wildlife

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.

Top 10 of 2016 (#3)

Moving into the top three, the remaining images for 2016 represent some of my favorite times, photographically speaking, for the year.  There were lots of good memories made, and I like the images that go along with them, too.

Back in January, I took a long weekend to head up to LeClaire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles fishing the Mississippi River.  Wildlife, and particularly bird photography, has never really been my genre of choice, but my good friend Steve convinced me that this would be a great trip.  He sure wasn't wrong about that.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but rented a couple of super-telephoto lenses, packed up the photo gear and warm clothes, and headed north.

The first day was gray and pretty uneventful.  The eagles were there, but not very active. Saturday was a different story.  It was sunny, there were tons of eagles, and they must have really been hungry.  What an amazing treat to just watch them swoop down out of a tree to skim the water's surface and snag a meal for themselves.  Almost without fail, every time there was a catch, another eagle would try to steal away the fish.  It was so much fun to watch this and try to capture the action.  

This image was captured at about 2:30 that Saturday afternoon.  That usually isn't a great time to be out shooting, but the low angle of the sun and position of the eagle made some pretty good light.  By the way, I debated between this shot and a couple of others for the list, but decided this was the one I liked best.  

I learned a lot on that trip about photographing birds and anticipating the action.  I hope to be back up there again in January 2017 to see what I can capture.  

Camera Tech:

  • Focal length - 400 mm (even at that, this image needed some serious cropping)
  • Shutter speed - 1/2000th of a second (they were moving pretty fast!)
  • Aperture - f/8 (good middle of the road and sharp aperture)
  • ISO - 800 (even at mid-day, needed to boost ISO to keep shutter speed fast)

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.