Floppy Wingbeats of the Short-eared Owl

March 09, 2017  •  2 Comments

The Short-eared Owl is an open-country hunter, much unlike forest-dwelling owls. They live in open terrain making them easier to see than most other owls and the best part is, especially for photography, they are often active during daylight hours, especially at dawn and dusk.  They are a very interesting hunter to watch as they fly low over the fields with floppy wingbeats somewhat resembling a giant moth.  The Short-eared Owl is often referred to as a marsh owl.

This is a compilation of my Short-eared Owl photographs made in the early months of 2017.  As usual, I like to toss in some information regarding the habits and habitat all while sharing my experiences.  I hope you enjoy the Short-eared Owl.

We were gaining a couple minutes of daylight with each passing day so I was unsure when the owls would begin to fly.  Most of the time they began to fly around the fields shortly before sunset leaving a short time for photography.  On this one day, with sunset an hour and 15 minutes away, I was very happy to see the owls in the air while the light was still good for photography. 

On a side note, in many of these images you will see cornstocks standing in a tee-pee formation called a "Corn Shock".  This is a practice followed by the Amish community to dry the stocks to be used at a later time for livestock bedding and other purposes.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Of course, as I sit here in my Pennsylvania home, the Short-eared Owls that I enjoyed photographing in January and February are already on their way north to their preferred nesting grounds.

There are exceptions though.  If the food is good, some may remain to breed.  They nest in slight depressions in the earth or sand lined with grasses, weed stalks and feathers.  They also use bushes or clumps of weeds to hide the nest where the female lays 4-7 eggs.

As you can see in the map to the left, Pennsylvania is designated as a winter (non-breeding) location.

Short-eared Owls have a wide global distribution and can travel long distances over vast expanses of ocean. Witnesses have reported seeing these owls descending on ships hundreds of miles from land.

The map to the left is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Aside from its North American range, the map also shows they are year-round residents of South America.  Not included on the map are Eurasia, and many oceanic islands, including Hawaii. 

Here is an interesting note: a Short-eared Owl subspecies, the Hawaiian owl or pueo (pronounced Poo-E-O), is Hawaii's only native owl.  It is said that Pueos may have descended from Alaska ancestors, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.

When not flying and looking for food, you can find Short-eared Owls sitting on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

It was such an enjoyable time watching these owls hunt the cleared corn fields.  The goal was to catch them on a close fly-by.  There was only one other photographer watching these birds on this one evening and we were treated with several close encounters.

I followed this bird as it flew past at a distance of approximately 50 yards.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

I followed in my lens and didn't stop shooting even when it disappeared behind a Corn Shock.  I was lucky to have its head framed in a small opening as it flew through the other side.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Here is the last frame as it continued to fly past me.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

With their broad, rounded wings and short tail, the Short-eared Owl is considered a medium-sized owl.  They look very large in the images of this photo blog but consider this... they are about the same size as the American Crow.  See the size information below from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

American CrowAmerican Crow

American Crow

Length: 15.7–20.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–39.4 in

Weight: 11.1–21.9 oz

Short-eared Owl

Length: 13.4–16.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–40.6 in

Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz

I watched this owl fly around for a little while before it landed on this leaning fence post about 50 yards away.  The photo on the left was made just after the owl fluffed up and "shook the dust off".  It looks very proud in the photo on the right.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The images I'm sharing with you in this photo blog weren't made in one evening.  This compilation was created over several days in one to two hour photography sessions.  Wildlife isn't very predictable.  Some days the owls began to fly later than other days and on a couple occasions, I didn't see an owl until it was too dark for photography.  One aspect I was grateful for is there were four owls occupying this location.  It was short lived but they gave us many opportunities.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

When Short-eared Owls roost during the day, they tend to practice a communal roosting behavior.  One day, a fellow photographer and I visited the field about 3 in the afternoon.  Standing roughly 80 yards away from the Corn Shocks, we used binoculars to thoroughly search each one for roosting owls.  After finding two inside or on the Corn Shocks, I continued to look on the ground and found the other two all within 25 yards of each other.

You can see in the photos below that they blend in well with their surroundings.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This is a cell phone image of the field and Corn Shocks where the owls were roosting.  I don't expect you to be able to see the owls.  That's the point I want to make!  They are very well hidden.

 

Here is a short video that gives you another chance to get a look at the four owls roosting in the corn and on the ground.  It contains a short clip of each owl and yes, it was very windy!

Short-eared Owls

 

Short-eared Owls like large, open areas with low vegetation like prairies, meadows, tundra, marshes, dunes, and agricultural areas.  Their winter habitat is similar, but is more likely to include large open areas within woodlots, stubble fields, fresh and saltwater marshes, weedy fields, dumps, gravel pits, rock quarries, and shrub thickets.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As you can see in many of the photographs, the Short-eared Owl hunts by flying low over the ground, often hovering before dropping on prey. It is reported that they find prey mostly by sound; sight is secondary.  They are a fairly silent owl but occasionally sounds an emphatic, sneezy bark, "keaw keaw", or a hooting call can be heard.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The short-eared owl’s ear tufts are small and hard to see, but its ear openings are large and its hearing is excellent. 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Although you can't tell, owls have long skinny necks.  Their long, thick feathers make it look short and fat.  Because of that long neck and the fact that a bird's head is only connected by one socket pivot, they can twist that long neck about 270 degrees without moving their shoulders.  I suppose that helps to accommodate for the fact that their eyes are fixed inside their heads.  They cannot roll their eyes around as humans do.  In order to look around, they have to move their entire head.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

During the winter, they favor low-light conditions which is unfortunate for wildlife photographers. It is fun to watch and photograph these owls flying low over the ground, sometimes hovering briefly.  I used a Canon 1DX MKII, Canon 600mm f/4L IS II, and a Canon 1.4 teleconverter III for all of the owl photos this season.  That equipment handles low light very well but it is still a challenge.  The test is to manage shutter speed with ISO (camera sensor sensitivity) for the best image quality possible.  Whenever I get home and delete 900 out of 1000 photos I realize how much improvement I have yet to make.  Of course, we also have the ability to lighten up the image in post-processing using software like Photoshop.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As I said earlier in this blog, after flying around looking for food, they will sit down on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Short-eared are extremely maneuverable in the air, able to drop suddenly to capture prey or climb to avoid pursuers.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

So as they fly around, just what are they looking for?  Mostly rodents.  They feed mainly on voles and mice.  They are also known to eat shrews, rabbits, gophers, small birds, and rarely bats and muskrats.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

They use acute hearing to hunt small mammals and birds.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This Short-eared caught its dinner and is looking for a place to sit and eat.  Many times, other owls or Northern Harriers will try to steal the food.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared Owl populations are difficult to estimate but there have been declines in Canada.  The declines are blamed on habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development.

Since Short-eared Owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, they are sensitive to habitat loss. There are habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, that have shown some success in restoring habitat on private land.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs in this photo blog.  There are many more images in my Short-eared Owl gallery if you would like to see these and many more photos of Short-eared Owls.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Who Can't Find Wildlife in the Winter?

February 09, 2017  •  1 Comment

When winter comes there are certain birds and animals I like to search out and photograph.  Those subjects are usually the focus of their own photo blog.  Sometimes I find what I'm looking for and many times I don't but there is always wildlife found along the way.

In this photo blog I want to share some images I made since Christmas.  I hope you enjoy.

This little Black-capped Chickadee is picking at the fruit of a Staghorn Sumac.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

I made a trip to Erie, PA one day in hopes of finding a Snowy Owl on the beaches.  After the long walk to Gull Point, I was disappointed that there wasn't a Snowy Owl.  On a bright note, I found the largest gull in the world, the Great Black-backed Gull.

Great Black-backed GullGreat Black-backed Gull

 

Ring-necked Pheasants love farming areas mixed with areas of taller vegetation, which they use for cover.  I've been finding this guy pretty regularly.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

He was very alert as he fed in the corn field.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

This video is almost six minutes long.  So, what in the world is so exciting about watching a Ring-necked Pheasant for six minutes?  You'll have to watch and see!  I'll give a hint: He must have heard another male pheasant in the adjacent brushy field. 

Keep in mind throughout this video that I didn't know which way he was going to run so sometimes I couldn't keep up with him. It's comical to watch anyway.  Also, I didn't have my external microphone with me so the grinding noise you will hear is the focusing mechanism of the camera's lens.  One of my pet peeves about shooting video with a DSLR.

Ring-necked Pheasant

 

I found this Bald Eagle pair perched nearly 300 yards away.  It's amazing the detail, even at great distances, you can capture when there is good light.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The following image doesn't have the best composition but I have to share it because it's my first ever photograph of a White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned SparrowWhite-crowned Sparrow

 

Horned Lark are my nemesis bird to photograph.  I find large flocks of them feeding in farm fields during the winter.  They especially like it when the farmers spread manure.  Of course, they fly when I approach.  I'll sit in my vehicle waiting for their return and they seldom do.  I'm just not having much luck with this bird.  One day, they did come close but they put themselves between me and the sun.  Not the best way to photograph anything but hey, I'll take it.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

You can see the little tuft of feathers on its head that makes it look like it has horns.  Hence, Horned Lark!

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

I'm going to finish this photo blog with a Sandhill Crane show.  I made all of the following photographs of two separate flocks in one evening.  As I processed the images, I discovered I had several unique images so I'm including them all here for you to see.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This photo was made during a little fluffing of the feathers.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A lone walker slips away from the flock.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

These two were walking together but feeding on their own sides of the imaginary line.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

As I watched this small gathering of cranes, another flock flew past and landed on the other side of the hill.  They got the attention of all but one of the group in front of me.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A little preening never hurt anyone.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This Sandhill Crane stood with its legs crossed for several minutes.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This image is one of my favorites.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

Just like clockwork, as the sun is setting the Sandhill Crane becomes restless and take off to wherever they are going to roost that night.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo blog.  I am currently photographing for a photo blog documenting Short-eared Owls.  I'm focusing on their stay in Pennsylvania and hopefully some other information that may be new to you.

Until next time,

Dan


Conowingo Eagles: An Experience Worth Sharing

January 15, 2017  •  2 Comments

Some experiences are just worth sharing.  Actually, when I find something exciting, I like to include others in hopes they feel the same way.  After Tom Dorsey and I spent a few days photographing Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, MD, we discussed a return trip as we drove home.  Thanksgiving was only a few days away and Tom and his wife Jeanne already decided to go back the following weekend.  My wife, Elena, said since the weather is nice, we should go too.  Looking back, it's a good thing we did because we haven't had very good traveling weather since.

This is the second blog documenting my 2016 trips to photograph Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.  If you are interested in reading the first blog, "November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam", published on January 6th, you can read it here.

This visit was a jam-packed one-night stay in Maryland.  We wanted to show our wives as much as we could while logging some quality time along the river.

The trip east began with a threat of snow but we didn't see any until the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania.  You just never know what kind of weather you will find crossing the mountains. Snow and fog forced the turnpike speed to be reduced to 45 mph and we were very happy to reach the other side.  Once we had the mountains in our rear view mirror, the sun came out.  I was glad because we had one stop planned before reaching the dam that afternoon.

There had been a rare Tropical Kingbird seen around the marina in Peach Bottom, PA.  I've never seen one so I had to at least look.  When we arrived at the marina there wasn't a sole in sight.  I drove along the railroad tracks and there were no trespassing signs everywhere.  I thought we'd see a few birders but there was nobody around.  So much for seeing my first Tropical Kingbird.

We arrived at the dam and set up along the water.  We kept in touch with Tom and Jeanne along the way and they were about 1/2 hour behind us.  Our Bald Eagle weekend was about to begin!

Here is a juvenile with a little sunlight on its tail feathers.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Double-crested Cormorants are plentiful at the dam.  It's interesting to watch them dive for food because you never know what they will come up with.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Elena frequently joins me on photography outings and has seen many Bald Eagles but it was exciting for me to introduce her to her first fishing event.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Look at the size of those feet!

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you read my previous blog, you will remember the grist mill Tom and I visited last week in Susquehanna State Park?  We decided to go back and explore the grounds.  Here, Elena was enjoying a view of the Susquehanna River behind me. Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkElena Gomola
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This area has so much history and we could spend days exploring it all. Rock Run LandingRock Run LandingSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Below, Tom is discussing the old bridge piers with Jeanne.  The remnants of the piers, mentioned in the signpost in the photo above, are shown below.

Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkTom & Jeanne Dorsey
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD
Remains of Bridge PiersRemains of Bridge PiersSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD


There is a connection to some Pennsylvania history as well.  A man, Confederate Brigadier-General James J. Archer, born in this house, was captured in Gettysburg, PA during the American Civil War.

Rock Run HouseRock Run HouseSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This is an upper view of the grist mill showing the canal where water once flowed to power the water wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Water traveled through the upper canal, entered this pipe, and spilled over the wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Tom was an excellent tour director explaining how the water powered the grist mill's grinding mechanism. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Of course, once evening came we had to take our wives to the Port House Grill in North East, MD for the best crab cakes we've ever had.  Once again, if you haven't read my previous blog November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam, you're not getting the whole experience.

__________

 

Sleeping in and casual breakfasts don't happen when you are on a wildlife themed photography trip.  I'm glad Elena is okay with that because we scraped up whatever we could for breakfast and arrived at the dam before sunrise.  Not long after it was light enough to make decent photographs, this adult eagle swooped down in front of us to make a catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the golden hue of the harsh morning sun makes photography difficult, it also adds an element that is indescribable. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

With tail feathers tinged by the sunrise, this juvenile Bald Eagle goes in for the catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

After making a successful catch, survival instincts kicked in and a juvenile began a chase.  Once again, the harsh morning light presents problems with exposure but I like the realism of this scene.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There is a lot of acreage in front of you at Conowingo Dam so when a hunting eagle circles close, you need to keep your camera lens focused at all times. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This eagle was pretty far out in the river when I saw him dropping to make a catch.  It was one of the few times they fished towards me so I photographed the sequence despite the distance and the shadows.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although you can't see the fish, this eagle is still dripping water after making a catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle makes a catch and other eagles begin to chase, it usually ends in one of three ways.  The eagle either drops the fish, has the fish stolen in a fight, or gets away to enjoy its meal.  After escaping the chase of several eagles, I continued to follow this eagle as it flew across the face of the dam.  Suddenly, a resident Peregrine Falcon swooped in on the much larger Bald Eagle.  

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the falcon is much faster then the eagle, it quickly gave up its chase and allowed the eagle to pass.

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

You've seen my photos of an eagle pulling a fish from the water in a big splash and also photos with the fish getting tossed into the air on a rare miss.  In order to give you an idea of the force the eagle's talons enter the water and grab the fish, take a look at the next photo.

The power of this juvenile's legs and talons grabbed this fish in a sweeping motion and the momentum carried the fish all the way up into its tail feathers.  Now that's power!

Bald Eagle MomentumBald Eagle MomentumConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once in the air, it looks like this juvenile eagle has two kinds of tails.  One feather and one fin. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is another chase for a fish that happened all the way across the river.  Most photographs to do not look good being cropped from that distance but sometimes the camera grabs perfect focus and allows a decent image to be created. Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The shoreline was extra crowded on this day.  Visiting the dam on Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be an idea shared by many. Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

One of the smaller bird species you'll find at the dam are Rock Pigeons.  They seem to take off and land in flocks providing a show for this juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on a wall.

Bald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsBald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once again, on the other side of the river, an adult eagle was chasing a fish carrying juvenile.  This time they had an audience such as this Great Blue Heron.   Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is good light on a Double-crested Cormorant.  When springtime comes, the eye-color of the cormorant will be a brilliant aquamarine that sparkles like jewels, and a mouth that is bright blue on the inside.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles that fly over our heads are heading to the trees behind the lineup of photographers.  They perch there during the day and will also go there to eat.  It is a nice opportunity to photograph the Bald Eagle while sitting on a limb but I usually don't go up there because, in my limited time at the dam, I don't want to miss a fishing event or a fight above the water. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is a juvenile gliding on the wind. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Some people like to have the dam structure in the background to have the element of nature and industry in one photograph but I try to keep it all natural if I can.  However, this eagle spotted a fish and made an abrupt turn in great light and I couldn't pass it up. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

I think I'll finish off this photo blog with three flight shots.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

  Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

That was my final trip to Conowingo Dam for 2016.  We had a great time and Elena and Jeanne definitely want to go back. There is only one thing I'd change.  I will never again drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Thanksgiving weekend.  So much traffic and so many accidents really made the trip home a long one.

If you are interested in seeing these and other Bald Eagle photos I've made over the last several years, be sure to check out the Bald Eagle gallery in the Birds of Prey section of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam

January 06, 2017  •  5 Comments

Just how many photographs of Bald Eagles does one need?  As many as you can get is the answer.  Maybe it's an obsession with getting the "perfect" photo.  Maybe that "perfect" photo doesn't exist because no matter how good a photo is, you will always try to get a better one.

November rolled around once again just like it always does and my photography efforts were focused on the White-tailed Deer rut, which was in full swing.  Lingering in the back of my mind was my upcoming trip to Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland to photograph Bald Eagles with my good friend Tom Dorsey.  This was our second year visiting the Dam and I have such a great time, I hope it's the second of many.

Instead of going into detail about the dam and why the eagles are so attracted to it, I'm just going to direct you to my 2015 photo blog "World Famous Conowingo Eagles", where that information is covered thoroughly.

This year, Tom and I planned three days of shooting along the shore of the Susquehanna River a short distance below the powerful turbines of the dam.  However, the phrase, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” seems fitting for this weekend.  A winter storm moved a little quicker than expected and cut our trip short by one day.

In this photo blog, I hope to share our experiences in this beautiful part of our country as we visited local restaurants, historic structures in Susquehanna State Park, and of course, photographed Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.

We spent a few late afternoon hours at the dam on our travel day.  We didn't have a lot of action to photograph but during that time, we met up with one of Tom's internet acquaintances.  Before the day was over we became good friends with Fernando "Fern" Trujillo, one of the administrators for the Facebook group "Conowingo Wildlife Photographers".  We all enjoyed dinner and shared photography stories at Woody's Crab House in North East, MD.

The next morning is when we got serious.

One of the coolest sights is to watch an eagle hunting for fish.  They may circle low or they may circle high but when they spot their prey, they drop their legs like the landing gear of an airplane and glide in to make their catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

But that's not always the case.  Sometimes you can be following a bird in your lens when all of a sudden, it disappears.  They can go into a complete dive and it happens so fast I have a hard time keeping up.  I have to admit, keeping up with a diving Bald Eagle would take a lot of practice.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Photographing the catch is one of the fun parts of photographing the eagles.  Just like an airplane, birds usually take off and land into the wind so the direction they fish depends on which way the wind is blowing.  We all hope for the eagle to be close and flying towards us when they make the catch but it doesn't always happen that way.  The photographers usually have to settle for profile photos like in the following series.  Take note of the water ripples reflecting onto the underside of the eagle as it approaches the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles are great fishermen but hey, none of God's creations are perfect. 

Bald Eagle Drops Its CatchBald Eagle Drops Its CatchConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This is the perfect time to talk about the light at Conowingo Dam.  It can be very harsh at times and if you are shooting before noon, you can be fairly certain that half of your subject will be lit up and the other half will be in the dark.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There are visitors from all over the world seen at the dam November through January.  I even saw one from out of this world.

Generation X PoodleGeneration X Poodle

 

All joking aside, Tom and I like to set up along the water because we like the perspective and we have good conversation with the people shooting along side of us. 

Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

Here are a few more Bald Eagle photos before we break for lunch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you are a reader of my blogs you already know that it takes five years for a Bald Eagle to develop its signature white head and tail. The eagle in the next photo is probably a four year old.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle picks a fish from the water it's not a delicate grab.  This immature eagle went in for the catch, missed, and flipped it in the air.

Bald Eagle Missing FishBald Eagle Missing FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It looks like this eagle was shot out of a canon.  But I shot it with a Canon.  Get it?  Ha ha! That's okay if you don't, camera people will.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Ah, finally time for lunch.  Same as last year, we had to go to the Union Hotel in nearby Port Deposit, MD.  Great food and a lot of history surrounds you.

Union HotelUnion HotelPort Deposit, MD

 

Once mid-afternoon arrives, the sun begins to fall below the hillside behind you and most of the photography is best when the bird is in the air.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It's not even 3:00 and we are standing in the shade.  Space along the river was limited so Tom had to set up on a little island that I quickly dubbed "Dorsey Island".

Tom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandTom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once the shade touched the far shoreline we decided to pack up and leave.  Before our trip, Tom was researching some historical areas that we could visit in the waning light of the day.  We drove about 10 miles to the Susquehanna State Park and a 1700’s grist mill.  The park’s dense woodlands are on the eastern edge of the Cerulean Warbler’s range making it a popular place for birders in the spring. 

1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

There is a trail running along the Susquehanna River that connects to the Conowingo Dam parking lot.  When you are looking west from along the river, you can see Conowingo Dam in the distance.

Susquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

Maryland's #1 Crab CakeMaryland's #1 Crab CakePort House Grill in North East, MD

I have to give a plug for a restaurant in North East, MD.  We ate dinner at the Port House Grill which has award winning crab cakes two years running.  All crab meat; no filler.  I posted the photo of my meal to the left to show off the large, sweet lumps of Maryland crab meat.

We arrived at the dam the next morning before sunrise.  It was very foggy and when the sun finally came up, you couldn’t look down river because of the bright yellow glow.  I think this boatload of fishermen was a popular subject of many of the photographers along the river that morning.

Early Morning FishermenEarly Morning FishermenConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

One aspect of photography that you really need to practice at Conowingo Dam is to use manual camera settings.  If the bird is flying below the horizon, you can get away with aperture priority or shutter priority but you can’t make that guarantee because the birds fly high and low giving the photographer an ever-changing background, playing havoc with the camera sensor.

Every now and then I would verify that I am still on the correct settings by photographing the gray sunlit wall of the dam and checking the histogram.  If not correct, I’d change the settings and repeat.  It just so happens I was in the process of making changes when an event all photographers are waiting for happened right in front of me.

When an eagle catches a fish, one or more eagles in the immediate area begin to chase the eagle with the fish.  If they catch up, the fish may be dropped or we may get to see a scuffle between the eagles when the others try to steal the fish.  That occurred within 100 yards in front of me and I caught it with my camera.  Now for the bad news!  Because I was making exposure changes, all of the images were overexposed.  I managed to salvage them in Photoshop but a properly exposed photo would have produced a better overall image.

This is a six photo series of the steal attempt ending with a chase.  Click on the small photos to see them larger.

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

While photographing the elk rut last September, Tom introduced me to Mark Hendricks who resides in the Baltimore area.  Mark drove up to see us and spend the day until we had to leave to beat the incoming winter storm.  Mark is a professor, professional speaker, author, and photographer and is a true pleasure to hang out with. Good FriendsGood FriendsDan Gomola, Mark Hendricks, and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The weather was so beautiful that we didn't want to leave and the wind began to change directions in our favor allowing eagles to fish toward us.  Just as we decided to pack up our gear the following eagle dropped out of nowhere and picked a fish out of the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Even though it was a sunny day with temperatures above 70, the winter storm was beginning across northern Pennsylvania.

One Week After Super MoonOne Week After Super MoonConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Luckily, there was a walking club at the dam that day having a walking event and they had a booth selling snacks, hot dogs, brats, and drinks.  After lunch we bid farewell to Mark and headed for northern Pennsylvania.

Good FriendsGood FriendsMark Hendricks and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The outside temperature dropped 50 degrees between Darlington, MD and DuBois, PA and was accompanied by strong winds.  Snow was falling but we made it home just fine.

By the way, there is one more Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog coming soon.  After checking the weather and mulling it over during the Thanksgiving break,  my wife Elena and I met up with Tom and his wife Jeanne the following weekend for more Maryland fun and photographing Bald Eagles.

View the next Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog now by clicking here.

Until next time,

Dan


Wrapping Up Autumn With Feathers and Fur

December 20, 2016  •  2 Comments

The 2016 Winter solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 5:44 AM on Wednesday, December 21st.  To many people, that means winter is just beginning.  To a wildlife photographer, it also means we’re going to have a couple additional minutes of sunlight added to each day. 

Those couple minutes add up quickly and soon I’ll be able to photograph after work again and not be forced to wait until the weekend.  With the 2016 autumn coming to an end, I thought I better share some of the photographs I’ve made in the last couple months.  Once again, it’s kind of a catch-all photo blog because wildlife is too special to not be shared.

When the Crab Apple is ripe in October my backyard is flooded with birds taking their turn to pick the tart treat.  There are a lot of American Robins but I really like photographing the Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

One day this year we had about 100 little beauties in the trees.  They took turns going to the Crab Apple tree.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here are a couple waxwings sitting on a rock near my backyard fish pond.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Time for a drink.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here is a short video compilation of the activity in my back yard.

Backyard BirdsCedar Waxwing, American Robin, and Dark-eyed Junco

 

One blustery, cold morning I was at Moraine State Park when I saw a small flock of Hooded Mergansers floating near the shoreline.  I slowly made my way toward the shore while keeping trees between me and the ducks. Hooded Mergansers seem to be frightened very easily so I wasn't surprised when they all took off out over the lake.  I walked along the woods to a picnic table where I sat up on the edge of the bench a couple feet from the shore.  As I sat there watching a few gulls fishing in the distance, this male Hooded Merganser swam out of the wooded shoreline and headed toward me.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserMale

 

Thrush's are usually a difficult bird to find but this fall I saw several Hermit Thrush.  This one was found in a wild grape vine.

Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Hermit Thrush enjoying the fruits of the wild. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Most of the time I see Gray Squirrels busy doing something from finding nuts to breaking open nuts to burying nuts in the ground.  I seldom see them at rest.

Gray SquirrelGray Squirrel

 

The Brown Creeper climbs trees from bottom to top, in a circular motion, looking for insects in small crevices.  If you think about it, nature is amazing.  A nuthatch does the same thing except in the opposite direction.  They circle the tree from top to bottom.  Between the two, they find insects that the other misses because of their direction.

Brown CreeperBrown Creeper

 

The Blue Jay is one of the loudest and most boisterous birds in the forest.  This one was making his presence known.

Blue JayBlue Jay

 

The Field Sparrow has to be one of the cutest little birds in the sparrow family.

Field SparrowField Sparrow

 

We have to wait until autumn to find a White-throated Sparrow.  When they come, they come in large flocks.

White-throated SparrowWhite-throated Sparrow

 

Even though the Yellow-rumped Warbler loses most of its beautiful colors during the summer, there are still enough left for an easy identification.

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped Warbler

 

I was watching a small herd of White-tailed Deer when this doe's attention was diverted by a nearby noise.  She began to flag her tail before running over the hill.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is a small family of Sandhill Crane.  Young Sandhill Crane have dark eyes and as they get older, their eyes become yellow-orange to scarlet.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A youngster is leading the flock on this tight takeoff.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

The Ring-necked Pheasant is not native to Pennsylvania although they are a popular game bird.  It's always a treat to find one that doesn't run off into the dense weeds.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

Wish I had this crowing male on video but I don't.  Maybe next time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

There was a second male with a longer tail but he stayed hidden most of the time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

I hope you enjoyed viewing the photos in this blog posting as much as I enjoyed making them.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to spend a few days photographing America’s national bird, the majestic Bald Eagle, during migration at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland.  I am working on a photo blog to share my experiences and photographs so keep checking back, watch for an email or Facebook notification after it’s published. 

If you would like to be added to my email list for Photo Blog notifications, send me an email through my contact page and I will add you.

Thanks for looking,

Dan