Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

Photographing eagles at Conowingo Dam along the Susquehanna River in Maryland, has to be one of the most thrilling experiences of a photographer’s life. At least it is, if the eagles are there! There are no guarantees that they will show up in big numbers, or that they will be active for more than a few minutes every hour or two, but when conditions are right, the sound of thousands of camera shutters going off continuously can really raise one’s adrenaline! From early November to the end of December is the best time to go.

When power is needed, the hydroelectric plant releases water along with fish and eels which get churned up and spit out at the base of the dam. Some are stunned and lay near the surface which makes for easy pickin’s for the eagles, cormorants, and Great Blue Herons. Hundreds of Rock doves, Black Vultures, and Gulls are usually present also, along with a Peregrine Falcon or some other raptor that makes a brief appearance.

When water is released, an alarm sounds and the level of the river rises. Fishermen and photographers who choose to be at the water’s edge can quickly find themselves getting wet feet. It’s a great spot for getting close to your subject though, when an eagle hits the water and comes up with a huge fish!

Conowingo Dam

Many prefer to be up on the fishermen’s pier, a beautiful new concrete pad with wide steps to accommodate many people. It’s strange to be standing next to a fisherman casting his line, while trying to manage a big camera on a tripod, but everyone gets along and photographers are in the majority on the upper pier. Higher up and further down where there is a lot of action down stream, tripods with monster lenses line the fence by the road. People are friendly and when there is little action, it becomes a block party! Business cards are exchanged, a book on eagles is peddled, friendly barbs are exchanged, and invitations to go birding together are extended.

Conowingo Dam

It takes a Bald Eagle 4-5 years to become mature with a completely white head and tail with no white splotches on wings or body. Most of the eagles here were in between juvenile and mature. The eagle below is probably a 4th year bird which has donned most of its white head and tail feathers.

Bald Eagle

Here a mature bird chases an almost mature bird, while a Great Blue Heron looks on.

Bald Eagle

This eagle is in its “ugly duckling” stage, where it has a mostly white head but splotchy dark tail and wings. It’s experienced enough to know how to use those powerful talons though!

Bald Eagle

It is amazing to watch how an eagle can put the brakes on by raising different layers of feathers. This shot from behind shows a successful catch and primary feathers curled up at the end like long fingers!

Bald Eagle

On this day, we all witnessed the eagles catching very small fish, maybe just a few inches long. Many times they would eat them while taking off, or still low over the water.

Bald Eagle

This is a scene from November 30 with many eagles and herons sitting on the rocks, occasionally becoming active at the same time.

Bald Eagle

After following one eagle for a few moments, another would cross paths, and I would find myself refocusing on another, and then another! For 15 minutes, the constant action continued with seasoned photographers muttering, I’ve never seen anything like this before! The constant clicking of cameras sounded like rain! People complained of their hands cramping up, but then everything settled down to almost no action again for another hour. Unbelievably it all started again for another 10 minutes! Exhilarating!

Bald Eagle

Eagles would rather fight than fish sometimes! It’s amazing to watch them harass each other, even linking talons and tumbling through the air, finally letting go before they hit the water.

Bald Eagle

Going into a dive!

Bald Eagle

The sun actually came out for a few minutes. Blue sky is always nice!

Bald Eagle

Now that is an intense look!

Bald Eagle

Many times I observed Great Blue Herons flying in to the water, briefly floating, and grabbing a fish or an eel and taking off with it. I had never witnessed this before, but perhaps it’s because the fish are stunned and floating near the surface.

Great Blue Heron SMg_9577

On our way back to the car, this juvenile eagle sat in a tree above the parking lot. He is brown all over with a dark beak, but still looking very regal!

Bald Eagle

Bella Remy Photography has posted a wonderful Visitor’s Guide to the Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam┬áin her blog, if you are interested in going. If the eagles are there, you won’t be disappointed!

 

 

Lauren Shaffer

Lauren Shaffer wrote 140 posts

Post navigation


Comments

  • Bella Remy Photography

    Thank you so much for the shout out Lauren. This is a great post and your images are wonderful. I hope you get to the dam more than once and enjoy the comradery of all your fellow photogs. Emily – aka Bella Remy

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Thanks, Emily! Your post on visiting Conowingo was so thorough and well-done that I felt I could just add a link to it rather than try to duplicate your information. And it was very helpful in our visits there, too! I am definitely hooked. Hope to meet you there someday!

      • Bella Remy Photography

        That would be wonderful ! I really want to get back up there before year’s end. Your post seems that there are more now than earlier in November.

        I also have a meetup called Feathered Friends that you’re welcome to join. I don’t have much scheduled yet for next year but will be working on it soon. Thank you so much and it’s a pleasure to meet you. Emily

  • Dick

    Great pictures Lauren. Nothing like this in South Exchange. Stay warm.
    Dick

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Thanks, Dick! Might be worth a trip someday though. It’s about an hour from DC.

  • Mustafa

    really eagles are amazing creatures with eye visibility from a long distance and excellent timing, each and every pic of this article is a master piece and really it is a joyful place to enjoy every single moment.

    • danadmin

      It is truly amazing to see 50-100 of these majestic creatures at one time and to capture a few of them in action! Thank you for your kind words!

  • Marc

    This post is excellent, thank you. Just heard about this location and am considering a trip to the dam from NYC, can anyone local tell me if the freezing weather has impacted the eagle concentrations?

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Glad it was helpful, Marc! The peak of the numbers of eagles is between November and January, I believe. It seems even colder there with the wind coming off the water, so I haven’t been there lately. A pair nests there and may be territorial also. You could ask your question on the Conowingo Eagles Facebook page and probably get a more accurate answer!

  • Louis

    You were probably on a boat. Otherwise 400mm is not long enough.

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Boats are not allowed that close to the dam. The eagles get close enough, and sometimes even soar over our heads! A lot of my shots are heavily cropped, but the 400 lens is the only one I use at Conowingo. Hope you will get to experience it yourself someday, Louis!

  • Smithb9

    Thanks for the post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on adddddgdaegegdec

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>