Monday, January 11, 2010

Eagles on the Mississippi: Day 2 Report

By Larry Rogers

My alarm was set for 6:30 am CST.  Last night, while dining at Sneeky Pete's in downtown LeClaire, we had all agreed to meet at 7:30 am for breakfast, and be ready to put the cars in "drive" at 8:00 am sharp.  For some unknown reason (could it be the Bald Eagles awaiting us?) my internal bat-signal went off early.  I used the extra time to make sure my batteries had completely re-charged overnight, double-check my camera settings, and just make sure I was ready.

Good thing I did all that.  What a day we were about to begin!  Why is it the sky is so much bluer in the winter?  One of you physics or astronomy buffs, please weigh in on that - I really do wonder about it.

I don't recall a prettier day - or a colder one, for that matter.  As I discussed in yesterday's post, the temperatures would lead a normal person to presume that it's simply too cold outside to get good photos.  But, to the contrary, cold weather also means no humidity to cloud the air and far smaller numbers of people at the Lock & Dam.

We only had about two and a half hours to shoot.  Checkout time was 11:00 am, and I still had to pack a few things, then load up the car for the drive back to Ohio.  The outside air temperature indicator read -13 degrees F.  When I say "I was not cold," I really mean it.  The key is preparation - and I was prepared.  My PolarTek thermals, Weatherproof outer coat, and air-activated heat pack in each shoe (just under the toes) and in each glove, really did the trick.  I did not even return to the car to warm up during the entire two and a half hours.

Eric found some discarded fish off to the side at the boat ramp - all of which were frozen solid.  At one point, Eric wondered if those frozen fish would attract any eagles.  The birds had all gone into the trees for rest, we guessed.  Eric tossed the first frozen treat into the river.  Suddenly, like black helicopters in a spy film, two eagles popped up from nowhere and took up the attack on the new target.  Dropping down to an altitude of about 10 (inches) just above the water, the first one suddenly went into a full stall with landing gear outstretched in front.  He sank his talons into the frozen filet and up he went - but no filet.  It must be difficult to grab.  Not far behind, the wing man takes aim, and "pow!" Water droplets spray from the impact.  Liftoff!  And, this time, success!

Success can be short-lived for the bird that makes the catch.  With his wing man nowhere in sight, this bird was under-equipped to defend his catch.  A few skillful maneuvers, though, and he was safely on his way to the tree line.  I watched him dine for a while on his delicacy.  It is not often that an Eagle finds fresh-frozen shad hand-served by the poparazzi.

Like moths to a flame, Bald Eagles everywhere!  I can't say for certain the number of birds overhead during the feeding frenzy - but I was able to count 12 right above me at one point.  Adding the 5 or six in the trees behind the parking lot, two more in the trees near the lock - I'd estimate at least twenty at once.  It was quite a show, and I am certain I will go back again some day soon.

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