I made my fourth trip to Conowingo Dam today to photograph the Bald Eagles. I was excited for this trip as I rented a Sony 600mm f/4 prime lens to pair to my Sony a1. This lens retails for $12,999, so I assume it will be an excellent choice for this trip.

I planned to wake up at 3am and get on the road shortly there after. I wasn’t sleeping well, so when 2:30a hit, I was up and getting ready. Other than one moment of heavy braking for a possum crossing the road, it was a virtually traffic free trip. I arrived first in the queue and waited for the gate to open. Conowingo Dam’s website stated the gate would open at 5am.

The reason for the early arrival is to claim a good shooting location. In the winter (November – January), photographers travel great distances to see Eagles battling it out over the feeding grounds. There are several locations to choose from including the fence line and the fisherman’s wharf. If you are brave enough, you can even make your way down the rocks to the water level for photos from a lower perspective. Just watch out if the Dam sounds the alarm and opens the gates to unleash the torrent of water!

When the gates finally opened, I was still the only one here. I didn’t know if that would be a good thing or bad. I made my way in and parked in front of the spot I wanted to setup at. I grabbed my Gitzo tripod and made my way to the fence line. I used a bike lock to secure the tripod to the fence and went back to my car. Last time I was here, I saw another person locking their tripod to the fence. I don’t know if it was for security, or just to make sure no one came and moved it. Since the tripod is expensive, I wasn’t taking any chances. This way I could rest in the car or go to the bathroom without concern.

My lonely tripod on the fence line

It is now 6a and I am the only one here. I am definitely getting nervous that they know something I don’t. Have the Eagles left and headed back to New York? My only hope is that since it is a weekday and January was a busy month for photographers at the Dam, maybe they are taking a break. The weather is a bit warmer now, 32 in the morning and a high in the 50s, so either way I will have a good day.

I ended up talking to the night shift security guard while I was waiting. She told me peak season is November and December, and that’s when you need to arrive very early. Only 30 or so photographers showed up the previous day, so I definitely got here WAY to early.

As you can see, only 1 tripod in the distance. This is vastly different from the hundreds that show up in peak season.

Here are some pictures of a Juvenile Eagle on the hunt. I did some one catch a fish, but it was too far for a decent photo.

Below are pictures of the only Adult Eagle I saw the whole day. It ended up landing in a tree very close to me, but the sun was behind it and made taking pictures not worthwhile.

Overall it was a pretty disappointing trip for me. While it is always nice to see an Eagle, the fact I rented a lens and woke up so early for the day made it a bit painful. I plan to go back in November or December this year to make up for it.