Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where to see eagles in Maryland

I've been meaning to make some subject based posts for places I frequent, to share where others can spot eagles, and get photos, etc.

Read on for places to see Bald Eagles in Maryland.

When I first started to shoot wildlife photos, I wanted to take photos of two subjects, sort of my dream subjects - the Bald Eagle, and the Peregrine Falcon.

This image brought me to Mason Neck State Park in Va:

Here's one of mine from Mason Neck SP VA.

But I had limited success there. The eagles have a lot of area to go to (5,000+ acres I think) and would often fly off when you got even remotely close (100's of yards often).

Later I found Ozoni11's images of an Osprey fishing at Centennial Lake in Columbia Maryland and went for myself.

Here's my first good eagle fishing photo from Centennial Lake:
Bald Eagle gets his Prey

And here are a few others from Centennial Lake in Maryland.
Bald Eagle @ Centennial Lake, Maryland

Bald Eagle! ...... Centennial Lake, Columbia Maryland  2006

There isn't a nest at that lake, but there are at least 4 within about 10 miles. And Columbia, MD has 4 lakes. If you live within about 40 minutes or less of the lakes (like me) I'd recommend going there some and looking for Herons, Osprey and even a Bald Eagle some times. But realize I went there 10's of times and only had occasional successes.

Missed it, Missed it, Got it.

The best place I know of to see Bald Eagles regularly, and year round in Maryland is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, located about 100 miles from Washington D.C. You can learn more about this place here at their web site They even have a Bald Eagle nest camera!

They have over 100 resident Bald Eagles at Blackwater NWR. I like to drive their Wildlife Drive and also explore the surrounding areas, especially along Maple Dam Road. Here are some examples of photos taken at Blackwater NWR in Maryland.

I'm fairly sure this is one of the cam nest birds - taken along Wildlife Drive.
The Mighty Bald Eagle!

This is from a regular perch of the eagles along Maple Dam Road (shot from car).
Two Bald Eagles (1) @ Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

This is from along WLD and the Eagle just stole the fish from an Osprey.
BALD EAGLE vs osprey (3 pix)

This is from Maple Dam Road, in a pine tree right on the side of the road. Shot from my car as well.
a GOOD morning - Two Bald Eagles @ Blackwater NWR

Probably my most enjoyable encounter at Blackwater was this sequence where the pair locked talons and spun doing their cartwheeling display! (forgive the type, I noticed it in the image, but never fixed it.)

Another good place for eagle spotting is at Conowingo Dam along the Susquehanna River. In the Fall (October, November and December) eagles migrate here in large numbers. During recent peaks, which often occur around Thanksgiving, the numbers top 100 eagles easily and might be a good bit more.

The thing that is special about the Dam is that the eagles are there for a reason (fishing and eating) and they behave differently than eagles at many other locations. For example, at sunrise I spotted this guy eating a fish, and then cleaning off his beak and hanging out in the tree, and I was shooting from inside of 100 feet.
Early Bird - Juv. Bald Eagle @ Conowingo Dam, Maryland (+ full bird photo)

And because there are so many eagles here you can often see them compete with each other over fish.
Bald Eagle Competition @ Conowingo Dam / Susquehanna River, Maryland 2 of 2

Getting to see eagles up close, catching fish, and perching in a nearby tree is common during the Autumn at the Dam.

Bald Eagle eating lunch @ Conowingo Dam, MD

Maryland doesn't band their eagles currently. One of the cool things about the Dam is that birds come from all over and you can sometimes get a photo of the band and read it. Here's my first even eagle readable band - V34!
My First Readable Band, V34!  Banded Eagle from NY @ Conowingo Dam, MD

A year later I spotted V34 again! Now that's cool, right?
Bald Eagle (V34)

Another one that I had that was readable was "S 04" from Fall 2007. He's been seen again already in 2008. Someone at the dam researched it and found that the bird was from New York, and had only been banded about 5 months earlier (in 2007) and was about 6 months old when it first visited Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland.
New York Bald Eagle - S 04

Great Falls National Park is another good spot to see eagles, but I'd recommend going in Winter, and Spring more than other times. The resident pair of eagles have a nest located on Conn Island in the Potomac River. The nest can be seen from the river trail located on the Maryland side of the river. To get to the trail, park on the MD side at the National Park itself, cross the C&O canal at the Tavern, and walk up river to the trail and walk then about 1/2 mile and look west at the island. Here are some shot showing the nest.

Great Falls Bald Eagle News - 3/26/2008!!! (+ animated gif)Great Falls Bald Eagles News 2/23/2008 (plus 3/11/2008 update, still on the nest)

2007 Bald Eagle Nestling and parent bringing in a fish.
Bringing Junior His Lunch (2 of 2)

2008 Bald Eagle Nestling at Great Falls National Park, Maryland.
Juv. Bald Eagle @ Great Falls MD/VA 6/1/2008

In 2008 I think some lightning hit the nest tree, and took out a major limb. I was worried about the nestling, but he was fine and had fledged. I hope they use the tree again, or find a better one. If they relocated very far I'd be hard pressed to find them again I think.
Great Falls Eagle's Nest - Damage - 6/29/2008

I would normally not reveal the location of an Eagle's nest. At Great Falls it is far enough away from any access that I feel comfortable with saying where it is. You'd have to cross about a 1/2 mile of water to go to the island. It's above the Dam, on the MD side, and there are a couple of spots on the trail just across from the nest where people regularly check it out from.

The place where you can find the most nests on your own in Maryland has got to be at Blackwater NWR in Maryland. If you go looking there, know that your presence can disturb them. Don't enter the wooded areas near the nests. Be well aware that the chances for disturbing the eagles is heightened during nesting season (spring). There's no photo that is worth bothering them. If you really appreciate wildlife I think it is best to be observant and to know that you can and will have a negative impact if you go about taking your photos in the wrong way.

For me learning about the ethics and impacts of photography has been an on going thing, and I continue to learn and gain more appreciation for wildlife and keeping it wild and healthy. Hopefully my images help promote the beauty of nature, and hopefully I've done it without being a nuisance or threat.

Here are two photos of the pair of adults hanging out in the Potomac River at Great Falls National Park.
First Day of MY Summer (2 Bald Eagles, 2 Great Blue Heron)
Splish-Splash - Eagles take a bath in the Potomac @ Great Falls Maryland - 1 2 [3] 4

I think the less impact you have on your subjects, the better photos you will get! It is sort of a hard leap to make in a way. If you see something that moves you and you want to capture that moment, so you can share it - all good things to want, if you then rush up on a subject, excited as you should be, you will most likely cause a reaction and change in behavior and NOT get the photo. If you want to get natural behavior and "do no harm" you have to be a bump on a log, just another "thing" and not another "threat" to your subject.

This Bald Eagle landed on a rock in the river (at Great Falls, MD) and drank some water, and looked around. Then it took off, at ease, and doing its thing.
Bald Eagle Done Cooling off and Drinking Leaves the River/Water @ Great Falls (1 of 2)

One of the things I have learned to try to avoid, and now judge some of my older images by is if the subject is on the move, and moving away from me and the camera. It isn't something that I thought of early on. When a bird is flying away from the camera it is probably not relaxed and the image won't represent a natural setting. Well, it is natural, but it is the subject reacting to me or you!

Here are a few of my favorite images where I think the subject was much more focused on what they wanted to do vs. reacting to me.

Bald Eagle carrying some nesting material in Spring 2008. This eagle landed in some of the marsh at Blackwater NWR, and then hopped around and pulled out some grass. Then I got lucky and it flew towards me and then past me towards its nest (encounter was near the end of Wildlife Drive).
Nest Building Bald Eagle @ Blackwater NWR, MD (#2)

Freshening up the nest - Bald Eagle, Blackwater NWR, MD

One last place I will recommend in Maryland in Greenbelt Lake / Buddy Attic Park. This is located just off the DC beltway, and I've been a handful of times and have seen Hawks, Osprey and an eagle on 2 occasions.

Single shot from the fly by.
Bald Eagle in MD w/ Fish

Multi-shot merge of an eagle flying by with a fish late in the day.
Bald Eagle in MD w/ Fish

Happy eagle hunting, and good luck in Maryland.

-Jon / Nikographer



IamaHack said...

I just saw a bald eagle on the Magothy river near the head on 05-27-2012. That's the first I've seen on the Magothy and I'm kicking myself for not having my camera with me!

IamaHack said...

I just saw a bald eagle on the Magothy river near the head on 05-27-2012. That's the first I've seen on the Magothy and I'm kicking myself for not having my camera with me!

Angela said...

I saw a juvenile as in white and black but small. It was on Musgrove Rd east of Rte29, in front of th nursing. It flew then landed on 2nd telephone poll from rte29. I think that's everything but contact me if you need more.