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Conowingo Dam - Maryland

Lisel Shoffner Powell | E-Mail | Robert Kemmerlin | E-Mail | Updated 3-16-2011

The Intimidator, Bald Eagle Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell

The Intimidator, Bald Eagle at Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell

Introduction

The Conowingo Dam is located on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Maryland, about 8 miles above where I-95 crosses the river. US Route 1 crosses the river on top of the dam. The dam is named for the town of Conowingo, which was inundated by the resulting reservoir when the dam was built in 1928. It is one of the largest non-federal hydroelectric dams in the US, with a height of 105 feet and a length of 4,648 feet. When electricity is being generated, large intake valves suck water and fish through the dam, providing an excellent food source for the many birds that gather there.

Nature Perspective

The primary attraction at Conowingo dam is the large number of bald eagles that gather there in late November and early December. Up to 11 species of gulls also gather at the dam from mid-October through mid-March, but other birds such as great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, black vultures, terns, osprey, cormorants, anhingas, and ducks may also be seen. In fact, a great blue heron rookery occupies the large island just below the dam. Smaller numbers of gulls and eagles can be found year-round, making Conowingo one of the best and reliable places to view bald eagles in the eastern United States. In the spring and fall, the trails in nearby Susquehanna State Park play host to a large number of migratory warblers. Prothonotary Warblers, Warbling Vireos, and Northern Parulas are commonly found along the trails in the summer. Overall, at least 170 bird species have been observed and recorded in the area.

Eagle group, Conowingo Dam - Robert Kemmerlin

Eagle group, Conowingo Dam - Robert Kemmerlin

Photography Perspective

Conowingo is a wonderful place for the lazy photographer. The large parking lot is only a few steps away from several areas that are ideal for setting up to photograph the birds. The operators of the dam have constructed a very nice concrete deck with railings that is only a few feet above the water. It is large enough to easily accommodate 20 or 30 photographers with tripods. Fishermen share the deck but there is plenty of room for everyone; you may just want to get there very early if you are picky about where you want to set up. At the viewing deck the reservoir is fairly wide, probably 300-400 yards to the opposite bank where the eagles rest between fishing flights. A long lens works best here, with a 500mm and 1.4x teleconverter not being too much lens. If you're patient, a shorter lens will work as well, as there are often flyovers where the eagles are directly overhead. The viewing deck is ideal if your goal is getting clean, unobstructed flight shots.

Another great location is along the edge of the parking lot, which is about 25 feet above water level. A long chain-link fence along the reservoir extends a couple hundred yards and offers many good locations to set up. The large island in the reservoir narrows the reservoir to around 100 yards so any eagles fishing in that area will be close enough to get some good shots. After shooting both locations we decided that this area, while giving a fewer number of opportunities, was a better place to set up for fishing shots due to the shorter distances.

Another option is passing through one of the gates in the fence and going down to the water's edge. This might be the best location for the adventurous-at-heart, but the steepness of the banks kept us from trying it. We did see others that were taking advantage of this location for both fishing and photography.

If you look closely in the trees behind the parking lot you will likely find several bald eagles resting or eating lunch. On both of our visits there were several eagles taking advantage of the secluded vantage point to avoid their catch being stolen other eagles. The trees around the parking lot are also a good place to hunt for the smaller bird varieties that are present in the area.

Eagle in Tree, Conowingo Dam - Robert Kemmerlin

Eagle in Tree, Conowingo Dam - Robert Kemmerlin


Dam Pigeons, Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell

Dam Pigeons, Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell


Photographers at Conowingo Dam - Jim Flowers

Photographers at Conowingo Dam - Jim Flowers

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Your largest lens and a teleconverter

  • A second body with a shorter lens (100-300mm) for the eagle flyovers

  • As many cards/rolls of film as you have for your camera

  • A sturdy tripod

  • Warm clothing

  • A chair for the deck to rest between opportunities

Bringing Home Dinner, Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell

Bringing Home Dinner, Conowingo Dam - Lisel Shoffner Powell

Location and Points of Interest

Susquehanna State Park

Directions to the dam: From Route 1 just south of the dam, turn east on Shuresville Road. After one-half mile, make the first left onto Shures Landing Road. Follow the road to the parking lot at the base of the dam, where it dead-ends. The parking lot is open every day from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. There are public bathrooms at the pavilion.

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Additional Information




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