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Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Northwest Missouri Eagles, Dec. 3-6, 2006
[Photos] [2005 Report]

Eagle in Missouri
Eagle in Missouri

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri has become one of my "go-to" places when looking for a cold place to go to in December. For the second straight year, I took a few days to chase eagles and geese around.

I arrived Sunday afternoon, and the giant rubber eagle in front of the headquarters was an indication that Eagle Days was underway. As is always the case, my goal was to see a bunch of critters and not many humans, so that first day was a bit of a drag as the nattering nabobs clogged the road. Fortunately, when the weekend ended the human count plunged to a more tolerable level. Tuesday's eagle count was 53, about double what I estimated when I first arrived but fewer than what I saw in 2005. (Actually to see the most eagles, it would be best to visit two weeks later.) I'm not sure how to estimate the geese and duck numbers, but my impression was there were a lot more ducks (and still plenty of geese) this year.

The ducks and geese were further out in the water this year, so the eagles were further out also as they awaited their opportunities to pick off the sick and injured. Still, there were some opportunities to get shots of the eagles on the ice and roosted on muskrat lodges. Every once in a while two or three of them would spar in the air, competing for a morsel, and I took a few shots of that activity.

I also spent quite a bit of time driving the wildlife loop trying to catch eagles and hawks roosted in trees near the road. After all the laps I've driven the last two years, I know that there is a batch of eagles (probably full-time residents) that hangs around the nests in the northwest part of the refuge, and I know the best place to see hawks is on the southeast stretch. The hawks include redtails and harriers for sure, and maybe some others that evade my ID skills.

Since I was driving my own car instead of flying in, I was able to carry as much gear as I wanted. I took this opportunity to use my digiscoping setup, which includes a fairly big telescope (Televue 85), Canon G6 camera, Scopetronix 2" eyepiece, and tripod. The magnification with this setup is greater than what can be accomplished with the typical SLR camera and is is handy for getting some shots of the eagles around the nests. I compared images taken with the scope and a 420mm lens on my DSLR and came up with a scope equivalent of 2,200mm, or 44x magnification.

Residents
"Residents"

There is one active nest and three old ones that look to be falling apart. My guess is that the full-time resident eagles who lurk around the nests include two adults (shown at left) and three or more juveniles born in different years. The digiscoped photos are not quite as sharp as SLR photos, and the windy conditions combined with the extreme magnification made it difficult to get stable images. But with some luck I got a few presentable images. Compare the image at left to the DSLR version.

When I was at the refuge during the summer last year, I saw a kingfisher diving for fish but wasn't able to get any decent shots. I didn't know kingfishers stayed through the winter, but on this year's trip I saw one on a post close enough to get some snaps. One thing I hadn't seen before at all at Squaw Creek was a line of 18 turkeys sprinting across a field toward a stand of corn. They were a long way away and I can shoot turkeys in my back yard, so I didn't worry about getting shots of the 18. And I even saw a couple of blue herons.

I haven't gotten outside much this year, and the three-day drive each way from the East Coast isn't much fun, but the visit to Squaw Creek was worthwhile again this year. If I follow through on plans to move back to the middle of the country, Squaw Creek will be a frequent destination.

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Photos 1998-2007 by Thomas O'Neil