An inventive Clinton man has found a way to bring eagles into focus for dozens of area photographers.
Ken Kester built a giant slingshot to hurl dead fish into the open waters below Lock and Dam 14 in LeClaire, attracting eagles that swoop in and snatch them out of the water.
The “fish launcher,” as Kester calls it, came about because the current in the river near the parking lot and public area at Lock and Dam 14 changed this year. Photographers used to be able to throw fish in, and the current would swirl around and carry the fish out far enough to where the eagles would come down and pick them out of the water.
The fish launcher slings the fish farther into the channel.
“You have to get the fish out there a couple hundred feet,” Kester said, “into that comfort zone for the eagles.”
Conservation officer Jeff Harrison of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that as long as the fish come from the local pool of water, there is nothing wrong with the photographers throwing the fish out to draw in the eagles.
Harrison said the department would be more concerned if someone were bringing a cooler full of fish from other areas that could be carrying a virus called viral hemorrhagic septicemia, which is a pathogen affecting fish of all sizes and ages.
Kester said the fish launcher is popular with the ever-growing number of photographers who gather daily near Lock and Dam 14. The large number of eagles along the river this year seems to have drawn out the photo enthusiasts who can number from 10 to more than 150 in recent weekends, Kester said.
“It brings the birds in and allows more opportunities to get a dramatic shot,” Kester said of his invention.
Harrison said, “On a nice day, the photographers will be elbow to elbow there at Lock and Dam 14 trying to capture eagle pictures. It’s a popular place.”
“On a personal side," he said, “I don’t know if I agree with it. Some of these photographs show up in some pretty big magazines, and they are more or less staged.”
For his part, Kester, who works in the railroad industry, said photography became a serious hobby in 2000. For the past three years since he became involved with the Quad-Cities Photography Club, eagles have become serious business.
Earlier this week, he kept the eagles and photographers busy, but after about two hours, the eagles stopped dropping in to grab the fish.
“I think they got full,” he said.