Many Americans might be content with seeing a taxidermied Bald Eagle in a museum, but not Charlie Engelman—he wanted to clap eyes on a live one. “I realized I'd never seen one before, which is kind of strange, as it's our national symbol, and all over the place,” he says.
Last fall, Engelman won National Geographic’s Expedition Granted competition. With funding from the organization, the 22-year-old Chicago-native started a video series called Nature Boom Time to offer “a new style of nature education that gets people excited about the environment.” In the latest episode, Engelman sets out to the Rock Island District of Illinois with his dad, sister, and friend to nab his first-ever Bald Eagle.
Through the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Engelman found out that in colder weather, the raptors gravitate to the Mississippi River, which is too large and turbulent to ice over—even during the frigid Midwestern winters. That makes it a great fishing spot, and the ultimate eagle trove. “It was kind of like a treasure hunt,” Engelman says—one that he hoped would yield a few eagles.
But after spending seven hours along the river, Engelman’s posse spotted 551 Bald Eagles. “It may sound really geeky, but it was almost like meeting a celebrity in person,” he says. “They are really so fascinating. They're such large and menacing and powerful birds that I couldn't help but have even more respect for them.”
By capturing the moment on film, Engelman wants to inspire others to seek out these awe-inspiring creatures. “Hopefully people will watch it and realize that these eagles exist in real life, and they're not only something we see on our quarters and dollar bills."