Conowingo Dam – A Pollution Gate



Before my trip, I visualized a picture-perfect day for photos of the hundreds of eagles diving, fighting, and soaring the blue skies. To my delight, I was rewarded. Sometimes it pays to dream…

The best time to see many eagles is right around Thanksgiving. Peak season is supposed to diminish around Christmas, but not when I visited after Christmas this year. Eagles were plentiful and happy to perform.



Eagles start pairing up at the end of December and I saw a few happy couples. What most photographers come for is the fast action feeding of the big birds.


I have seen them feeding before, but not close enough or often enough for photos. In Conowingo, they are bulking up for their long journey to nesting places like I visit here at home. Plus the immature eagles are learning how to fish and a growing eagle needs lots of protein.


I was thoroughly amazed at the amount of wildlife at this dam. There were so many gulls and herons. If you get a chance to see this one day, you will be enchanted and captivated by what you see.


There is Good and Bad

On a previous post, a comment alluded to the environmental impact of damming a river such as the Susquehanna.  The company owning this dam has earned awards for their environmental sensitivity and acting as a pollution gate, yet the Chesapeake Bay Program still has issues with the dam trapping sediments.


Across this six-state watershed, nutrient pollution from farms, sewage treatment plants and urban/suburban runoff is and always was a hazard to the Chesapeake Bay. Conowingo and the two other hydroelectric dams along the Susquehanna have been sheltering the bay from pollution for many years. They capture the sediment as it settles to the bottom of the reservoirs. This is where the long-term dilemma arises. Violent natural storms and continual sediment buildup have to give way at some point.

But the bigger problem is the source of the runoff, not a dam the catches it, no? The problem is very complicated and has ecological effects that are far-reaching.


Dredging the sediments at the dams has cleaned the water only minimally I have read, and electrical generating plants and big agriculture are a necessary evil as people continue to overpopulate this earth.

Migratory fish like the American Shad are stopped at the dam, since dams block migratory fish from their spawning sites. I was told by local residents that the fish are netted and airlifted over the dam. I did not get further explanation to this, but it does seem a viable solution for fish migration.


Will it be the environment or us someday? I wonder if the fish lived to tell its tale?

See Nature and Wildlife Pics  Photographing Eagles at Conowingo Dam for information and a nice sequence of action. I explain something you have seen in this post, how I get this sequence of action from bird descent, to fish capture through the chase.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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39 Responses to Conowingo Dam – A Pollution Gate

  1. Nick Hunter says:

    Nice little photo essay Donna and congrats for bringing these environmental issues to the attention of your many followers. Morrisville, near the geographic center of NYS, is in the headwaters of this massive watershed and Best Management Practices for watershed protection are always a priority topic. There are so many issues and stakeholders – developers, farmers, foresters, private landowners, etc. I spend several hundred dollars a year on my little 30-acre parcel alone, managing intermittent stream corridors and implementing conservation practices. On another note, you’ve captured your eagle experiences beautifully, have enlightened many, and have provided some of us with a possible photo destination!

    • Thanks Nick for your thoughtful comment. I agree there are many stakeholders making it such a fine line on how to handle water cleanup and wildlife habitats. It does seem almost hopeless in some wetland cases where wildlife is severely affected and places go “dead”. I always find nature remarkable in its ability to recover though. What is destroyed and dead has a way of creating anew. Just look at Chernobyl and how the wildlife came back, making the place almost vibrant again WITHOUT people. I hope you visit here one day. Maybe next Thanksgiving I will see you there. I visit family sometimes at holidays like this year at Christmas.

  2. Those pictures of eagles on the hunt are beautiful and exciting. I would say awesome but that word is horribly overused these days. I am aware of the issue with dams – it seems an unusually complex one since dams are thought of as a source of clean energy. I would like to see a photo of those fish being airlifted over the dam.

    • Thanks Jason. I do believe the dam is clean energy. Up here we have these plants on both sides of the river. The energy created does not get shared here though, off it goes elsewhere. We pay a lot for all types of energy, gas is second highest cost in the nation. I would have liked to see the “flying” fish too. I did read they all do not survive the transport. I guess it is like those large fishing boats with the huge nets, only with helicopters.

  3. Beautiful captures. An interesting post. 😀

  4. aussiebirder says:

    Sensational footage Donna, so wish I could have been there!

  5. To my delight, I was also rewarded! What a photo session! 🙂

  6. Pat says:

    Wonderful action shots.

  7. Your photos of eagles are amazing. I have been to the dam but evidently not at the right time. There are also a lot of wildflower viewing areas near the dam.

    • I think on one of my posts I noted the wildflowers. A photographer and his naturalist wife were telling me where I could take the trail to see a large variety of wildflowers. I told them I may be back in late April and they said it would be a good time to visit.

  8. Your message is so important, and you’ve done a great job of complementing the important words with stunning images. Thanks for sharing both.

  9. Very informative post on issues surrounding dams in the environment. And your eagle photos were suburb! Would like to visit there sometime.

  10. Whoa! These fight scenes are even more amazing than the post on your photography blog. I wondered about the fish, too.

  11. In Washington we have been working over the past 20 years to remove dams to mitigate the damage they cause, it is so complex. We have the leverage of the salmon industry to make this happen so it is now becoming a reality.

    • I would bet the salmon industry would be greatly against dams. Salmon are what most people recognize as a fish swimming many miles against hard currents to spawn. The Niagara River has quite a few salmon.

  12. bittster says:

    Always such a nice photo story to go with the post! Great pictures, and the birds look like they’re within arm reach 🙂 I can see what you meant earlier by the bald heads on the adults causing exposure problems.
    There are so many challenges against re-creating an ecosystem that has been changed so much and I think sometimes you need to take stock in what you have and just move on. Rivers are always in a state of change anyway so by definition they adapt to new conditions.
    Even here in upper PA at the cleaner end of the Susquehanna things like road salting seem to have a huge effect. I don’t think the river ices up like it use to and the sandbar grinding spring ice dams don’t clear off the banks any more. As a result large trees fill the islands and line the shore…. nice for species adapted, but I’m sure others are out of luck.

    • It is true rivers change where they pass through. Nature is always in flux and that is a good thing for the most part. We as humans do make major changes that cause whole environments to change, diminish or be gone though. But we are nature too and good or bad, we are also part of the change. I always thought living in PA the Susquehanna was polluted and smelled terrible. I guess it really matters where on it one lives. You are lucky you are at the cleaner end. I imagine though it has been cleaned up over the years as has the Niagara River. Here we get warnings to not eat the fish though.

  13. Thanks for bringing this sensitive issue up as I wondered about the effects of damming on the fish…had not thought about the dam on the various ecosystems. Very complicated issue…I think many in nature will be far better at surviving than us….Happy New Year Donna!

  14. debsgarden says:

    Airlifting fish over a dam? Who would have thought? Very interesting post, and great images of the eagles!

  15. So very informative! And your photos of these magnificent birds are astonishing – beautiful work!

  16. Erika T says:

    Lovely photos of the Eagles, we do get to see a few on the Merrimack river in NH. Your right about the animals coming back after the Chernobyl tragedy but I watched a program on this and ALL of those animals are highly radioactive and scientists are worried about their DNA changing.. It was an interesting but haunting show..

    • I saw the special too. Not all were as bad as some. I wonder if the animals can sense the areas that were less effected? I was just happy to see wildlife having a place without the people. Too bad it had to happen this way though. I also saw a special on the jaguars in Iran living free of humans because of mine fields. The cats having four feet dispersed their weight so they passed without incident for the most part. Some did not make it through though.

  17. Barb says:

    Fabulous action sequence with the eagles!

  18. Beth says:

    Lovely pics and I’d never heard about airlifting fish over a dam.

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