It seems whenever winter comes along, I often get nostalgic for the seasons of my youth. I remember when it began snowing in November and didn’t stop until March. You didn’t have to dream of a white Christmas, it just was. Snowmen, snow forts, snowball fights and snow angels were an everyday occurrence. With all of this wonderful winter fun also went the wonderful winter wildlife.
For the last two weekends I have embarked on what I am now calling “Eagle Quest 2016.” The quest began in Clarksville, MO. Locally known as an eagle hot spot, hundreds of eagles are said to winter in this area and pluck fish by the thousands out of the water beneath the dam. Surely this is eagle nirvana, and it sounded like the perfect spot to embark on such a quest.
When we arrived in Clarksville we immediately noticed the lack of eagles at the dam. Where were they? This was not the eagle Shangri-La I had dreamt of. Where will my ultimate eagle shot come from? Where will I go from here? Slightly shaken but still undaunted, we drove to the visitor’s center to ask the local eagle guru what’s up with the lack of eagle activity.
At the visitors center we learned that because of the mild weather the eagles don’t have to venture this far south to find open water to feed in. In previous years there had been hundreds of eagles on the dam, but this year not so many. The last weekend he counted 70, this weekend 30. Next weekend is the big Eagle Day festival and it’s going to be 60 degrees. I wonder how many eagles will be in attendance. Don’t they know they’re the guests of honor?
He invited us to look through a spotting scope at an eagle’s nest across the river. There, on a limb not far from the nest, sat the symbol of our great country. The majestic predator was perched atop the tallest tree just as he perches at the top of the avian food chain. With the cloudless blue sky as a back drop, the wind ruffling his dark brown feathers and his stoic white head aglow in the late morning sun, he was the very embodiment of dignity and freedom. God Bless America! With a renewed sense of patriotic pride, I knew that my Eagle Quest must go on. The eagle guru remained hopeful, too. He was sure there would be a cold spell next month and the eagles would return to Clarksville in even greater numbers. We thanked him for his time and then forged ahead northward, undeterred in our quest, but humbled with the new found knowledge that this endeavor was going to be more challenging than first imagined.
We continued on for the next two weekends. Exploring the river roads, crossing the swiftly flowing semi-frozen waters by ferry, navigating down muddy gravel tracks, skirting barriers in search of eagle nests. Wielding my long lens as if it were a sword, my own personal Excalibur, the quest went on. And the eagles were there after all. Soaring majestically above the bluffs that surround the rivers, perched high on trees along the shore watching the ice float by, intently waiting for the perfect opportunity to snag a fish. I was able to sneak Paparazzi like upon a few as they sat unsuspectingly high up in the trees, and I even got some decent shots before they took to the wing. We witnessed some activity as well. Two eagles, locked talon to talon, tumbled through the sky. A lone eagle swooped down on his mighty wings with ease to pluck a fish from the murky waters. Yes, these were amazing moments, but did I capture them as I had hoped? Well, sort of… I captured them, but not as I had hoped. There were the usual issues – distance, lighting, etc. – the bane of any photographer’s life.
But alas, the quest is not yet over, it will continue. Like the hopeful eagle guru in Clarksville, I too believe that the eagles will return in greater numbers and I will be right there with them, at just the right moment, to capture that spectacular perfect shot!