During the past week were were fortunate enough to have sub-freezing temperatures across the region, signifying the beginning of one of my favorite parts of the season – the congregation of much of the mid-western population of Bald Eagles at the lock and dams along the Mississippi River. Although we will still need to wait a couple or few more weeks for the large numbers, hoping for the cold in order to freeze the river completely, I was still able to make a few photos of fishing birds at Clarksville’s Lock and Dam #24 yesterday. The image below, showing what I believe to be a late-second year bird just before impact, is an early favorite.
The next image is a head-shot of an adult bird from a nice walk-through of the World Bird Sanctuary that Sarah and I took over the holiday break.
Finally, my first successful photos of a Glaucous Gull. This 1st winter bird was photographed yesterday as I tried to make some eagle fishing photos at Lock and Dam #24 at Clarksville MO. In an interesting coincidence, I ran into Brenda Hente, from Great-Horned Owls Will and Kate fame, and Danny Brown, from MDC Photography fame.
Earlier in the day I joined Josh Uffman, from uber birder fame, and the hoard of birders from across the country at Lock and Dam #21 at Quincy, looking for what is likely the most famous bird in the nation – the Ivory Gull. Unfortunately, this was to turn out to be the first day the bird was not successfully found since its discovery on or about 2-January. I am so glad Steve and I headed there last weekend to get a look and a few pics (yet to be posted).
There are so many reasons I love spending time at Clarksville watching the eagles. One of the primary reasons this is so much fun for me is the glimpse that it provides of the biology and everyday life of these birds. I can never predict what the birds will be doing or even where they will be on a particular day. Try and use the weather patterns to predict their numbers and when and where they’ll be fishing or finding a meal. More than likely you’ll be wrong. Just recently I was somewhat disappointed during a trip where I thought the conditions would be perfect for some photography of some wild fishing activity. Nope. During that day the birds were in the hundreds, but primarily concentrated near the ice-line about a half mile downstream. I guess maybe they were finding meals in the disappearing ice?
So, here are a few interesting things that I think only still photography can give one a glimpse of.
You see this in a lot of the eagle shots that I post. I love that the birds always look closely at their catch, even as they are still getting the air back underneath their wings. Every-time they do this. I’m not sure if they’re inspecting the size of their meal, or if perhaps they’re just ensuring a good foothold on their prey.
Next is something I noticed while I was watching in the middle of one of our extreme cold spells this winter. There were not great numbers of birds fishing immediately below the dam, but those that were there were fishing like crazy! I saw several instances of what you see here: birds with obviously stuffed crops were still picking them up left and right. I wondered if these might be animals with chicks in nests nearby.
Finally for tonight, here is one I was fortunate to catch a frame of. This fish was so large and the eagle was travelling so quickly that the inertia rips the single leg that had a strong hold backwards. The bird seemed to barely hold on.
We finally seem to be primed for an excellent winter for viewing and photographing eagles at the Clarksville Dam. Steve and I visited for a couple of hours during a birding trip up Hwy 79, where surprisingly we were fortunate to find a little bit of nice light. Here are a few I think are worthy to share. I’m looking forward to paying another visit after a week or two in the deep freeze with hopes the ice will bring more birds and closer opportunities. Come on winter!