Bald Eagles Bring in the New Year!

January 1, 2014 (New Year’s Day)

I woke up early on New Year’s Eve and decided to take a road trip to Clarksville, Missouri to check on the eagle situation. I was up there on a work trip a few weeks ago and I only saw two eagles but we’ve had a lot of cold weather since then so I was optimistic. Upon arrival I was happy to see 75 to 100 eagles making passes along the Mississippi River in search of their favorite meal—gizzard shad.

It was a bitterly-cold morning so my first task was to don my super-thick fleece overalls, pac boots and duck hunting coat. Next I added a fleece neck gaiter, stocking cap and wool gloves. My camera body is pretty huge and all of the controls are glove-friendly so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about cold hands for the rest of the day.

The first thing I noticed was that the wind was wrong, out of the southeast, so the eagles would be touching down on the water with their tails to my camera lens. The best time to shoot from river’s edge at Clarksville is when the wind is out of the west because the big birds flare and hit the water head on, face to face with my lens.

The second problem was that the eagles were touching down just east of the river’s centerline so it would be a long reach for a shot. I knew my best bet would be to use the 2x converter with my 500mm lens for a total focal length of 1000 millimeters. This put me at a fully-open aperture of f8 with a sluggish auto-focus but nobody ever said it was easy to get a good eagle shot on the Mississippi River.

When I finally began my stand, all bundled up behind my tripod, I felt downright cozy there at river’s edge. My only wish was for a hot cup of coffee but I quickly forgot about my desire for caffeine when a juvenile eagle (see featured image) drifted over to my side of the river and snatched a shad from the water. It was the first of several serendipitous moments when an eagle happened my way and I happened to be ready. I was pleased at how the morning light brought out the young bird’s mottled plumage and highlighted its giant, yellow talons. As a fisheries biologist, I was also happy to capture an image of the doomed gizzard shad.

I stayed at the site all morning and into the afternoon and by 1:00 p.m. I was getting a little hungry. I didn’t want to leave because I was still waiting for the next, better image so I rooted around in my shoulder bag and found a six-month old granola bar. It’s amazing how good those little bars taste when you are really hungry. After the granola bar I started thinking about how awesome it would be if somebody walked up to me with a hot cup of coffee from Quick Trip and said, “Sir, you looked like you could use a cup of coffee so I brought you one.” It never happened!

I did have several visitors throughout the morning though but none stayed for more than an hour due to the cold wind. The Clarksville landing is one of those rare places where I can photograph and socialize at the same time, always watching for the next great eagle shot out of the corner of my eye.

By 2:00 p.m. I was ready to pack it up because nature was calling and bathrooms aren’t a feature of the eagle watching experience at Clarksville. I suppose I had consumed too many virtual coffees and it caught up with me. 🙂 But just before I headed toward the truck a mature bald eagle grabbed a shad from mid-river and started flying right toward me.


I watched it through my lens and thought, “Dad burn, that big boy is going to fly right to me!”


As you can see from the second and third images, the regal eagle did not disappoint. What a way to start the New Year!

Speaking of the New Year, you can read my story about a yellow-bellied sapsucker in the January, 2014 issue of “Missouri Conservationist” here.

Happy New Year,

Danny Brown

Email me at:

Coming Soon:  A gorgeous male pileated woodpecker from Maramec Springs and a female kestrel from Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

12 comments on “Bald Eagles Bring in the New Year!”

  1. Oooh, I’d just been daydreaming about a Bald Eagle sighting this year, too, at Forest Park, and you post this! 😀 Thank you.

  2. Danny, very nice eagle images. I like the one heading straight at you the best. I know what you mean about wishing you had another cup of coffee after waiting and waiting and ……… The yellow-bellied sapsucker was excellent. I still need to read the article. Hope 2014 is another great photo year for you. I better get busy and take a few winter excursions or I might not have much to submit for next year’s calendar. It’s snowing again as I type. Might have to do a little shoveling or snow “pushing” tomorrow as the forecast is for 2-4″.

    Stay warm….Phil

    Sent from my iPad


    • Yes, that time of the year when we start thinking that we didn’t get enough for the calendar. We only got an inch here. We can’t buy a decent snow in Union this winter. Take care Phil.

  3. What a fantastic shot. Your timing was perfect, and image of that Beautiful Bald Eagle with the fish in his talons, reminded me of my old P3A squadron insignia, of a Eagle plucking a submarine out of the Ocean. Thanks for braving the elements, and bringing your creations to all of us. I am looking forward to what you have in store for 2014. Happy New Year.


    • You’re welcome Art. Glad it brought back some memories. I have some great stuff lined up for the New Year.

  4. I was up there early February and could not believe the number of BE there. Had a blast of two days of photographing them, unfortunately was very cold; i believe high was in the teens. Thankfully was mostly sunny. Thanks for sharing the photos and your story!

    • The colder the better for those eagles. I bring out the full gear for Clarksville, including serious pac boots, and make a day of it. Take care.

  5. Wonderful! I really enjoyed your story. It was just like I was there. I have had a few of the same experiences in my photography adventures dealing with food and bathrooms. Love it! Wonderful captures of the eagle.

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