Photographing Eagle’s Nest – An Adventure


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,, 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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Connecting with other photographers

Connecting with other photographers, especially those with skill and experience, is a very satisfying and worthwhile experience. Some months ago, while reading my favorite online forum,, I came across a request from Jeff, a Manitoba photographer, who mentioned that he would be visiting relatives in Kelowna and inquired if any local members could point him in the direction of good scenic locations in the area. I posted that I couldn’t really help him with Kelowna, but if he was interested I would gladly spend a day introducing him to Wells Gray Park, and added a link to the park’s website.

He sent an enthusiastic return email and we made plans to spend a day wandering my favourite roadside locations in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Photographers that haven’t been able to visit the fourth largest park in British Columbia are missing a visual treat.

Wells Gray is a spectacular, almost pure, wilderness area that is easily accessible by car. Although the website advertises it as a world-class destination for canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and camping, photographers can enjoy a photo-packed day trip wandering along the pleasantly-winding, park road and will return home with memory cards filled with quality wilderness images.

I anticipated that photographer Jeff, my new friend from Manitoba, had no idea what to expect other than the picture postcard images from the website, and I was pleased when he remarked that he would like to look for more creative opportunities than those most would make from the dedicated tourist lookouts.

The experience of meeting a stranger, and then spending the day driving, talking, and site seeing might be uncomfortable for some, but for photographers, I think they only need photography in common to have an enjoyable time. At any time, if the other person’s opinion causes unease, just change the subject to cameras, lenses, or any other thing photographic.

In order to get to Wells Gray early, Jeff had to get up before the sun for a two-hour drive from Kelowna to Kamloops to meet me at my shop at 6am. (I wasn’t being mean! It was his choice.) We bought coffee and departed for Clearwater, an hour and a half drive away, because we had decided to be in the park taking pictures for 8am. From Clearwater we then roamed into the park with our cameras at the ready.

When I put my camera gear on the backseat of his car I had to move his tripod, and remarked that I liked the ball head he had attached to it. He said, “I always use a tripod”, and I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to like this guy.” There’s nothing like a tripod to let one know they are with a serious landscape photographer.

Wells Gray is a great park for roadside photographers with many places to stop, to photograph the spectacular waterfalls, old homesteads and the river’s many geological features tucked only a short walk away, and that is just what we did. Unfortunately, the wildlife was timid and we only briefly saw one black bear.

The comfortably cool day was excellent for photography with a slight overcast and high moving clouds. Jeff changed lenses and filters regularly as he worked the new environment, but for me Wells Gray has been a regular location for years and I was content to stay with my well-used, 24-120mm lens as I photographed the familiar landscape.

The internet is a wonderful way of bringing people together and I know I would really appreciate photographers extending hospitality to me when I travel to some far off place. In the event of any concern, checking up on other forum members is easy. I reviewed Jeff’s online posts (as he had mine), and when he wrote he was visiting BC I was sure he’d be fun to know and to stand beside as we made pictures. One doesn’t always have to participate as a host, but I am sure suggesting locations for photography would be appreciated. For local photographers who have never made the expedition to Wells Gray, it is well worthwhile.

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