they will give you a good idea of what it can do. Back to the program:
 
I had never known that there is such a thing as Bald Eagle Paparazzi, but upon arrival to the parking lot at Conowingo Dam, along the fence was a long line of photographers with their tripods and huge lenses. I had just joined the big-leagues!
 
Seeing the multitude of Bald Eagles, both juveniles and adults was truly awe inspiring and breath taking. On the day of my visit, there were over 50 Bald Eagles in sight. To capture these birds in action, a lot of standing and waiting occurs. I was fortunate to be surrounded by some Bald Eagle groupies that were super at letting out a “Heads Up” when some activity started to happen.
 

Juvenile & Mature Bald Eagle

 
One scene in particular caught my attention. Along with the river with the Bald Eagles were also a number of Great Blue Herons.
 
 
The last thing I would imagine to see is a fight between a Bald Eagle and a Great Blue Heron over a fish. I’m not sure exactly which one of them got the fish first – I’m starting to think it was the Blue as I watched the Bald fly in and try to intimidate the Blue to give up his fish. The Blue would have nothing to do with it. With large 5-foot wing spans they began posturing and shrieking at each other as to who was bigger and meaner than the other.
 

Arrival of the Intruder

 

“Machismo” display

 
 After a few harrowing moments of watching these birds argue as to who’s fish it was, the Blue decided he finally  had enough of the Bald and took his left wing and smacked the Bald on the head ! The poor Bald had to hang his head in shame, and surely said “Okay..it’s your fish then.” No longer threatened, the Blue picked up the fish and enjoyed his lunch.
 

Whaacckk !!

 
 

Blue wins!

 
 

Lunch!

 
To spare you the details of my photography fiasco that day, suffice to say that my tripod setup was hard to keep up with a fast moving bird. I ended up taking that 9 pound lens off the tripod, and having to shoot the birds when they were in flight.
 
 
 
 
 
For more information on Conowingo Dam and its Bald Eagles click below:
Hartford Bird Club
Information on Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam

46 thoughts on “Flying High

  1. Ohmygosh. Those shots of the eagle with the fish are phenomenal. It must have been amazing to be there to capture that. And I never realized that blue herons were so….blue! Herons in my area are always much lighter. Great shots! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. WOW wOw WoW! What a great experience! I would love that! Do you like the tripod? My tripod is so old and bulky I could use something smaller and easier to use.

    • Actually, I really like my tripod. When doing this post, they upgraded the 290 to the 293. It’s a tank – you want it heavy and strong to reduce shake. This has a quick connect feature which I enjoy, and 3 different ways to adjust the ballhead.

  3. This is something I’d love to do – your images here are really great, I particularly like the opening image and the ones towards the bottom with the eagle swooping into the water for lunch. Such a majestic animal! I take photos of seagulls in flight here in London, not quite the same as eagles but I appreciate the patience these shots take. Great work!

    • Thank you so much Aaron – patience in this case involved leaving the house at 5am, arriving to bird site at 7am, the standing around in the 35F degree weather until 1pm. Finally gave up and went and warmed up.

      The eagles would come and sit in the trees behind the line of photographers, thus giving us a closer shot to them. But when they flew overhead their wing span was so large, and with a 400mm zoom it was nearly impossible to get them in the frame.

      Keep practicing with your gulls, I’m sure more opportunities will come and you’ll be ready for them.

  4. Awesome photos! Man oh man, wish I had the fortunate first hand opportunity to see those scenes play! I especially love those shots of the heron and eagle with wings spread jousting for the fish.

    • Other than freezing my butt off waiting for the action to occur, it was really an awesome experience! I don’t think many caught this interaction as they tend to look more for Eagles in flight. Wish you could have been there too.

  5. Love your Summertime tribute, makes we want to squeal with joy !!!!
    Could not find a place to reply there ! And you used my favorite song “Summertime” .You know i once made a cd with only that song done by several different artists and each one sounded like a new song, I think i had 22 versions and still there are many more,have a look sometime ! A sign of true genius and longivelity,Yeah Gershwin !

  6. Pingback: Take a Bow | Hoof Beats and Foot Prints

  7. Reblogged this on Hoof Beats and Foot Prints and commented:

    I’ve got Eagles on my mind…Bald Eagles that is. I’m waiting patiently this morning for my rented Canon 500mm L lens to arrive, along with a tripod kit so that I can get out to the dam to shoot some eagles. I can’t wait to share with you my adventure. Bella
    Please click through to read about the Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.

  8. Fantastic photos of these magnificent birds, Emily. Love the one of the confrontation between the Blue Heron and the Bald Eagle. 😀 The flight photos are astounding too. Your efforts were well worth it.

    • Thank you so much Sylvia ! Of course, I didn’t mention the cold weather and how I had to bundle up as well. I’ll heading back up there tomorrow, can’t wait !!!
      Oh, the GBH / BE fight was awesome as most people missed it.

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