Posted by: merlyn9 | 12 January, 2009

The Eagle’s are Among Us!

It’s that time of year again when the Eagles migrate down the Mississippi River for the Winter.  Young and old they gather around the Locks and Dams during the cold weather months from Wisconsin to Alton, Illinois.


Me... Shooting the 500mm at perched Eagles at L&D #14

While the weather is cold, freezing or below, the Mississippi is usually frozen over except just before and just past the Locks and Dams where there is open water’s flowing into and out from these dams.  The Eagles take advantage of this to feed and play.  And we can watch their aerial acrobatics as they go about these wonderful flight shows.  Word on the IBET list was there were some high counts this year at the L&D’s so all we needed now was a good Sunny day.

Adult Bald Eagle 001

Adult Bald Eagle along Mississippi in Winter 04Jan09 -- L&D#14

On this particular trip out there for us, the First Sunday of the New Year… the weather was suppose to be partly cloudy.  I must admit, the entire foggy and misty drive out to the river, I was getting more and more skeptical as the clouds didn’t seem to be lessening, nor was the fog initially.   So much for seeing any sunrise and catching some eagles at 1st light…    My plan was to try making it out to L&D #13 by dawn…  Now it’s been a few year since we were out there as last year this time, I was off working a project in Fairbanks Alaska for a few months.  So my exact remembrance of getting there was fuzzy… and of course, I didn’t look it up or double check before heading out.  I was pretty sure that one (L&D#13) was on the Illinois side, but we got off track in Fulton (yup, we had gown past the Dutch Windmill and all), but would up driving through some subdivisions.  So as it was starting to get light, we decided to head down stream towards L&D #14.  We did stop briefly for about 8 or more Eagles perched just off the roadside on Rt 67 on the Iowa side, just North of L&D14.  We pulled into the lot carefully as there were a few other photographers in the lot shooting up into the trees.

Eagle Snatching Fish 001

Diving in for the Catch!

Lights getting brighter now, little sun peeking in and out from those clouds.   3-4 Eagles in the trees here, no clean shots with all the branches.  Seems to be an impatient and belligerent juvenile eagle that was trying to snatch the fish from any other eagle heading for the trees, or even while they were in the tree with that fish.   Frustrating to some but making for interesting flight.  And we sure had a vocal show going on as well.

Eagle Snatching Fish 002

"Hey I got one too!"

Quite a few birds flying over the river too.  I made my way closer towards the dam along the planked walkway.   Grabbed a few flight shots over the river.   A good number of ducks and a few cormorants down on the rocks along the water.   Did get a glimpse of a Belted Kingfisher fluttering near the shore, but I couldn’t turn myself and the camera quickly enough as I was an a pile of boulders.  Watching two adult bald eagles sitting in another tree hoping one would cone diving into the water, I was soon blessed.    One soon did just that, and right in front of me and my lens!


Diane nailed me shooting above the river at LD#14

We did drive by Credit Island, but were surprised to find it pretty much closed off.  You can drive around to the right for about 300 feet, and to the left side for maybe 600 feet… So there is clearly no easy means to get back to A) where the eagles hang out along the shore line further back, OR B) to the one far corner down the left side where the bird feeder is and all the varying birds that hang out there.

Juvenile Eagle 001

Fly-by Over Head...

Something I look forward to every trip out.  Not sure if this is a budget cutback issue or what, but for all the years I have been coming out here I have Never seen this closed off like this.  Don’t get me wrong now, you could park the truck and hike out there, but with the road un-plowed, snow-covered, and icy… it would not have been an easy hike with the camera gear in tow on un-sure footing…  I was hoping for some more woodpecker shots this year too!

Off back towards LD #13 we headed.  The sky’s were now getting some blue sky clearings and the Sun shining through.  Temps were dropping now below 20, but it was the wind on this side of the river that was really making things harder to work with.  20-30 mph winds right into your face makes things a little harder to breath, the hands get colder in light gloves (ok, so I prefer the lighter gloves as I have problems with the trigger when wearing my heavier warmer gloves!) Even worse, Camera Battery life drops off like a rock tied to an anchor!

Eagle Snatching Fish 003

"It's MY Fish and I'm Not Sharing!"

Despite the faster frame -rate I have with the 1D MKIIn, I switched to using my 40D on the 500mm lens just for the slightly better reach.  By the time we left the river to head back home, I was on my third set of batteries in this camera!  Thank goodness I have three sets for this body too.  (I have the extended Grip on this camera, which allows me 2 batteries for better performance and life over the default single battery)

We will definitely need the cold weather covers I have ordered from the UK in Yellowstone, since it is generally this cold during the month of February there… Hope those arrive soon.  I think I better get a few more Heat packs just to be on the safe side too!!!

Tight turn right in front of platform LD#13

Tight turn right in front of platform LD#13

I’ll post some shots of those in use once they get here and comment on their performance as well.

So here a few more shots from the day’s events between the three Lock and Dams we visited…  Hope you enjoy them.

I’ve included a few that Diane took of me at work…  She likes the ‘Behind the Scene’ type stuff… and I just sometimes like the odd way I look when I’m shooting…

Between work and everything else I have going on over the next month,

I sure hope to make it out to the river a few more times before the spring thaw clears the ice and the Eagles have headed back up North!

All Images Copyrighted © 2009 michael T. sedwick




  1. I like the shot of the eagle in the tree the best. The branches
    don’t bother me – it’s reality. Damn, I wish I could get a longer
    lens not to mention the 5D MII…

    Am I jealous or what? 🙂

  2. Spectacular photography shared in this post. At a quick glance, this is a top notch blog that I hope to take a better look at later this week. Keep up the good work!

  3. Nice pictures! I bet your lens was alot of money.. some day i’ll have one 🙂 What do you recommend for a Canon?

    • Joe:
      ~~Sorry I didn’t see this comment come in.
      [recommendation] Depends on what you are going to be shooting. I use this 500mm heavily when out shooting wildlife. I Love being out shooting wildlife in some of North America’s most amazing places. I recently rented Canon’s Newest Bog-boy the 800mm as well. If you are Birding, or shooting large wildlife from a “safe” distance, the 500mm is a fine lens, but know that it does come at a price. Be sure this is what you want and you have the $$$ to pay. Be sure you will be utilizing Any lens you purchase enough to truly justify the expense. The newest model of Canon’s 500mm runs just over $10,000.

      An alternative, and good starter field lens is the 100-400mm IS zoom. I also have this, and still use it today.

      Keep in mind the sensor size and zoom factor of the primary camera you will use your lenses with. For instance, I use my Canon 1d-MKIIn mainly on my 500mm lens. This sensor has a ‘crop factor’ of 1.3x. Essentially presenting a final image with a 650mm field-of-view using the 500mm lens.

      One important item to keep in mind is a sturdy enough tripod and head to support the camera and lens you plan to use. The Average Tripod doesn’t support 15 pounds. So you need to spring for good support there, and that as well is extra $$$.

      One additional factor to consider is Renting any gear before you commit the cash and resources to make it your own. I am constantly renting smaller lenses from my local Calumet store, for local sessions and studio work. As mentioned above, I also rented that 800mm and a tripod for it, as I used both the 500mm & 800mm at the same time. For 4-days of use, Plus shipping and Insurance, it cost me less than $520.00. For this particular trip to Yellowstone, it was worth the expense. BTW… I save and pay cash for all my gear and rentals. I can’t see putting these things on credit.

      I Hope you find this information helpful and of use in your future endeavors. Feel free to contact me again if you have additional questions about this.

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