Conowingo Dam 2015
American Bald Eagles congregate at the Conowingo Dam in Maryland.

If you follow me on Facebook (and if you don't, you should :-) ), you may recall in October 2015 I had my first encounter with an eagle in the wild. I was shooting a waterfall near High Bridge, NJ, when something flew over me. Something big. Really big. Honestly, I was like, "WTF was that?!?" I slowly turned around and watched as the biggest bird I had ever seen perched on a nearby branch. I was dumbfounded - and then super-excited - when I realized it was a Bald Eagle.

Of course, I had to get some photos. The problem was my telephoto lens was in my camera bag about 20 feet away. The bird - which I swear was the size of a small child - seemed to alternate his attention between me and the fish in the stream. I knew I only had a minute or less to get some shots so I quickly - but calmly - changed my lens. (I was so excited/nervous I almost couldn't get the lens out of the bag.) I finally did and quickly fired off a few shots, which was good because right after that, with one flap of his huge wings, he was gone. His wingspan was so big the tips almost touched the trees on either side as he glided away. For the next two hours I kept saying to myself, "I just saw an eagle, I just saw an eagle, I just saw an eagle!"

That encounter got me wanting more so I talked to some of my Facebook photographer peeps and found out that there is a hydro-electrical dam down in Maryland that is a very popular stopover for migrating bald eagles (along with hundreds of other birds - and, not surprisingly, photographers. More about all that in a minute.)

It's seven hours round trip so I got up really early one weekday morning and headed down there. Photographing birds in flight ("BIF" as people in the know call it) requires some pretty specialized equipment. Luckily I was able to borrow a super long telephoto lens. What I hadn't planned on was how cold - and windy - it was going to be. It was the first really cold day of the winter and I was freezing. But I was so excited that most of the time I didn’t even notice.

Because the dam churns up fish, there were literally thousands of birds there - mostly buzzards and seagulls. Eagles are by far the minority with only a dozen or two. The buzzards, in particular, can look similar to the eagles. Not really having a clue, I was firing away at anything that moved when another photographer shared with me that I was shooting buzzards - not eagles. He then showed me how to tell the difference. After some practice (and watching what he and all the other photographers were shooting at), I was able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. That said, I really appreciate his help - without it, this photo collection would be called “Buzzards” instead of “Eagles.” All in all it was really a lot of fun and I can’t wait to go back in March for the eagles’ return migration.
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