Generally, when looking for eagles viewers are peering upwards, and most photographs of eagles are of eagles flying high or perched overhead. So, thinking of all that, it was with excitement that my friend, Walter, and I began a somewhat hazardous climb up a steep, loose, shale-covered hill that would allow us to photograph an eagle’s nest from above. He had found and climbed to this nest late in the spring about four years ago, but that time he only made a couple of photographic climbs because he thought he might be bothering the eagles. I was able to photograph it only once and what a great day that was.
Last week Walter and I made the half-hour climb again and we found a position on a ledge where we could watch and photograph the eagles from a distance slightly further away than where we were four years ago. This year there was one fluffy chick in the nest and although I am sure they were very aware of our presence, with the added distance between them and us, they didn’t seem to be bothered.
Walter brought his Sigma120-400mm and I had my wife’s 150-500mm. Both are big and heavy lenses, but because we followed the old photographers adage, “always select a shutter speed number that matches the focal length” neither of us had a problem handholding our hefty lenses. I know fixed-focal length lenses tend to focus faster and are usually sharper, but for this excursion we both wanted the versatility of multi-focal length (zoom) lenses.
The only difficulty we had was the climb. The shale was loose and we caused small avalanches as we crossed and slipped over the face of the hill. I stepped wide and constantly leaned into the hill and had to watch where I placed my feet seeking stable footing. And looking about, or straightening up, only increased the probability that one would end up bruised some distance down the steep hill with damaged equipment.
When we finally reached our photography perches we sat quietly for a while as our trip up was noisy and we expected we might have agitated the eagles. After a time we moved to where we each could see the family of eagles, then pressing our eyes against our viewfinders we both began photographing them.
The day was clear and bright, so a sky shot, although dramatic, was always a silhouette. I wanted to show the eagles on the nest, to include parents and the chick, so most of my shots were level or angled downwards. The eagles would sit at the nest for long periods, and then seemingly take turns flying off to perform acrobatics high in the windy sky. Too high to photograph, but amazing to watch all the same and when they did zoom back to the nest I would start releasing the shutter all the time wondering if any of my captures would be usable.
Bird Forum, www.birdforum.net, claims to be the largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding. The advice on photographing birds, by one of the moderators is, “A bird will pretty much let you know if they feel threatened by you so you should let them be your guide… The birds come first. Sometimes your close proximity to a nest can cause the parents to abandon the nest,… close proximity to a nest will only invite other predators to the nest… The best way to photograph birds is to make yourself stationary rather than chase them down. Stay put, you would be amazed at just how close the birds will come to you once they are comfortable”.
It was a great day for both of us; outdoors, fresh air, sun, wildlife, and great pictures to help us remember. The eagle chick should be full grown by nine weeks, and now that we know we aren’t bothering them we’ll plan another visit shortly.
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