The Growlers weren’t the only things flying at Coupeville while I was there. A bunch of bald eagles were also flying in the vicinity. They were crossing the approach path for the FCLP training which had me a little concerned. I thought they would get lost when the jets showed up but they clearly weren’t very concerned and were used the the jets. They might have got close but they seemed to stay just far enough away to avoid any conflict. A bird strike with a bald eagle would probably be messy for all concerned.
We stopped off for a spot of lunch during our trip to Fir Island. We had a recommendation in Edison that we took. As we headed back out after lunch, we were driving across some marshland when we saw some bald eagles. Pulling off the road, we watch them swooping across the marsh land. At one point they came right over where we were standing. An immature eagle was the one that came closest to us but we got a good look at several of them as they went looking for their lunch. Obviously they didn’t try the place we had been too!
Our days in Chicago put me within reach of some great opportunities to photograph bald eagles. The rivers in Illinois often freeze during the winter and any locations where the water stays open are popular with birds that need access to fish. The lock and dam complexes along the big rivers provide the perfect places since they water flowing over the dam makes for an ice free spot and it doesn’t hurt that the fish can often get stunned as they come over the dam which makes them an easy target for the eagles.
I made a number of trips out to photograph the birds. Starved Rock State Park was the first place we tried and, while we saw a lot off eagles and they were not too far away, the lighting was pretty unfriendly. Some further research showed that the Mississippi from Dubuque down to the Quad Cities was a better bet and I ended up making several trips out there. The first time we stayed out there and incorporated the search for the birds into our visit. Latterly, I knew where to go and made a day trip from Chicago. I also learned to not worry about getting there early but to focus on being there at the end of the day when the light was at its best. Even so, you never knew whether you would have good weather, cooperation wind and whether there would be many birds.
I have been there when there were more birds than I could count. I have also been there when it is pretty sparse. However, it has never been a total bust. You get both immature and adult birds. Depending on how much ice there is, they can be scattered along the river or confined to near your location. After trying a few spots, I ended up at Lock and Dam 14 with a bunch of guys I knew. Photographing birds in the winter seems to be a popular pastime for guys who spend their summers photographing planes!
The shots here were taken across a number of visits. Now we have moved west, I doubt I shall be back at this location for a while. However, I have some great memories of being there and also testing the qualities of cold weather clothing, gloves, hand and feet warmers and camera batteries! Good times.
It has been a couple of years since I last made a trip out to the Mississippi to take pictures of the bald eagles that fish out there. Last winter it was pretty warm and my schedule was a bit busy. Warm weather means the river doesn’t freeze up and the birds can fish anywhere they like. When it gets cold, the ice means fishing is harder to do and they tend to gather at the dams along the river since they will usually have some open water just downstream.
This winter hasn’t been consistently cold either but it has been a while and I don’t know whether I will still be here next year so, with a good looking weather forecast, I decided to go. I was not alone in this with the number of people at Lock and Dam 14 in Iowa far larger than I have ever seen before. Combined with the relatively open river, this meant the people were healthily outnumbering the eagles.
However, there were a few birds in the air at various times. Sadly, with a lot of open water, they could choose where to fish. Also, the wind was coming from across the river so they tended to make their fishing runs away from us. Consequently, there were lots of eagle butt shots to be had but not many front views. Even so, I was with some friends so it was a good day to be out and there were a few shots that made the trip a success, even if I didn’t get anything as good as I have managed in previous years.
A sunny winter weekend is often a good chance to check out the zoo. Since a lot of the animals are not fond of winter weather, there are only a few that will be outside at this time of year. Consequently, the zoo doesn’t charge for entry so it is good for those after a cheap day out. We are members anyway so it doesn’t make a difference to us but it is good to go anyway.
During our previous visit the Snow Leopards had been pretty active. We were hoping to see them again – they aren’t too bothered by the cold – but we also wanted to see what else was about. Since you aren’t paying, you can make a short visit without feeling like you should make a full day out of the admission price. As it happened, the Snow Leopards were soundly asleep while we were there but there were other things to see.
The Tiger was showing more action that is normally the case. This is one cat that likes to sleep. However, we timed our arrival well and saw a fair bit of movement. Tigers are also fine with the cold of course. Bears are similar. Both Polar Bears were about and one of the Brown Bears was wandering around its enclosure.
We also saw a few birds wandering around the place. The Pelicans were out near one of the ponds and another group of birds (I am thinking Guinea Fowl but you can correct me if I am wrong) were also strutting around. The light was very nice so not a bad afternoon.