Photographing Bald Eagles at the Conowingo Dam


Once you fall for bird photography, the Conowingo Dam in Maryland beckons. The hydroelectric dam on the Susquehanna River is known to attract dozens of bald eagles in the fall. In their wake, an equal number of photographers and long, fast teles show up for an annual ritual of fishing, photographing and freezing.

The eagles, opportunists that they are, come for the fast food delivered to them courtesy of the Exelon Power Corporation which operates the dam several times a day, in the process stunning the fish that make the trip through the generators and making them easy prey for the big birds.

Like few other places, this predictable ritual allows photographers multiple spray-and-pray runs at fishing eagles and thus increases the chance for the money shot. One hour at Conowingo can deliver more payback than many freezing hours along the Hudson in mid-winter, as I can attest based on personal experience.

The season starts at the end of October and runs through the beginning of December, although there are always some eagles around. The height of the hunt is apparently around the Thanksgiving holiday. On weekends, the crowds of photographers, fishermen and onlookers do get large and parking space limited, but weekdays are manageable.

I was there at the end of October for two days and will return later this week for three days. I will write a detailed guide based on my experiences and talks with local shooters who have photographed here for years. For now, a few quick impressions and images.

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Stumbling into Bird Photography

Even in my early fifties, I sometimes realize how wrong I can be about myself. Which is a good thing, by the way. Keeps life interesting.

Take photographing birds.

It wasn’t for me. Apart from two early morning strolls through some swamp in Florida while attending a conference in the area years ago, I didn’t bother with it. I’m not much of an animal person, let alone a bird person. I never ‘got’ birding.

My early bird photography - Florida in 2003 with a 4-mp Canon 1D

                   My early bird photography – Florida in 2003 with a 4-mp Canon 1D

And while some images of birds can be gorgeous, it just didn’t look like it had much to do with vision. To me, one bird picture looked pretty much like any other bird picture. I could add one to the pile, but why would I?

Other genres of photography always struck me as offering better opportunities to do something unique. That particular angle to view a landscape, the street photograph depicting a scene that will never happen again, a model shoot that you direct and chose the lighting for…

Whereas a picture of a bird was just a picture of a bird.

Another 2003 Florida swamp shot

                                              Another 2003 Florida swamp shot

Even excellent bird images seemed a dime a dozen to me. Sure, it probably took skill, patience and some expensive cool gear, but as something to pursue it didn’t resonate. If you had asked me if I would ever take up bird photography, I would have answered with a resounding ‘no.’

And that would have been wrong.

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