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Urban Safari: Merrimack River Eagle Festival 2017

Three years ago, the RainyDayCrew spent an absolutely frigid day watching eagles fly over our heads. The experience was so amazing that when we heard it was going on again this weekend—and that the temperature was going to be 50º—we couldn’t pass up the chance to do it again.


Massachusetts Audubon’s annual Merrimack River Eagle Festival is a well-organized event that is completely free. Sponsors, volunteers, and donations play a big part in keeping it that way. The Festival’s map gives the location of the talks, the route of the best viewing spots, and the route of the shuttle vans for those who want a guided tour.


We spent the day looking for bald eagles at the various spots on the Merrimack River. Having a map and a van which took us around made the whole affair much easier. Our first stop was unsuccessful on the eagle front, but we did see a harrier and a red tail hawk.


Our second stop on the Merrimack was more successful. This stop required the group to trek for about a hundred yards to get to the river’s edge. Three years ago it was a lot colder with more snow on the ground. This time around, it was more muck than snow but the going was pretty easy.


There were a lot of different spotting scopes in the group, but we really wanted to try out our new pair of Fujinon 10×42 KF H binoculars. We were happy to report it performed extremely well in the field. The unit was light and easy to pack. The focus was fast, the view was bright, and the field of view was wide enough to make locating and tracking quick and simple.


We were there for less than ten minutes before a huge bald eagle suddenly left its perch on our side of the river and took off for a higher vantage point on the opposite side (or possibly just wanting to get away from all the humans). There wasn’t a lot of time to react; we managed to get off a few shots, and in just a few seconds the eagle had settled on its new perch.


The Fujinon helped us locate the bald eagle when it finally landed on a pine tree across the river. Even with the Nikkor 18-300mm at maximum zoom, the lens was not sufficient to get a decent shot of the bird.


However, at 100% crop, we can definitely make out that it was an adult bald eagle! Not too bad for a handheld shot with a 300mm zoom. Ok, Nikon’s vibration-reduction may have had a tiny bit to do with getting a recognizable image, but at least we were pointing it at the right grove of trees.


What did we learned from our outing? A warm Winter means the rivers up North do not completely freeze over, so there the eagles don’t have to fly South looking for food. While a warm Winter is great for getting outside and hiking, it is not so great for eagle watching…something to remember when planning our next outing!

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