Photographers vie for best eagle shot at Conowingo Dam
— The photographers arrived before dawn Saturday to stake out spots along the Susquehanna River, not to capture the peak fall colors, but the dozens of bald eagles that fished along the Conowingo Dam. More than 1,100 people gathered at Fisherman’s Wharf & Park for the fourth annual eagle day hosted by Exelon Generation, which operates the hydroelectric power plant. The event, which offered demonstrations from wildlife and nature organizations, aims to highlight the birds and wildlife at the park.
“It’s the best place to see eagles,” said Exelon spokeswoman, Deena O’Brien.
The Harford County park has long drawn fisherman, but has also become a popular spot for bird lovers and photographers, hoping to get “the shot” of the eagles as they scavenge for perch, gizzard shad and other fish.
The eagles are attracted to the area to feed on the fish in water released from the dam. The concentration of fish and the open view of the river from the shoreline make it one of the best places in the country to view bald eagles in nature, O’Brien said.
Sherman Wright, 58, of Linthicum, stood along a paved path that led to a narrow pebble beach. He said the spot he goes to every year — a cutout in the sidewalk by the parking lot — is the best spot because it’s often overlooked. “It’s so tight where you can’t turn two feet,” he said. Wright said he loves meeting other photographers whom he can learn from, and make new friends. “It’s like a fraternity,” he said. Along the paved path overlooking the water, photographers stood shoulder to shoulder, assembling tripods topped with cameras with massive telephoto zoom lenses. Many looked as if they were dressed to go hunting. Some wore rubbery boots or long wader pants, and many were heavily bundled for the cold weather.
Some hauled rolling camera bags with multiple cameras, and others brought coolers and set up camp chairs for the long day of shooting.
Gulls and cormorants regularly fluttered along the water’s surface, but the prized eagles would intermittently swoop into view, often leaving a perch from a nearby power transmission tower on Rowland Island.
When one eagle glided out over the open water, one photographer shouted, “right overhead.”
The idle conversations immediately stopped amid the scrum of the most dedicated photographers who arrived early for the prime spots at the edge of the wharf. As the eagle came into view, each photographer rushed to peer through the viewfinder of their camera and adjust the lens. The silence was quickly taken over by the sound of dozens of camera shutters going off at high frame rates.
One man joked it sounded as if machine guns were going off.
W hen an eagle would fly directly over the crowd, sometimes carrying a fish in its talons, some photographers would quickly reach for an untethered camera and follow the bird until it flew out of sight.
“You have to be quick,” said Susan Gregory, who was camped out with her husband Michael.
The couple spends many weekends shooting pictures together. “Photography, in general, takes a lot of practice,” Michael Gregory said.
The couple often travels from their home in Southern New Jersey to Conowingo for the eagles. They left Friday night and planned to stay at a nearby hotel for several days.
Michael Gregory said he enjoys nature photography, not only for the images, but the peace of the outdoors. “It’s relaxing,” he said. The best light for photos is in the mornings and evenings, when the light is the softest and the autumn colors are most pronounced, he said.
They planned to stay until about 4 p. m. to try to capture the best shot.
By about 10 a. m., he had already taken more than 600 pictures.