Once threatened to the brink of extinction throughout most of its range, the American Bald Eagle has made an amazing recovery considering 40 or so years back their numbers were dwindling. The threat consisted of habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of their food sources, due to use of the pesticide DDT. Based on the US Fish and Wildlife data sources, the year 1940 saw the first regulatory commitments for the protection of our majestic National Bird when Congress passed the “Bald Eagle Protection Act”, and was later amended to include golden eagles and renamed the “Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act”.
More regulations were to follow with the timeline consisting of the following additions by year: 1966 Endangered Species Preservation Act authorizes land acquisition to conserve “selected species of native fish and wildlife”, 1972 – Eagles gain protection under Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the use of DDT was banned in United States by the Environmental Protection Agency,
Image to the right: Captured in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge “Back-country”, Maryland …
1973 – Endangered Species Act signed into law which included the Bald Eagle on the list as Endangered, 1982 – Southwestern Bald Eagle Recovery Plan was established, 1983 – Northern States Bald Eagle Recovery Plan was imposed, 1986 – Recovery Plan for the Pacific Bald Eagle was established, 1989 – Southeastern States Bald Eagle Recovery Plan took effect, 1990 – Chesapeake Bay Bald Eagle Recovery Plan was established, 1995 – Final Rule to Change Status of Bald Eagle from Endangered to Threatened was imposed.
Then due to a “noticeable” recovery in 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published, in the Federal Register, a Proposed Rule to remove the Bald Eagle from Endangered Species Act protection. Then in 2006 re-opened a comment period on proposal to delist. The Bald Eagle was removed from the list of Threatened and Endangered Species on August 9, 2007.
“Mom and Pop”, Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, Maryland
The recovery of the Bald Eagle is truly an “American Success Story” in total and today we are blessed with numerous opportunities to observe, photograph and enjoy their presence. In fact, I have 4 to 5, if not more nesting pairs within a close proximity to my residence here in south-central Pennsylvania with many more within an easy drive. They’ve become a common sight perched or flying above throughout the year.
Although, I’m not much of an eagle photographer, I do enjoy the opportunities that occur, especially around my two nearby lakes in the area, and recently I’ve tried to concentrate more on “flight” than anything else. I do have close friends, one of which I will mention later that share total dedication, if not an obsession for these magnificent raptors.
“Sunrise on the Maple Dam Marsh” of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
One of my favorite “haunts” over the years has been exploring the “back-country” of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Dorchester County. A close friend, Larry Hitchens of Easton jokingly describes the area as “Lower Slower Dorchester” and his jest lives up to its name in more ways than one, but primarily for lots of off the beaten path roads and trails to explore. However, some are suited for four-wheel drive vehicles only, not so much the road surfaces themselves, but many flood with tidal brackish water or from heavy rains, and you sure don’t want to get all of your wheels off on the deceptive grassy shoulders alone or a tow truck may be necessary, “if your lucky and can reach one by phone”.
The refuge itself is expansive covering more than 28,894.35 acres, then adjoining the Fishing Bay Wildlife Management area virtually adding another 29,000 acres. The refuge has a Wildlife Drive which I humorously call the “Human Life” drive because in this day a time its more mimicking of a State Park. If you’re into watching people and socializing, it’s pretty much the place to be with joggers, walkers and bicyclist, not to mention sometimes heavy vehicle traffic enjoying the loop around the marsh and freshwater impoundments.
However, during the colder winter months, especially with waterfowl present, the drive can be fine for observation and photography when the birds are close in and the people visiting are far less. But the drive is not a favorite of mine and I can count the fingers on one hand as to the times I have driven it over the past 10 years.
“Eagle Rise”, the image to the left, was captured just a hundred yards down Maple Dam Road from where the sunrise image above was captured, I spotted the pair as I was packing up and quickly and quietly traveled down the road and took the image from a bean bag support sitting on my vehicle’s door window and was able to capture the same mood. It was a cold and frosty February morning and the beginning of a wonderful day exploring some of the back-roads and then spending the afternoon at the infamous duck photographers wall on the Choptank River.
“Twilight Three Year Old” Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland
The image above was captured just recently, 2020 on another chilly February morning and again along Maple Dam Road, but this time during the cusp of Nautical to Civil Twilight, about 35 minutes before sunrise. I had just finished walking the dog at the Shorter’s Warf boat launch and was slowly making my way back to the north when I noticed a faint strange object atop an old stump in the marsh close to the road.
I turned off my headlights and slowly crept forward until I was even with the mysterious object, turned off the ignition and tried to make out what it was. It was still quite dark with just a hint of a glow to the east reflecting across the marsh. I finally realized it was an eagle and foolishly tried to take a few shots.
It was a great test for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the new Sigma 70-200 Sports lens along with an ISO of 12800 at f4. I really didn’t bother to check the exposures on the LCD figuring the images would end up in the “recycle bin” anyway and I had wasted my time. Well, I was surprised to say the least…
“Who Dat?”, Juvenile Bald Eagle along Maple Dam Road giving me a curious look…
The refuge and the surrounding area are definitely the place to find eagles if your interested. The scattered Loblolly Pine shelter-belts throughout the area provide dispersed, but close together nesting locations and the accompanying waters, plenty of food. For the wildlife watcher the area offers an abundance of visual opportunities of numerous species of birds and mammals…
“The Chase is On”, Conowingo Dam, Harford County, Maryland
Located just below the Pennsylvania State Line on the Susquehanna River in Harford County Maryland lies one of the most popular Bald Eagle watcher/photographer locations in the United States, and is visited by these dedicated folks from all over our country. The hydro-electric turbine outflow and spillway from this old structure dating back to 1928, create a torrent of oxygen rich water favorable to fish and of course their predators which here creates a “Gathering of Eagles” sometimes in triple digit numbers, especially during the Fall months with their peak occurring in November. The Dam is presently owned by the Exelon Power Corporation.
“Overhead Youngster”, juvenile Bald Eagle at Conowingo
Not too many years back, the Exelon company built a “fisherman’s deck” closer to the rivers surface at the base of the dam which is very popular with the photographers allowing them a stable platform to set up their cameras and tripods for a much lower angle to capture the fishing eagles. During the busy season photographers can be shoulder to shoulder creating an almost “circus” like presence which is not for this old photographic hermit who strives for solitude. Today and at the peak of activity, parking can be scarce requiring long hikes, or the use of shuttle buses provided from satellite lots.
“Snack Time” with the catch above the Conowingo Dam parking lot..
For the past few years there has been much debate over the viability of the damn with some environmental groups wanting to see it removed and the dam’s existence is certainly in question as are other structures further upstream. Exelon, as well as previous owners have tried to cater to the concerns by environmental organizations and activists in the past with “lifts” for migrating fish and trying to keep the river free of floating debris, so only time will tell.
The dam is a visit any eagle lover should try to experience, even with the crowds and mobility headaches the active season creates. It is truly something to behold!
Living just above the Mason-Dixon Line in rural Adams County Pennsylvania, I am blessed to have several small reservoirs, a beautiful State Park and lake, along with a forested watershed and back-roads, all within a few minutes from my home. As an “aspiring naturalist” and photographer of nature, one couldn’t ask for a better location.
The lake and one of its coves have become lovingly so as my own “Private Conowingo” with much better scenery and colors than the Dam as well as very few if any people.
Over the past few years, a small group of us with similar interest in photography and nature have formed a Facebook gathering known as “The Tribe” where we can share our photo’s and get together on occasion. Lately that “cove” has become out meeting place, and quite often as of late.
This cove is also a favored feeding location of our resident Bald Eagles and Osprey families along with other raptors and a host of waterfowl and shorebirds during migration. I can set up right next to my Jeep and photograph from a lawn chair at water level.
Its by far not the constant eagle show as at the Conowingo Dam, but taking it easy, perhaps enjoying a conversation with friends and a little patience always pays off in dividends. Our subjects literally come to us and entertain. I hardly publicize the location because the last thing we want is another circus as the Dam has become over the past few years.
The images above and below are a fishing sequence I captured a few weeks back from our cove and some of the better “flight” captures I have of fishing eagles.
As I’ve mentioned before, “I’m not much of an eagle photographer, at least not in the past, but my interest has been quickly growing and I especially enjoy the camaraderie of our little group…
I would like to mention one very “special person” by name, Karen Lippy, and she has sort of adopted the role of “Eagle Momma” as far as I am concerned. Her dedication to our local eagles is unmatched by any means by her consistent vigilance and concerns. She spends many of her days driving around and keeping a watchful eye on their welfare, especially their nesting progress and she posts almost daily reports to our local group on Facebook. I, like others look forward to seeing her out and about and meeting up for a conversation or two. Karen has also published children’s books on our local eagles as well and they’re quite interesting and most of all fun. Here is a “highlighted” LINK to her website.
Finally, I hope everyone enjoyed a small presentation of my Bald Eagle photography and have the opportunity to get out and enjoy them on your own. I hope to spend more time in the future capturing their presence as well as my other interests. The “Stay at Home” directives during this Corona Virus mess have presented me with opportunities to accomplish a bit of work I have been wanting to finish. So, I wish everyone well and “Be Careful” if you’re out and about …. Happy Birding and Photography!