IOWA — Winter skies in Iowa aren’t known for bringing good news, but this year, that’s not the case.
They have returned.
“It’s become kind of a Des Moines tradition,” says Eric Burson, an amateur photographer, looking out over the Des Moines River.
Standing at Scott Street, or there on Grand, the most urban spot in Iowa hosting our most spectacular members of the wild.
“There’s a nice stretch of open water down the river,” says the Iowa DNR’s Stephanie Shepherd, “so that’s kind of what’s putting them in this area.”
“It’s kind of nice just to step back and take it all in,” says Eric Williamson, another photographer who’s stopped by with his camera.
And that’s all we’ve had to do, because more than ever before … the bald eagles have come to us.
“This year we’re gonna break records,” says Shepherd, a biologist specializing in birds of prey. “For the first time we’re gonna have over 5,000 eagles on the count.”
Sixty years ago, we were down to fewer than 500 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48. You’d see zero here in Iowa.
”During the winter time along the Des Moines River we can see congregations easily well over 30,” says Burson.
Wildlife photographers like Burson and Williamson are loving life. A time when shooting eagles from a bridge might be easier than shooting fish in a barrel.
“I wanna see expression, I wanna see action!” Williamson says of his eagle photographs.
Seeing it is one thing … but to capture it on camera is truly special.
Both Williamson and Burson take time to remember the scenes where they snapped their favorite eagle photos.
“The young one went down and got the fish,” Williamson remembers, “it came back up, and an older adult said that is MY fish! It took off after the younger one. The younger one threw it up in the air, they got talons locked, starting to drop back down to the river, threw the fish in the air and that’s the series of shots that I got.”
“One year I was down at the Scott Street bridge,” says Burson, “and there was a bald eagle that was perched up on one of the exposed branches and it actually worked out pretty well where the moon was in alignment, but I had to lie down on the bridge itself to shoot up towards it.”
In warmer weather, these two search elsewhere in the metro for wildlife, and you’d be surprised at what they’ve found, and photographed, so close by.
The brilliance of uncommon birds..
The sheen of an Urbandale mink…
The wile of a coyote in Johnston…
A beaver busy in Des Moines…
A wild fox kit on a very domesticated lawn.
And the wisdom in the eyes of owls, both small and large, old and young.
“I believe that photography helps to connect an audience that may not have considered it to begin with,” Burson says.
Their photographs, shared on social media … seen by many who may not be nature lovers alread, make a connection, and a difference.
“It really inspires people and makes conservation personal for folks,” Shepherd says. “They sort of understand what they’re losing.”
For so long, we’d lost the bald eagle in Iowa. The end of DDT and the advent of the Endangered Species Act did wonders, but mostly it was the change in our hearts.
We do have room for wild things. We can connect with them in our spaces even those most unlikely, and for tha, let our hearts be warm this winter.
Our thanks to Eric Burson and Eric Williamson for their time and photographs. You can follow them on Instagram at:
You’ll also find their work on the Iowa DNR’s page:
By the way — the eagles will only be around the city for a few more weeks, and then they’ll be off to their nesting sites around the state and the Midwest.