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.
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.
The Dirty Dozen
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.
Juvenile & Mature Bald Eagle
Arrival of the Intruder
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.
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