Sunday, November 10, 2013

November means Bald Eagles

November means three things to me.  I am another year older. It is time to put up the deer stands.  And, the bald eagles are congregating on the Susquehanna River at Conowingo Dam. The density of eagles there means that photography becomes akin to batting practice for baseball players.  There is a nice combination of autumn colors and a large number of exciting fly-bys by eagles at close range. 

Conowingo Dam has been providing electricity since 1928. The original powerhouse, seen to the left, houses the original seven turbines and another three larger units that were added years later to the right of the original units.

Below the dam is the fisherman's park in the left foreground.  When turbines come to life, significant numbers of fish are discharged, drawing game fish and birds to feed on the bounty.  Gulls, cormorants and eagles are predominately present plus the black vultures which clean up after the others. From mid October through January, the number of bald eagles attracts many bird photographers (and some birders, too).

Standing by the river, one sees the eagles sweeping across the river searching for a stunned fish on the surface.  Once spotted, they often execute a sharp turn and steep dive to approach from upstream.

My favorite sequence of photos shows the eagle's approach to a fish on the surface, the snatch and the flight away to a feed perch. The moment of contact is graceful.

Often, the bird will look down to make sure it has a good grasp.

And, away it will climb to a secure place to consume the catch.  It does not intend to share this with anyone.

That said, there is a lot of attempted thievery among eagles, and that makes for interesting viewing. The eagle on the right is closing in to attempt a steal, knowing that the weight of the fish makes the other less agile.

Here is one such conflict that occurred close to the powerhouse one day.

Not all of the feeding is by eagles, here is a juvenile ring-billed gull with a smaller fish in its beak.  I found gulls even more difficult to follow in flight due to more erratic flights.

Another frequent bird is the double crested cormorant, which in this case was showing some nice hues.  The beak's end is perfect for grasping its prey.  They dive underwater to find their food.

While much of this occurs directly out on the river, some real excitement happens when an eagle comes directly towards the photographer on its way to the large sycamores behind fisherman's park. It makes for some great photos and for some terrible misses. This was my favorite from my last visit.

I'm already thinking about how to get back to Conowingo one more time this year with the  knowledge that it can get brutally cold on the river in December.  It is worth the challenge on the really good days.

Hope you enjoy the story of Conowingo, and if you are ever passing that way this time of year, it is a great visit with the best time usually before 10 am.

Paul Schmitt

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