On the Wings of Eagles: Lock & Dam 14 Recreational Area – Pleasant Valley, Iowa

On Friday, February 2, 9:45AM, I decided to take a 3 hour drive out west, across 3 states for a little eagle watching. That’s how I roll…not really…rather that’s how my car rolls. (LOL) I’m just along for the ride. 🙂

The temps were only in the teens with beautiful clear blue skies and I knew this would be the perfect conditions for some potential eagle watching at the Lock & Dam 14 in Pleasant Valley, Iowa, which is known for the large number of eagles that gather around the dam to feed during the winter months.  I had never been, but a couple of friends of mine (shout out to Angel and Megan) had visited the dam back in January and the eagle count for that area was between 60-90 eagles. I suspected I would not be so lucky to come across that many eagles since the temps had warmed up in the upper 40’s for a bit.  The warmer weather sends the eagles to find refuge elsewhere.  If the temps start to dip back into the 20’s and teens, then some eagles might return to the area.  At least that’s what I was hoping for. Eagle watching and photographing them has become an annual event that I really enjoy and that I now look forward to each year.

The 3 hour drive was pretty straight forward. It’s a straight shot West on I-80, a drive I’m very familiar with as it is the same route I take for our monthly photo club hike at Starve Rock State Park, in Utica/ Olgesby, Illinois. That drive takes me about 1 hr. 50 minutes to get to from my house, basically I was only tacking on another hour to that drive, which is not a big deal, because I like to drive long distances. I made one pit stop for some water at the West Bound Great Sauk Trail Rest Area and all was good.

I had GPS (with her now younger speaking voice) guiding the way.  As I am getting close to the dam, I can see these small gravel roads that GPS was telling to turn on, but something seemed off to me. Since I passed the first and second gravel roads to turn on, I finally turned off on the 3rd gravel road that lead to a small housing community by the river where the street dead ended. Ok, this is not the place, but I could see the dam was like a stones throw away. I get back on the main road and I turn onto that first gravel road that GPS was telling me turned on and I end up at the Lock & Dam 14 Fisherman’s Area. There was a good size parking lock, but, no cars. I knew this couldn’t be the spot, because there weren’t any crowds of photographers that you so often hear of that come to this area to photograph the eagles.  I figured I needed to be on the other side of the Mississippi River. As I was looking for better directions, I could hear another car driving on the gravel road as it was pulling into the parking lock.  Of course, I’m watching the car in my rear view mirror and a gentleman gets out and goes into the trunk of his SUV and pulls out a small container. I’m watching him as he walks to the dumpster that was next to where he stopped his SUV and I see him lift the top of the dumpster and places the container on the edge and then I see it! He was disposing a live (what looked to me to be) RAT into the dumpster or maybe it was a small possum. All I know it was moving and it had a long rat like tail..eww!

The gentleman puts the container back into the trunk of his SUV and I figured I would take the chance to get out of my car and ask the gentleman for directions to get to Lock & Dam 14. Here are the directions, he gave me. “You have to get back on this main road and you’ll find the street were you will have to turn left just past the I-80 over pass and just follow that road and that should get you to the other side.” All righty then! Let’s see if I can find this road now. I get back in my car and of course I didn’t see the road he was talking about.  I pass the I-80 over pass and immediately know I’m going away from the dam and not headed in the right direction. I stopped at the next gas station that I came across to see if I could get some help with directions. And as luck would have it the women at the counter had no idea where Lock & Dam 14 was located or how to get to it. I’m thinking to myself…it’s like a famous thing around those parts and she didn’t even know how to get to it. She pointed at the brick building across the street and said that was their post office and suggested I could possibility try there. I get back in my car and drive across the street to the post office. There was another woman ahead of me speaking with the postal master and they seem to know each other and were catching up on some local happenings (like the way, I didn’t say gossiping).  They finish up their conversation and as the woman ahead of me was leaving, I noticed she had left her sunglasses on the counter and I pointed that out to her. She was thankful for having called that to her attention.  🙂  I finally was able to ask the post master for directions and she knew exactly what I was talking about and give me the correct directions to get there.

“If everything went as planned, then it wouldn’t be called an adventure.”

Discovery is half the fun of it.

I get back on I-80 West, cross over the bridge over the Mississippi River and take a right on the very first exit, at the end of that exit, I make another right and take that road down about 3 miles and there I would finally find the entrance to Lock and Dam 14 Recreational Area.  Made it! It’s now around 1:45 p.m.

As I pull up, there were quite a few cars in the parking lot and there they were in all their glory…photographers galore and their mega high power lenses and camo gear. It was a very intimidating site. I finally shift my focus and start to notice the eagles in the area. I get out of my car, put my heavy down jacket on (I had the seat warmer on the passenger side on to keep my jacket nice and toasty until I was ready to put it on.) It was around 20 degrees, but there were some gusty winds, so the air temperature made it feel  a lot colder. But I didn’t care, I didn’t come all that way to complain about the cold temps…I was happy I had finally made to Lock and Dam 14.

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I got out of the car and the first thing I spotted were 3 eagles perched high on the trees directly behind the parking lot.  I took several photos there, before I started to make my way by all the photographers. Man, oh man, talk about a stare down. It was like everyone turned around and looked at me and my camera as if to say, “look! A newcomer, wearing a bright off-white colored jacket” when clearly the dress code is black. “Amateur!” LOL  It was clear a lot of these photographers knew each other.

But that was ok. I wasn’t there to get the perfect photographs for National Geographic or Outdoor World, I was out there to do my own thing, for some fresh air, a little fun with my camera and to watch the eagles for as long as I could endure the cold.

I made my way past the photographers and walked along the dock to the end of the dam. There were 4 fluffy white birds in the water by the dam wall. Two I knew were white pelicans, but the other two, because of the angle they were facing, looked like swans in the distance. They also ending up being white pelicans.  There were also a few different types of ducks bobbing and diving  in the water. It seems the end of the dock was a good spot for me, as the eagles started to fly right over my head.

Then one by one more eagles started showing up. My camera was now shootings in rapid fire mode. (The eagles also distracted me away from the fact that I had been out in the cold for a good while and my hands and face were starting to feel the sting and feeling a little numb.)  I decided I should probably get back to the car and warm up and maybe go out and give it another go around for a few more photographs. Before I got back into the car, I took a few more photographs of a couple of eagles up in the trees.  And that was it! I was done. I couldn’t take the cold any longer.  I had taken plenty of photographs of the eagles and it was time to call it quits.  I also had to keep in mind my 3 hour drive back home so it was time to head back. I got back in the car, put the seat warmer on, put the car heater on high and waited about 15 minutes for my body to regain it’s blood flow before I took off.

I feel these are some of the best photographs I have taken of eagles, so far. Maybe National Geographic or Outdoor World worthy. 🙂4W4A9264

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American White Pelicans4W4A9461

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Juvenile Seagull4W4A9669

American White Pelican in flight.4W4A9673

A Hooded Merganser4W4A9687

A Canvasback Duck4W4A9697

Some bald eagles have leucism, a genetic mutation that affects feather pigment. A leucistic bald eagle can have patches of white feathers on its body and wings; have overall faded or pale feathers; or have overall white feathers. 4W4A9759

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Here’s to new nature adventures and discoveries in 2018.

3 thoughts on “On the Wings of Eagles: Lock & Dam 14 Recreational Area – Pleasant Valley, Iowa

  1. Nice – looks like a great adventure for you. We live in between Starved Rock and the Mississippi River and we’ll see some Eagles along the Illinois River when temperatures get cold like this. This year has been really good for Eagles in this area due to the extreme cold and frozen water. Loved your photos – all really well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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