The Eagles of Lock & Dam No. 14

About three weeks ago, I took a trip up to LeClaire, Iowa, to spend a few days trying to capture some images of eagles.  This was my first real foray into bird photography, so I wasn't sure what to expect or if I would get any decent photos of the birds.  Bird photography can be tough, especially capturing them in action in their natural habitat.  It sounded like a good time, though, and I like to challenge myself photographically, so I packed up and left on Thursday afternoon to make the 5 hour drive.

After an uneventful drive and arriving in LeClaire, I met up with my friend Steve, who is from Michigan.  Steve and I happened to meet early one morning in October 2013, waiting for the sun to rise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, and had kept in touch since then. He had been planning this trip for some time and invited me to come up and join him.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, we weren't sure if the weather was going to be cooperative.  The mild winter and little snow meant that the eagles had not journeyed down to this location and the numbers were really low.  However, after some cold and wintery weather a couple of weeks out, things were starting to look up.  We were not disappointed.

Just a bit of background before we move on.  Lock & Dam 14 is located next to Smith's Island on the Upper Mississippi River.  This area in Southeastern Iowa and Northwestern Illinois is known as the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area, consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois.  (Wait a minute...isn't that 5 cities??)  Construction of Lock & Dam 14 was completed in 1939 and it is operated by the United States Corps of Engineers. The Lock & Dam 14 Woodland Preserve is an approximate 9 acre area that has been set aside as important habitat for wintering bald eagles.  Because of the easy access and the proximity of the eagles, it is a very popular place for photographers to visit.  

Friday morning started out a little slow.  We arrived early in hopes of catching a nice sunrise, but the sky was overcast.  As it became light, we started to see eagles perched in several of the trees surrounding the area, but there was not much movement.  By mid-morning, however, the eagles were becoming more active and we captured some images of them fishing the river as well as some nice overhead shots.  By mid-afternoon, the action had slowed down considerably, so we decided to pay a visit to one of the other main attractions in LeClaire.  LeClaire is the hometown of the American Pickers, so we visited their shop and took a few photos.  Unfortunately, none of the stars of the show were around.

Saturday turned out to be the kind of day everyone hopes for when they come to Lock & Dam 14. The morning started out clear and crisp and we even got to the river early enough for some sunrise shots.  The sun hadn't been up long before the eagles started putting on a show.  One after another, they would swoop down from the trees and make a pass over the water to try and catch some breakfast.  It was really a lot of fun to watch, especially when one eagle would make a catch and 2 or 3 others would give chase in an attempt to steal it away.  By early afternoon, the boardwalk above the river was lined with photographers, rubbing elbows and trying to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot.  I'm not sure how many people were there at any one time, but there must have been hundreds that came and went throughout the day.  

Sunday morning was another overcast and slow-moving day.  There wasn't much action, neither from the eagles nor from photographers.  After bidding farewell to Steve and other new friends made while on the river, I headed for home by about noon.  It was a great trip with lots of opportunities for interesting shots and a chance to meet lots of new people.  My guess is that I'll be back to LeClaire, Iowa next year, and may even make it an annual event.  Now, time to end this already too-long post and get to some images.  I took over 2,000 photos on this trip, but these are just a few of my favorites.  Thanks for looking!  

This one appeared to be yelling at me.