Bald Eagles and Paparazzi
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In the 1960’s our national bird, the Bald Eagle, was in peril mainly due to the consequences of DDT. Less than 400 pairs were breeding in the lower 48 states and their fate was uncertain. The Bald Eagle became the ‘poster bird’ for federally Endangered Species. Now, four decades later, the species has made a tremendous recovery so much so that it has been removed from the federal list. On the east coast there may be no better place to see them in winter than at Conowingo Dam, on the Susquehanna River, just across the southeastern Pennsylvania border, in northeastern Maryland.
Finally we had a sunny day. Winter seems to be thinking about settling in with temperatures on a few days barely able to get out of the 20’s, and last Saturday was no exception. The Susquehanna River is the longest river in the east coast, winding its way from upstate New York through central Pennsylvania and into the Chesapeake Bay. Conowingo Dam stretches across the river north of Havre de Grace and Rte 1 runs across the top of the dam.
A handful of eagles can be seen here year round with a few attempting to build nests. The numbers build in the fall as birds move south in search of large open bodies of waters. From mid November through February there can be wonderful concentrations of eagles with peak numbers in early December. There were over 150 birds here the other day and Saturday was no different with over 60 birds in view at once! The river is wide and the eagles can be seen flying over the river, perched on the huge utility towers on the large island just south of the dam, in the trees on the far bank and on the boulders at the base of the dam. Tens of thousands of gulls, mainly Ring-billed and Herring add to the spectacle.
Equally impressive was the number of “avian paparazzi” lining the western bank besides the parking area. These enthusiasts certainly outnumbered the eagles. There had to have been a half million dollars of the latest camera equipment hanging from necks or sitting on tripods. From that observation one would not have deduced that the economy had headed south in recent months. Some were even decked out in the latest camouflage and strategically positioned at water level to get a classic shot of an adult Bald Eagle snatching a fish off the surface. Did they think the birds would notice them and stay away? Not here. They are very cooperative. While they patiently waited the rest of us were content with several birds, including the juvenile in the photo, perched less than 30 feet above our heads ripping apart tiny morsels of fish.
WOW! How cool is that? Seems like a place for us in SE PA to visit with ease…. I’m nearly a half century old and only this year have seen my first bald eagles… a pair perched on an electrical tower along busy Rt 30 in Lancaster. I rushed into the Wawa to tell them of the visitors to which they replied “OH, yeah, they’re there all the time!” (How to deflate my ballon quicker than you can say “bald eagle….” Oh well… it was good for me!)
It is amazing how complacent we can become. I bet the first time the eagle showed up there they were just as excited as you. It would be nice to have that excitement every time!