A Sight to Warm the Heart

One of the joys of living on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is the annual Gathering of Eagles that begins about this time in the Fall.

Yesterday I got up early to try my hand at shooting the eagles that fish in front of the dam. I will state right up front that despite my being a pro landscape and wildlife photographer, I rarely shoot birds. My hat goes off to bird photographers, but I’ve never had the patience to master the art (nor, I will be quick to add, the spare cash for a 600mm or 800mm Nikkor lens!). Besides, at this point in my career, I am not eager to lug around one of those monster lenses needed to freeze those little critters. Give me a grizzly any day!

Still, when I arrived at the Conowingo Dam, a world-famous eagle photography spot just 15 minutes from my home, I was pleasantly surprised to see 70 or more photographers lined up. My hasty calculations came up with a figure of well over a million dollars of equipment in just that 100 yards of Susquehanna riverfront.

Aside from photographers, there were many birders, their binoculars searching for eagles and shore birds. Below us, on the river’s edge, fishermen ignored all the fuss and cussed at pricey lures eaten by rocks and submerged logs. And hikers constantly walked by, enjoying views of the birds, river and forest of Susquehanna State Park. What set right with me was so many people enjoying our natural world, counterposed against a man-made feat of engineering.

One of the features that attracts up to 100 eagles during the winter is the fact that the action of the dam spilling fast-moving water into the river below is that the water near the dam never freezes. That afford eagles a supply of food whenever they need it. So even in January’s cold temps, photographers have ample opportunities to photograph these birds.

One final matter to mention; all is not well with the Conowingo Dam. After decades of use, the sludge that has built up behind the dam is full of toxic heavy metals. Those of us living downriver live in fear of a dam breach. The feds, state government and the dam owners have been searching for years for a way to deal with this looming environmental threat. I shudder to think of what would happen to us, and our winged friends, if a disaster happened before we act.

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