Photographing Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam Sponsored by Ritz Camera & Tamro...
Conowingo is a wonderful place for the lazy photographer. The large parking lot is only a few steps away from several areas that are ideal for setting up to photograph the Bald Eagles and other water birds. The operators of the dam have constructed a very nice concrete deck with railings that is only a few feet above the water. It is large enough to easily accommodate 20 or 30 photographers with tripods. Fishermen share the deck but there is plenty of room for everyone; you may just want to get there very early if you are picky about where you want to set up. At the viewing deck the reservoir is fairly wide, probably 300-400 yards to the opposite bank where the eagles rest between fishing flights. If you're patient, a shorter lens will work as well, as there are often flyovers where the eagles are directly overhead. The viewing deck is ideal if your goal is getting clean, unobstructed flight shots.
Another great location is along the edge of the parking lot, which is about 25 feet above water level. A long chain-link fence along the reservoir extends a couple hundred yards and offers many good locations to set up. The large island in the reservoir narrows the reservoir to around 100 yards so any eagles fishing in that area will be close enough to get some good shots. After shooting both locations we decided that this area, while giving a fewer number of opportunities, was a better place to set up for fishing shots due to the shorter distances.
If you look closely in the trees behind the parking lot you will likely find several bald eagles resting or eating lunch. On both of our visits there were several eagles taking advantage of the secluded vantage point to avoid their catch being stolen other eagles. The trees around the parking lot are also a good place to hunt for the smaller bird varieties that are present in the area
•Your largest lens and a teleconverter. Tamron will have on site lenses to borrow and and use for Nikon and Canon
•A second body with a shorter lens (100-300mm) for the eagle flyovers
•A sturdy tripod
•Extra Batteries and Memory Cards
Cormorants: Large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants can now be found in all but the coldest months. They have increased substantially in the past decade and counts now regularly exceed 500 in the fall. In late fall Great Cormorant has been found the past four years in the flocks of Double-cresteds. It is anticipated that nesting by Double-crested, in the Great Blue Heron colony,is only a matter of time.
Black-backed Gull: Perhaps should be included in the regular list above. They have been found every year (persistent observations at the dam go back more than 14 years) and single-day counts have varied between 1-17. Lesser Black-backed is missed on fewer than five percent of the days between November and February. All ages are seen annually and first-winter birds are fairly frequent. There is a retaining wall in the center of the dam and an adult has been seen sitting on the wall almost every day in winter for at least a decade.
Iceland Gull: Present almost every winter. The high count is 11. Typically 1-4 are found. Most are first-winter birds but every age has been seen.
Glaucous Gull: Present most winters but less numerous and consistent than Iceland. Typically 1-2 are found and the high count is about 5. Almost all are first-winter.
Thayer's Gull: Present in at least half the years. Most years only one is found but the seasonal high is three. Most are first-winter or adult.
Slaty-backed Gull: A gull thought to be a Slaty-backed was seen by several hundred observers over a two-week period in the winter of 1998-99. Uncertainty exists about the range of variation in the species and although photographs and field notes seem to support the identification in many observers eyes, others retain some reservation. It is difficult to absolutely rule out hybrid origin on the basis of the available evidence.
California Gull: Found three times in winter. Probably overlooked because close observation of sitting birds is more difficult.
Common Gull: A single first-winter bird of the European race was reported by multiple observers several winters ago. A second report of a first winter bird, seen and photographed by dozens of people and widely circulated as a Common Gull, is now thought to be a slightly aberrant Ring-billed Gull. Controversy over the identification of the species in first-winter plumage has created uncertainty about the status of the species.
Common Black-headed Gull: Reported about six times. Records span the winter season.
Little Gull: Found twice, both adults with large flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls late in the fall.
Franklin's Gull: Two late fall records, both adults.