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Eagle in Keokuk
Eagle in Keokuk

Iowa (and Illinois) Part II
Eagles along the Mississippi, January 13-18, 2005
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The eagle viewing at Lock and Dam #18 during my 2004 visit was spectacular. On my return trip in 2005, it was even better. There were at least as many birds, the light was better, and I had more time.

Last year's trip was at the end of January, and most of the Mississippi river was frozen. Birds were concentrated near the open water just below the dam. This year's trip was two weeks earlier and there was much more open water. Eagles were fishing over a wider area, so there seemed to be a better chance that one would dive within camera range. The Corps of Engineers has also built a viewing platform that makes it easier to see the action near the dam.

This time around, I flew into Moline, Illinois on the 13th and spent a day exploring the Quad Cities area before heading south. In the Quad Cities I found the following eagle viewing locations:

  • Lock and Dam 14 - There were about 15 roosting birds that were mostly obscured by trees, but on occasion they would go out to fish fairly close to shore. It seems like it would be a good location to set up for a few hours and wait for the action, but I wasn't patient enough to get any good shots there.
  • Credit Island Park - The first afternoon I didn't see much there except cardinals, black squirrels and other small critters mobbing a large bird feeder. The following morning there were a few roosting eagles scattered around.
  • Concord Street - Quite a few eagles roosting along the shore, and occasional nearby fishing action, but it's a residential area and there are a lot of "NO" signs (no parking, no trespassing). The brochure "Working for Eagles" put out by the Quad City Converservation Alliance (available at welcome centers) says the viewing area is under the bridge. Apparently you aren't supposed to wander too far down the shore. It didn't seem very welcoming so I moved on.

As I left the Quad Cities and drove along the river to Muscatine, there were pockets of eagles roosting in trees along the shore. After Muscatine the road wasn't quite so close to the river and there were fewer viewing opportunities. My hotel was in Keokuk, but before heading down there I crossed over into Illinois at Burlington and made a quick stop at Lock and Dam #18. At first I was disappointed to see so much open water, but then I came to realize that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There seemed to be just as many birds around as in 2004. I made it to Keokuk as the sun was getting low and spent a few minutes along the waterfront there below Lock and Dam #19. There are several good (and one great) roosting trees along the waterfront.

Eagle grabs a fish
Eagle grabs a fish

Once again Craig made the trip, this time coming up Friday evening from his temporary assignment in Kansas City. You can see Craig's photos here. The following morning (Saturday) we hit the Keokuk waterfront before moving on to #18. That's the routine we followed Sunday and Monday also. We also explored the area on the Illinois side across the bridge from Keokuk, an area which was closed in 2004. There we saw a lot of birds roosting nearby in trees. There was considerable air traffic as they came and went, but the fishing action was quite a ways out.

My unofficial and arbitrary count was more than 400 eagles at #18, at least 100 eagles around #19, and others scattered elsewhere. I also saw a few other raptors, including a red-tailed hawk and some small kestrels south of #18.

Our visit coincided with the 21st Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk. Personally I would rather avoid such gatherings because I figure large groups just scare away the birds, but that's the way our schedules worked out. And it did give us the opportunity to stop in at the River City Mall to see all the crafts and other displays. Interesting to see what some of the craftsmen can do, but our souvenir purchases were limited to a couple of buttons.

After two tries, I can still see a lot of room for improvement in my photos, so I'm looking forward to another try. Next winter I'll either head back to Keokuk/Burlington or try Brackendale, BC.

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Photos 1998-2007 by Thomas O'Neil