Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 4: The Iowa Bald Eagles

This morning I could see the other side of the Mississippi River which was a good sign. The fog had lifted as the temperatures dropped. The trees were all frosty. On my way to customer appointments this morning, I saw bald eagles in trees along the way....kinda cool.

The sun peaked through briefly and the skies cleared by sunset but for the time I spend with the eagles today, the skies were still grey with some patches of blue skies here and there.

Tom and his wife left today after he spent an hour or two with the eagles. I arrived shortly before he left. There were only 3-4 photogs there (including us). Maybe 6 eagles in the area (that we could see). 4 eagles sat in the trees by the locks for a long time. Every once in  a while one would fly down, grab a fish then fly back up to his perch...but compared to the other days, the weather was better but it was dead (eagle activity wise)....Nothing was going on.... I even contemplated packing it in for the day...

> Then all hell broke loose!!

I was speaking with a photographer (Bob from Chicago) and his friend when suddenly the Lock and Dam folks opened up the locks of the channel where the eagles usually feed.... water rushed in for a few minutes and OUT OF NOWHERE in 1-2 minutes...we had eagles coming from ALL directions with a massive feeding frenzy of (we counted at least 10, I bet 15) eagles diving/fishing all at once.. it was the most unbelievable thing I have witnessed.

Bob and I were stunned. We didn't know what/who to photograph.. it was complete eagle chaos!  We had no warning or time to think. I had to change CF cards in the middle of this craziness with frozen fingers. My thumb was so numb (from the cold) and I couldn't feel to press the AF button any longer. It was wild! My heart was pounding....

After things settled down, another local photographer (who just arrived) told us a friend of his who works at the L&D called him and said they were going to open the locks and to get down there soon... but he arrived too late!  I guess the churning water makes the fish more plentiful, easier to catch thus causing this feeding behavior...not only for the eagles, but gulls and ducks had a feeding field day too!

The eagles were so close, it was difficult to track them... not to mention my fogged up viewfinder to make things more crazy... shooting when you can't see !

The guy said they only open the locks a few times/month so we were lucky to be there....

Tomorrow (weather wise) doesn't look good as an ice storm is coming. There may be no photos ops for Wednesday. I will have to play it by ear.

I posted two pics below. Both eagles (adult [top] and a juvenile) were part of the feeding frenzy. They were shot with the 500f4. These images were NOT cropped and unprocessed. RAW images converted to JPEGs for posting purposes.

Note: the look in their eyes.... It's dinner time!


  1. Dinner time is right and don't get in my way! Wow, Mark, I must say I am quite envious....Are you going back for the pelicans in April/May? I got good news--I got the 8th to the 11th off in June--YNP, here I come! Hoorah!

  2. Mark,
    Great shots, I have been folowing along in your Journey, Im envious of the trip and bummed I could not make it, But im gonna get up there before its all over.

    When they open the locks it causes fish to spill through, This action stuns the fish all sizes and creates the feeding frenzies you witnessed. nice shooting there, do you have the 100-400 side gunner with you? seems the push pull would be nice for getting on them and then filling the frame as you see fit.

    Great captures, enjoyed!!! Have a safe trip back!!!