birds

Eagle Photography at Lock & Dam 14

It’s hard to believe, but another year has passed and I’m here again sharing about another trip to Le Claire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles. My presence on the blog was pretty much nonexistent last year, but I hope to make some changes and share more in 2019. I hope you’ll come back to check it out on occasion.

Note: Don’t forget to click on the images to see them larger and much more detailed!

This year’s trip started out like all the others, with a 5+ plus hour drive north on Interstate 35 to Des Moines, then east on Interstate 80 to Le Claire. It was mostly an uneventful drive, except for the last hour or so as some freezing drizzle was beginning to create some problems on the roadways. After white-knuckling it for the last leg of the trip, I checked into the hotel to get things ready for shooting the following morning.

January weather in Iowa, and in the Midwest in general, can be quite unpredictable. This was my 4th year making this trip, and weather the previous years had been somewhat mild. This year was a bit different. On Saturday morning, I woke up to a frigid temperature of -14 degrees. At least there wasn’t any wind to contend with. I made the short drive to L&D 14 to find that I was the second person to arrive for the day. L&D 14 can get pretty busy, as it has become one of the most popular locations for eagle photography. Even on this cold day photographers slowly poured in anxiously looking forward to putting some pixels on birds.

The first hour or so was a wash, as the fog on the Mississippi River was too thick to see, much less, photograph anything. There were, however, a couple of eagles perched in the trees above the parking lot. They don’t seem to mind all the people snapping photos. In fact, it’s almost like they enjoy posing for us photogs at times. The dense fog and frigid temps had created a coating of hoarfrost on all the tree branches, which made for some interesting images.

The heavy fog slowly cleared out for the most part. It remained overcast for the entire day and there were a few patches of fog every now and then. One thing that was consistent was that it was cold. I don’t believe the temperature ever got above 6 degrees. To top it off, there was not much fishing by the eagles all day. One would fly overhead now and then, but the action was very minimal. Bummer!

The view across the river from L&D 14.

The dark spots in those trees are eagles, but they stayed put all day.

Looking along the shoreline at the viewing platform. Not many people were out yet.

The nice thing about L&D 14 is how close you can get to the action, when there is action. The eagles typically fish the waters right in front of the viewing platform, which makes capturing images much easier. Another nice thing is that you park literally just a few feet from the river. On a cold day, that’s nice so you can hop in the car to warm up now and then. That was the name of the game on this day. Here are a few more images:

Going for a fish…

…and came up empty handed.

Coming in for a landing.

The second day was much different, weather-wise. Skies were clear and temps were “only” -4 degrees to start the day. It sounds cold, but what a difference 10 degrees and sunshine makes! The morning light was absolutely beautiful. There was more fog hanging over the water, but it was much thinner and allowed the morning light to shine through. Landscape photography is my favorite genre and this morning’s sunrise was right up my alley. I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless camera to focus primarily on landscape compositions for a bit.

The weather seemed perfect for some eagle action this morning, but they still were mostly staying perched in the trees. Oh well, with wildlife photography, you just have to take what you get and make the best of it. I didn’t get the shots I really wanted, but that’s OK. It was still a great time and I’ll be back again.

A look at the viewing platform bathed in the early morning sunlight.

Another Trip to Lock & Dam 14

For the past three years, I've made the 5 hour drive to the north and east of where I live to photograph the eagles at Lock & Dam 14. Located along the Mississippi River in LeClaire, Iowa, this location is well-known as one of the best places to photograph these majestic birds in action. It's not necessarily because it has the highest number of eagles. The real magic is in how close you can get to the river where the eagles are fishing. 

Taken last year, this image shows the boardwalk right along the river. Most people were standing along the river bank or on the boat ramp downstream from here this year. 

This year was a bit different than the previous years. Last February, a winter storm took out two trees that had been a mainstay at Lock & Dam 14 for many years. Those trees are where the eagles liked to perch and fish from, and their location typically placed the eagles directly in front of a slew of photographers standing on the boardwalk above the river. It was a perfect setup.

This image, also taken last year, shows the two trees that were lost in the storm last February.

Last fall, replacement perches were installed to take the place of those trees. The new perches are basically power poles with some extra cross members for the eagles to sit on. So far, the eagles have not taken to the new perches. When I was there the third weekend in January, they were fishing from a cove just down-river from the boardwalk. The best place to view the action was from the boat ramps along the edge of the wooded area. That meant that the eagles were not as close most of the time, but the number of eagles was really good and the activity was the best of the three years that I've been there. 

This shows the poles that were installed to serve as perches. According to the locals, the eagles don't want anything to do with them. Hopefully, that will change.

This has been a much colder winter than the previous two, which may have contributed to the higher number of eagles. The weather the first day was perfect, with some good light to make photographing the eagles much easier. They move fast and a really fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action. Having good light is important so the ISO doesn't have to be so high. The second day was completely overcast, but the eagles seemed to be more active. On both days, the morning was the best time to capture some fishing activity. 

It turned out to be another really great trip to LeClaire. Hopefully the eagles will begin to use the new perches by the time I return next January. The new trees that were planted won't be large enough for them to use for many years. Either way, it's always a great time, especially to catch up with some old friends and make new ones. 

In case you're interested in learning more about Lock & Dam 14, I wrote much more detail about the history in my blog post from a couple years ago. You can click this link to find that post: https://rusty-parkhurst.squarespace.com/new-blog/2016/2/10/the-eagles-of-lock-dam-no-14

Now for more images. If you follow me on social media, you may have already seen most of these. Enjoy!

The competition is fierce among the eagles. When one catches a fish, there is at least one other eagle looking for an opportunity to take it away.

There were lots of catches...

...and a few misses.

Heading for the trees with his loot.

We had a nice sunrise the first day I was there.

The pelicans caught their share of fish, too.

Moving in for the kill.

And he dropped it!

Waiting for their chance to steal a fish.

And another miss.

Hope you enjoy the images. If you're ever in the LeClaire, Iowa area in January, stop by and maybe I'll see you there. Thanks for reading!

The Eagles of Lock & Dam 14 (2017 Edition)

I made another trip up to LeClaire, Iowa back in January to see what the eagles were doing up there.  You may remember a post from early last year about my first trip there.  It was so much fun to watch the eagles, I decided to go back.  I met up with my friend Steve again, saw a few other familiar faces, and met some new friends as well.  

It is so amazing to watch these birds of prey swoop down out of the trees and catch fish out of the river.  Usually, after a catch, a chase ensues as another eagle will attempt to steal away the fish.  The incredible aerial maneuvers and acrobatics are always exciting to watch.  

Unfortunately, the eagle numbers were down this year due to much warmer weather and less snow on the ground and ice on water bodies to the north.  There wasn't nearly as much action as last year, but what little there was, was sure fun to capture.  Here are a few images from the trip. There are also a few landscape images thrown in for good measure.  

The eagles weren't the only ones that were hungry.

Early morning fishermen.

A little too close for comfort.

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.