Birds

A Visitor’s Guide to the Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam

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Conowingo Dam

The Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam are world famous. When the days get cooler and shorter, the population begins to rapidly grow and one can frequently see up to 100 eagles in a day. 

WHEN TO GO

  • Beginning at the end of October through the beginning of January, Bald Eagles are the most plentiful.
  • Anytime during the day is great as the action is unpredictable. The lighting quickly fades in the afternoon, quickly turning dark after 4:00 pm, EST.
  • Plan on spending many hours standing and waiting for the action of fishing and fighting.
  • Check on the Conowingo Dam Release Schedule daily by calling 1-888-457-4076.

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HOW TO GET THERE

Address is:  2569 Shures Landing Road, Darlington, Maryland 21034

From I-95 North/South, Take Exit #89 for Havre de Grace. Head north on Route 155 / Level Road. Turn right on Route 161 / Darlington Road go 4.4 miles. Turn right onto Old Quaker Road, go .4 miles. Turn right on Shuresville Road, go 433 feet and veer left to stay on Shuresville Road. After a mile, turn right onto Shuresville Landing Road. Road will lead you into the parking area along the dam.

To reach the shuttle parking area, pass Shuresville Landing Road and the shuttle parking is to your left shortly afterwards.

UPDATED FOR 2017:

PARKING INFORMATION: Parking is now becoming limited at the dam and due to popularity, the parking lot becomes full early in the morning. There is now shuttle parking available on Shuresville Road THURSDAY through SUNDAY from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

There is ample parking at the shuttle parking lot and there is a school bus shuttle to the dam. When the parking lot is full, the gate is closed and drivers are instructed to go to the shuttle parking lot. Parking on Shuresville Landing Road is prohibited.

The Shuttle will be available during peak Bald Eagle season from the first week of November through December.

PREPARE

  • It will be cold ! Dress warmly in layers to add/remove as needed. Wear winter boots if you have them. There will be a lot of standing/sitting involved.
  • Bring lunch and something warm to drink.
  • Make sure you have plenty of memory cards and charged batteries.
  • TIP: Bring a small chair to sit while waiting for the action to happen.

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BEST SPOTS FOR SHOOTING

There are two primary locations photographers set up for shooting. Both locations have advantages and disadvantages.

  • Along the fence line across from the twin power towers.
    • Advantages
      • The eagles frequently fish between the island and the rip rap.
      • They then fly overhead into the trees to enjoy their fish. One can quickly move along the tree line to get a shot.
      • Have an overview perspective of fishing eagles.
    • Disadvantages – The action in front of the dam is further away.
  • Down on the fishing pier.
    • Advantages
      • Closer to the water and action in front of the pier.
      • Provides water level perspective.
    • Disadvantages
      • Shooting into the morning sun in the early hours of the day 7:00am – 10:00am.
      • A bit of a walk to get to the tree line for the eating shots.

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

  • Get the longest zoom lens you can get your hands on. Anything 400mm and longer will help you reach the bird.
  • If you can’t afford to buy a mega lens, RENT !

WANT TO RENT? CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

  • If you have access to two camera bodies, bring them along. One with the mega zoom, the other with a smaller zoom to capture the eagles in the trees.
  • Tripod with a Wimberly type Gimbal head is a must. Unless you have super steady hands and have no issue hand holding up to ten pounds while panning.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice before you get here. Practice sighting, scanning and panning a bird in flight.
  • Know your camera well so that you can quickly change settings if need be. The light changes quickly in the morning and adjustments are continual.
    • The Lazy Man settings:
      • Aperture Priority
      • Auto ISO
      • Auto White Balance
      • AI Servo focus mode
      • High speed Continuous shooting mode
      • Center focus point (s) selected
      • Center weighted metering
    • In bright light watch out for blowing out the white highlights of the head and tail of the eagles. Use negative Exposure Compensation to offset.
  • TIP: With good light, my settings are: Manual Mode – 1/2000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 500, AWB, AI Servo, Center focus points, Center weighted metering.

If you’re able to visit Conowingo Dam and visit this incredible sight of these majestic birds, have a wonderful time and happy shooting !

Related Posts:

Want More Eagles? Click to View More Images

Additional Bird in Flight photo tips

The best area nearby for hotels and services is in Aberdeen, Maryland which is about 20 to 25 minute drive to Conowingo Dam.

FOR HOTELS IN THE AREA CLICK HERE.

FOR SURROUNDING RESTAURANTS NEAR CONOWINGO DAM CLICK HERE.

115 replies »

  1. Useful tip for me regarding the negative exposure compensation, Emily! I need to get my little instruction booklet out and figure out how to do that. Could have used that for yesterday’s Tundra Swans.

  2. This would be an EXPERIENCE! I remember going to Red Wing, MN to look at the eagles. Majestic creatures that are a true symbol of freedom. I have actually rescued a bald eagle – amazing experience to save a one. Thanks for sharing!

      • But you don’t ALWAYS need the best of the best to get a great shot. Just because you have the dough to put out for a $40k lens and $9k camera body does not make a photographer. Know plenty of people who wasted $40k a year to get a degree in photography who are absolutely horrible, no gift, no eye, nothing. Add the ones who get a decent camera and automatically think they’re the best photographer in the world and open a biz because all their friends tell them they’re the best thing since sliced bread and they are horrible. Just my two cents……….

  3. Thanks for the tips, I’m an Aussie based in the UK, but I need to get away for a week and I love Bald Eagles so I’m thinking about a trip to the US and the dam looks like the place to go! I shoot Sony, so I will see if I can persuade a friend of mine ot lend me his Minolta 600mm. Hey I can ask! 🙂

  4. Thank you very much for the Info. on the dam. Know if somebody would give some info on the surrounding area, Motels, Camping Areas and Restaurant that would be great.

    Mike

  5. wow finally i found somewhere that tells me where to go – been wanting to go see eagles since i moved here 3 years ago! thank you!

  6. We stopped by for the 1st time yesterday. (we plan to return). Someone mentioned another entrance where there is nesting activity. Any info? Thanks

    • The only thing I could think would be on the north side of Route 1 at the dam there is a visitors center. Don’t know how there could be more than one entrance to the fishing platform as it’s a dead end road. Good luck!

      • A person at the pier mentioned exiting, making a left and then another left on ?Stafford street. I couldn’t find. Thanks for info as well as for the site and your beautiful pictures.

        • I actually do know of one that is down that way. It’s further than what they make it sound. If you google Conowingo Dam and follow the river down a bit you’ll find Stafford Road. The one I remember was up on the power lines, so not too accessible. There is a trail but you have to hike up it with equipment.

          I remember some mentioning an accessible nest earlier this year but no current reports. I believe the family has fledged a while ago. Good luck!

  7. Can I spot eagles throughout the year? I have time, patience, two fairly good Canons,(70D), a 400 f4.5-5.6 prime and a Tamron 150-600 f4.5. A third body (7D) houses a Canon 70-300mm L IS USM with a 1.4 tele.

      • Thank you Bella for the invaluable info, I’ll wait till later in the upcoming winter months. Great photos!
        Bella notte, (beautiful evening).
        Sherman

        • Thanks again Bella, I’ll dog ear my calendar for the November dates. Looking forward towards meeting you. I’ll be dressed like a military Eskimo; and comfortably warm.

          Music is prayer!

          Sherman

    • Hi Bella,

      I will not be able to meet you at Conowingo in November as I will be in Montana, hopefully getting some great shots there. I’ll get to the eagle siting in early December. Are you planning to meet a group then?

      Sherman On Jul 17, 2015 2:04 PM, “Hoof Beats and Foot Prints” wrote:

      > Sherman Wright commented: “Can I spot eagles throughout the year? I have > time, patience, two fairly good Canons,(70D), a 400 f4.5-5.6 prime and a > Tamron 150-600 f4.5. A third body (7D) houses a Canon 70-300mm L IS USM > with a 1.4 tele.”

  8. I am definitely thinking of making the 3+ hr drive from VA to photograph these guys! I am just hesitant because I will get there and they won’t be there. I am thinking of going on Eagle Day in November.

    • Hi Kim, there are eagles year-round at Conowingo Dam, so you’re guaranteed a sighting regardless of when you visit.

      Their numbers peak in November/December and January, thus the excitement during that time of year. Are you going to visit or to visit and photograph?

      I have a couple of photography workshops scheduled this fall if you’re interested. You can get more information on the Workshops tab above.

  9. Awesome write-up Emily and I love your tips! Although I am not that fond of spot-metering , especially if you are not an experienced BIF photographer simply because if you get a bit off of the bird in following it, the exposure can really vary. One of the safest ways for those interested is having a hand-held meter, (which I feel every serious photographer should own) and take an incident reading of your light-source, then make your simple adjustments +/- to get both the shadow and highlight shape you desire. Also you can use in-camera “evaluative” (Canon) or “matrix” (Nikon) metering. This way you can avoid having a blue sky turn white due to a little over-exposure. You will also make smaller corrections to Ev this way as well.. Many folks shoot spot and that’s great if they have control over it.. I do as well a lot of the time too! All of this is a preference as to each photographer and my comment here is simply an alternative……..

  10. Super information, great pictures must be awe-inspiring to see so many of them in the air at the same time. If I had such wish list then the Dam would certainly be on it. Thanks for sharing

  11. Bella – I spent the last two weeks between the dam and Lapidum watching Eagles while Shad fishing. (We were both Shad fishing as I observed many an Eagle take a Shad while I was catch and release fishing the river) I saw the aerobatic entanglements as the Eagles try to take the Fish away from each other and wonder if they are fighting over the fish or just playing with it like a kid plays with a toy – fascinating. Anyway – The main reason I am writing is that I found a tripod and a camp stool on the side of the road at one of the observation areas in the park. I went by several times and decided that I would make an attempt to get this back to its rightful owner. If anyone hears of someone who lost this stuff, please tell me how to get it back to them. I’ll check back periodically or you can direct them to my email below. (they will need a description and date lost)
    Sore fisherman

  12. During the water release or when the eagles are in action, is that area of the river navigable on a jon or bass boat?? Can photographers shoot successfully and safely from a anchored or moored boat from the middle of the river during the release or flat water periods? Thanks.

  13. Great information! I’ll be in the area in November and plan on making this part of my trip. Years and years ago (back in my film days), I tried to get eagle pictures at the Holtwood power plant further up north because it was supposed to be a good spot. Is that area any good these days? I like that you can get down to river level there. Thought you’d be the person to ask 🙂

  14. Plenty of information. I am from Canada, will be going there next week. Do you have any workshop planned for this year?

    • I do have three workshops scheduled in late November, but all of them are sold out at this time. If you’re at the dam next week (1st week of November) there are lots of regulars that are welcoming and helpful. Good luck!

  15. Hi Emily, I just found this page, looks great, I may go this coming weekend 12/3-4 do you have workshop available. I am coming from wisconsin

    • Any time is a good time Gay. Eagles are unpredictable and you never know when they decide to fish. It can be any time during the day. I found this season that even though I called the number, they rarely did what they said they would do. Good luck!

  16. A good friend of mine just yesterday informed me of the eagles at Conowingo and it only took another click or two to discover your page, thanks so much for sharing. Much of my time was spent in the Conowingo, Holtwood area in the late 60’s. I had no idea about the enormous eagle presence. Time for a revisit. Sounds like just the right place for my Canon 600, woohoo!

    • There are some eagles that live there year round. Any time is a good time for the eagles as you never know when they decide to fly by. Usually when the turbines are running at the dam you get a little more activity. Good luck.

  17. Your page really helped me to get there and find parking without an issue. Went a few weeks ago to check it out and went today as well. Expected to see a lot but few eagles are there. In next few weeks can we expect more?

  18. Hi Emily
    Thx for the info you provided here. It helped me get there and find parking without any issue. This was my first time photographing them. Went few weeks ago to check it out but not of much eagles, even today did not find whole lot. Do we expect to see more in coming weeks?

  19. Wow what a service you have provided–thank you. Based on your detailed and exciting info I am coming from Spokane Wa Dec 18-21 and hope the weather is good or at least not raining. After looking at several postings, I noticed from the images that many of the aerial shots have a background of bare or defoliated trees or the dam structure that will surely will grab my AF (if I fall off target) as I pan the flying birds. I am not very good at panning and cannot hand-hold for health reasons but I will have a gimballed tripod. Do you have a suggested location where I would have either the water or sky as a background?

    2nd question–to get a good spot at the time I am coming…. is it still very crowded?? and if so what time should I arrive to find a good spot? To put that in perspective I have to arrive 1.5 hrs before dawn at the Tetons near Jackson Wy to get a spot. Smile

    I gather the eagles fly when the water is released. Thanks for the release data source.

    If you are there when I am and see an old geezer with a maroon VT hat (VA Tech) please say Hi!

    Thanks again Jim

    • Hello Jim,

      Glad you were able to find this blog post and found it helpful for your visit in Mid-December. Plan on it being quite cold here so winter boots and layering will help keep you warm.

      The birds fly all over the dam area which is in a valley with an island in the middle of the river. Unless they fly high in the sky or low in the water there will be a background. Continuously half-tap your shutter to acquire focus and hope for the best. All of us struggle with the competing background. As you are coming mid-week the parking and attendees are notably different than on the weekends. Sunrise is around 6:45 am so getting there between 7am and 8am should be more than enough to get parking.

      For photographing, all spots have positives and negatives. Find one that is comfortable for you and hope for the best. The eagles fish more when water is released but as any wildlife are unpredictable and fly at any time.

      Wish you the best on your visit. Emily

      • Thank you—as for cold Spokane is close to both Canada and the Idaho panhandle so while the low temp won’t be fun–at least the cold will not be a shock.–it’s the wind that is the killer

  20. Thanks for posting info on your page. Very nice & helpful! Question for ya: Although Oct-Jan is “peak” season, if the eagles are living in the area anyway, would I be able to see a handful any time of the year? Obviously there’s no such thing as a guarantee but I was just curious. Thanks again! ~Connie~

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