Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bald Eagle Trip is Just Around the Corner

Wow - how time flies - and, so are those Bald Eagles!  Eagle migration should be under way, as temperatures have been falling over the past month.  Several club members will be making the 2010 trip to LeClaire, Iowa.  This post will explain a little more about what to expect.

The first thing to understand is the weather.  While it will most likely be very cold there during the first week of January, we are not going to try to be heroes by staying out in it for extended periods of time.  Last year, I made the trip in February.  I recall my first thoughts, upon arriving at the site (Corps of Engineers Lock #14 on the Mississippi River), as something like "Holy cow, there isn't this much camera gear in the end zone at the Super Bowl!"  There were more 500mm and 600mm lenses there at one time than I had seen collectively in a life time.  One guy I met there had flown in the night before from Maryland.

But, I digress...back to the topic of weather.  I recommend that you bring along a comfortable winter coat with a hood, if possible.  That way, even if we have some wind, you will stay warm longer.  I also like to put one of those little disposable heat packs in each glove and each shoe or boot.  A head sock is also recommended.  I'm not a real cold-weather endurance person - so, my average stay at the site was about 45 minutes to an hour.  That's enough time to capture 400-500 shots of the raptors swooping down for a fish, frequently followed by an aerial dogfight and sometimes even a mugging in the trees by a jealous female (those are the really biiiiig ones).

As far as preparations are concerned, the eagle trip is just like most photo shoot outings.  Bring every data card you own, a back-up hard drive, and your post-processing laptop.  If you have a strong flash unit and "better beamer" bring those along also.  A flash unit is not absolutely necessary, but those really impressive eagle shots you see in magazines are almost all shot with a flash + better beamer combination.  Bring the longest lens you own and your teleconverters, too.  We will be closer to the birds than most have ever been, but nonetheless, size does matter when shooting birds.  I will have my 500 f4 and my 200-400 f4, and you Nikon shooters are welcome to put your camera bodies on them and see if you can track an eagle in flight with a long lens - it's a hoot when you first start out.  I have lots of shots with nothing but sky.

Feel free to post your questions as responses to this post.  I'll check back every couple of days and answer what I can.


  1. Looking forward to it!

    You guys might want to pick up some of those super sized zip-loc bags at home depot too. Putting your camera and lens into them going as we go from cold to warm environments will help to avoid condensation inside and outside of the equipment. I will have some extras.

  2. Here is a great Bald Eagle count link I just saw tonight on DPReview. It gives adult and juvenile bird counts for all locks on the Mississippi River lock system (copy/paste this link in your browser):

  3. Regarding the bird count link (comment above), be sure to check out the "archive" link near the top of the page. Based on 2009 final counts, Lock #17 and #18 may be even better than #14. We may want to car pool to the other locks while we are in the area. I'll do a mapquest from 14 to 17 and 14 to 18.

  4. Hey Ken, regarding the zip lock bags. When do you put them on? Do you put anything in the bag beside the camera? Silica Gel?

  5. Usually as you leave the cold you put the equipment into the bags and then let them warm slowly. I do it as I pack up for the day or when I am taking off from a location. I don't put anything else in there, but probably not a bad idea.