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.

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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


Comments

Donna Mohney(non-registered)
Wow, Dan, what a great series of photos! Love the peregrine chasing the eagle!
Marianne(non-registered)
Dan, I love the eagle pictures. This series was the best. Wonderful pictures
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