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The Times
  • Travel: Upper Mississippi Valley for bald eagle watching

  • Beginning in the fall, bald eagles are drawn to the open waters of the upper Mississippi River. By January, they number in the hundreds in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois — and in the thousands in the upper Mississippi valley.

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  • Beginning in the fall, bald eagles are drawn to the open waters of the upper Mississippi River. By January, they number in the hundreds in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois — and in the thousands in the upper Mississippi valley.
    Knowing this, I set out on Jan. 30 for a road trip to photograph the sometimes-elusive raptor that has been the official American emblem since 1782.
    My excitement at this prospect made the miles fly by. With great anticipation, I arrived at Lock and Dam 14 on the Mississippi River in Le Claire, Iowa. There was only about an hour of daylight left.
    There is an old saying that “anticipation may be greater than realization,” but that was not the case here. Stepping out of the car, I was greeted by the sight of six to eight bald eagles roosting in trees not 100 yards away.
    For a moment, I could only stand and stare. What an incredible sight. I soon had my camera ready and began photographing this majestic bird. All too soon, darkness fell, but I was consumed with the excitement that tomorrow would bring.
    Before sunrise, I was back at the mighty Mississippi. As soon as the sun began to rise, the eagles returned to the trees along the river and the open water of the river where they would fish.
    As the morning progressed, I was treated to an extraordinary lesson in fishing. Time after time, the eagles would soar, then dive and reach with their talons to grasp a fish from the open water. They seldom missed. After taking about 1,000 pictures, I left for the day, but I was eager to return on Tuesday.
    However, Mother Nature had other ideas. Rather than photograph eagles, the blizzard of 2011 forced me to cut my trip short.
    Deprived of another day or two of eagle watching, I am already thinking about my return trip next winter to watch and photograph the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.
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