Conowingo, MD

I’m back from a weekend trip to the Conowingo Dam in Maryland.  Conowingo is heralded as an eagle Mecca – everywhere you look there’s someone proudly claiming to have seen 30 eagles, or 60 eagles, or 90 eagles all at the same time, fishing in the dam’s outflow and perched all around the site.

Normally I’d call it a whirlwind trip – down early Saturday morning and back Sunday afternoon.  But a whirlwind requires a flurry of activity, lots of sightings, full CF cards and mad scrambles to switch them without missing any action.

Except there was no action.  And hardly any eagles.  We spent a day and a half standing in a parking lot, staring at a river, and occasionally making an image.  It was a moderate skunking.

The image above is the best eagle image from the trip, and it’s hardly a show-stopper.  A pretty good perch shot, but there’s no action, no energy.  The shot came as dusk had already settled – in fact, I’d already finished making the image of the dam that I shared in yesterday’s Simple Clicks. [LINK]  I came up the steps from the riverside and found this guy in the tree, was able to switch back to the 300L and, between ISO 3200, IS, and more than a little luck made a couple of images.

And if Saturday was dispiriting, then Sunday was downright depressing – not a single eagle shot to be had, and precious few sightings at all.  The best photo came from another tree right on the edge of the parking lot, where a spunky Red-bellied Woodpecker mugged for the camera.  It’s another species added to my life list, but really – 200 miles for a woodpecker?

I don’t want to give the wrong impression – it was a fun trip, especially since I got to shoot with my friends Mike & Sue, who I hadn’t seen in almost a year.  We had a great time, but the eagle aspect was disappointing.  Even when the dam released water through the turbines, an event that the local critters have come to associate with feeding, the few eagles on site weren’t having any of it, although a half-dozen Great Blue Herons and gaggle of gulls did take advantage of it.

Great Blue Heron flies over the river at the Conowingo Dam, MD, on 15 January 2010.

So here’s the low down on Conowingo: for starters, it’s probably the nicest site that I’ve ever traveled to.  The dam has capitalized on it’s popularity by providing extensive parking, bathrooms and a pavilion, and a beautiful multi-level park right on the riverside.  This is a far cry from my normal stomping grounds on the Delaware, where you get a cold blind and a tree to pee behind!

If you’re planning to stay overnight, the town of Aberdeen is nearest, at about 30 minutes away.  I can gladly recommend the Holiday Inn there, which was clean, cheap, and staffed with friendly, helpful folks.  It’s situated amid the shopping/restaurant district, in walking distance of several places (although for your own sake, avoid the Olive Tree restaurant).  I’ll give the Holiday Inn extra props for providing a full breakfast buffet in the morning, where the food was better than hotel average, included with the room.

In the end the skunking was at least partially our own fault.  While the Delaware River eagles are at their peak in January/February, the Conowingo eagles peak in November.  Eagles, and wildlife in general, are notoriously random – just because they were somewhere yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be there again tomorrow.  We heard that just a few days prior there was a good showing of them, but by the time we got there, they’d moved on.  Sometimes that’s the way it happens (quite often, in fact, if you go on wildlife adventures with me).

So in the end it was a fun weekend, despite being cold and frustrating.  And all that means is that when I go back next year, it’ll be at the right time of year, hopefully with much better luck.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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1 Comment

  1. Marie Pennington

    Love the heron. Wow, when you said you didn’t see many birds, I thought there would be some common tweeters or crows or something boring. These are great!

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