A Convocation of eagles                                                

 

 

I have always liked eagles.

I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah where the state bird was the California gull. There were seagulls everywhere and one couldn’t go anywhere without lots of them overhead. We affectionately called them “Mormon Bombers”. But eagles weren’t all that common and there were only I few times that I can remember ever seeing an eagle near the city, and on those rare occasions they were high and off in the distance. At that time one had to be somewhere high in the mountains that circle Salt Lake City, and even then, spotting one wasn’t that common.

I lived in many places, but until moving to British Columbia my eagle sightings were a rarity. Imagine my excitement I when found that no matter where one lives in the province I came to call home there seemed to always be eagles. Gosh, go to any fishing town and the skies and wharfs will be crowded with eagles.

Where I live, spring, summer or fall, and even sometimes in the frozen winter, while on my 45-minute drive to Kamloops along the Thompson River there are eagles watching from the trees.

This spring the water has been unusually high in the small streams and lakes in the countryside around Kamloops, and now that the rains have ceased and the drying summer heat is here, the once flooded farmlands, lakes, and meandering streams have trapped fish.

All one has to do is drive up into the farmlands out of town, pull the car over, wait a bit and there will be eagles. Until I stopped I hadn’t noticed how many were sitting on fence posts and in the trees along the road taking turns eating hapless fish caught in shallow creeks along the road.

They were spooky, eagles usually are. I pulled over and waited as other people excitedly stood by their cars pointing, talking loudly, and holding their cellphones at arms length to snap pictures of the many eagles flapping low to the ground and eating.

I positioned my car so I could open the door with my beanbag lens rest on the window ledge. I knelt comfortably, put my 150-600 on the bag and drank my coffee as I waited for the big birds to calm down and return after all the cellphone photographers left.

And return they did. I have seen larger convocations of eagles (yes. That’s the right word, “convocation”) when I visited towns on the coast, but that many eagles sitting, eating and flying around a few feet off the ground so darn close to a busy road was a bit unusual.

I haven’t had my big zoom lens very long, so this was my first experience using it to photograph flying birds. It took me a few shots to get comfortable with all the movement. There was a lot of commotion around one big trout, with several adults and youngsters demanding their turn. Nevertheless, the eagles were easy to photograph, their movements are slow and predictable. That excited gathering ignored my big lens poking over the car door, and they only flew off when another car stopped and people got out. When that happened I just relaxed, had another drink of coffee, and waited till I could start taking pictures again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excellent tool for a roadside photographer           

I live in a wooded rural location just short of an hour from the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, and it’s so easy to hop in my car to drive along the winding back roads. I suppose I could hike or climb, but truth be told I have the most fun as a roadside photographer.

For years, each spring, my wife and I looked forward to seeing geese hatchings at a near by pond. There are normally two, or sometimes three adults with six or eight goslings hiding in the long grass just across the reed filled pond. However, this spring there are at least eight adult geese and maybe twenty soft yellow goslings residing at the pond.

To photograph them we would stealthily slow the car down and ease to a prolonged stop. Coming to a sudden stop spooks the apprehensive geese causing them to dash away. Do geese “dash”?   Anyway the fearful gaggle of geese would quickly move from sight. And opening the car door to try photographing them is a waste of time.

Having decided on the time of day that gives me the best light, I first slowly drive by so as to determine where I want to stop for the best photos and I shoot from the car. The geese are usually far enough away that anything shorter than a 300mm lens isn’t close enough. Actually, 300mm isn’t really close enough.

In the past twenty plus years Linda and I used countless kinds of equipment to stabilize our lenses. And the best, in my opinion, is a beanbag. A beanbag fits nicely on the car’s windowsill and allows the photographer to nestle down and rest any size lens on it for shake free shooting.

This year I purchased, after months of research and selling off some of my other lenses, the latest Tamron 150-600mm lens. The lens weighs just over four pounds and although it does have vibration control, shooting from a seated position in a car isn’t the best for sharp, shake free photographs. So out comes the beanbag. However,  I quickly realized that big lens demanded a larger beanbag than the one I hastily stitched together years ago.

With a bit of online searching I found a company called Movophoto.com that makes a large and unique beanbag that fits like a saddle over the car window. With my limited sewing skills I could never have made such a perfect beanbag for that big lens. I ordered it, and when it finally arrived I filled it with rice, and although it’s heavy it resides in the car and stays put on the window, so the weight is a good thing. There are a lot of gadgets that I could spend my money on, but for now that beanbag is my favourite.

I slowed my car to a stop next to the pond, shut the engine off, positioned my camera on the large beanbag, and waited for the geese to resume their browsing along the grassy hill beside the pond. At 600mm I was able to frame pretty darn close. Then, when I wanted a different position, I’d just move the car a bit, and take more pictures. I photographed those geese (and some nearby turtles) for about thirty minutes.

Suddenly I heard loud honking from some unseen goose that must have been hiding in the tall pond reeds, and, like a crowd scene from a movie, they all turned at once and rushed into the pond.

I am sure there are experienced photographers that would have set up a blind and waited for hours to get the perfect shot. There is no doubt they will get my respect. But I know where those geese are and what time of day is the best to photograph them. And anyway my car is really comfortable and when I am done I just drive home. I guess I am just a roadside photographer.