February 17 - March 14, 2009 Squaw Creek NWR - Just Eagles

The thing about the bald eagles there is they either don't let you get within 2 blocks of them(most) or they won't fly off the branch for nothing! The above is blinking his nictating membrane. They can look rather freaky if you can get a still of it as it happens. Evidently they can still see through that thing.

This one giving me some audible action. If I remember right, a juvenile was approaching with food. They don't get their white head until 4 or 5 years of age...fwiw.

Even with a 100-400mm lens, it's not terribly easy to get the birds to fill most of a frame. You have to be really really close. This one was amazingly brave. I pulled over and shot some, then tried to get out of the car below him. He let me. After 10 minutes or so aiming at him, waiting for him to take flight, my arms got tired. The lens ain't terribly light to hold up very long. So I try to walk around my car and lay on my back, propping it on my crossed leg sort of up above me. I still had to hold it there and stare through the eyepiece. I got a bunch of shots of him looking down at me. 25 minutes passes before he takes off. It is damn hard to be ready constantly, especially when your arms are getting tired. I get this one, and the next frame all you see are his feet at the top. Aarrrghhh! It took some practice trying to get a good close flight shot. If they are about filling the frame and they start flying, well it's hard to keep them in the frame and also get a sharp picture. Use Servo focusing if you try and aren't doing that, as it keeps focusing as you have the shutter half down. Otherwise it only focuses the one time you push it half down. I set the metering/focus point to single and in the center too. Works fairly well. I'd usually need 400 ISO and open at F5.6(widest it will go at 400mm).

Yay, got a decent flight one. I have a ton of really bad ones.

The eagles maxed out around 200 March 2nd. They were simply all over the ice. Some of the chasing that goes on is crazy.

There are nearly 40 bald eagles in this picture. There were a few groups like this all lined up in this area.

Eagle spooking up a group, watching for the weaker straggler to go after. Their favorites seemed to be the all black American Coots(ducks). With those it didn't seem to matter if it was weak or not, if the eagle wanted it, it would just go and get it.

Eagle pooping. Got this shot more than once lol.

A few of these guys looked rather fat. I don't see the one I have on here that really makes them look fat.

This one is extremely cropped in, probably near 100%. I'm not sure what he was doing. Didn't appear to be food related. I almost figure he was just cleaning himself off.

Head under water, maybe he was fishing. Not sure there were any in this part. Probably just bird bathing it up. It still amazes me how many times I will see an eagle somewhere with ducks just casually swimming around, not seeming to care. Perhaps the eagles don't bother most species. Can't say I've seen the eagles take anything but snow geese, coots, fish and muskrats.

Eagle with a muskrat. Pretty disgusting at full size. Those things are ugly enough when they are alive.

Hey, just take the whole tree with ya there buddy. That's not cropped at all and is blurry. It gets damn hard to track them as they lift off and get it sharp. A lot of it is camera movement, but with such a fast shutter(usually 1/1600th or faster) I think most of it is the autofocus not being fast enough. Then again, some of them the lens was really being yanked around as I snapped trying to get what I could.

This guy gave me my best eagle shots. He was in the same tree as the eagle before I think, but a bit later that day. This one is cropped in some, not much. I think I just took the sides off the horizontal and made it vertical. Oh yeah, this is the one I kept creeping closer to, snapping stick after stick on the ground as I did so. I was trying so hard to be quiet, even though he was right above me looking right at me. Then all the sudden....choooooooooo chooooooooo....damn train right there by the refuge. It didn't spook him off, but was funny at the time.

Not cropped I don't think. I thought he was taking off for sure.

No, he had to give me a nice mouth of food shot. This one is pretty sick at full size. I should post some 100% crops, but dang, this whole deal is taking too much time already.

I'm now the closest to him as I could get without climbing branches. Photo not cropped in at all. It amazes me the differences in these eagles. Some literally will fly off if you get within 2 blocks of them. You can drive down the road and watch them leaving where they were on the ice or in the trees way out. Then you get these brave ones that don't seem to care.

Same eagle soon after the shot before. I learned one important thing with getting the flight shots after they take off....wait for it. It's better to track and get one good one, than track and get a bunch of crappers in a row. Man I wish I had the Canon 600mm, though I can imagine the difficulty as far as being able to move it around fast enough. If I do this all again, I'd love to rent the Canon 800mm! and a 2x converter. That is a $12,000 lens lol. Won't be buying anything like that for, oh, ever. Having 1600mm instead of 400mm would be crazy for further out action shot stuff.

If I thought the eagle before this one was brave, he wasn't compared to this guy. This was nuts. As I drove north I saw a car stop under him on the road to get some shots. I figured he'd leave. They go and I get up there, trying to drive more on the grass and sneak up on him. He looked huge in the tree but was a juvenile. Surely an older one. He lets me get some from the car so I next sneak out of the car. I get some more then sneak around the car. I had the sun right behind him so I had to try and get this kind of shot. 100 ISO, probably 1/4000th shutter, and stopped down quite a ways. Then try and not blind yourself lining it up. Might look dark but it was anything but. I get those and before I know it I'm standing directly under him. He just did not care at all. He'd occasionally look down at me, but mostly wouldn't even do that. So what do I do to get even closer?

I stand on top of my car lol. This is cropped in, but still, I'm damn close to this eagle. If I extended my hands up, I don't think they were even 10 feet from him. What other bird is going to let you do this? Not many. I guess they know their place in the food chain. I jump down off the car and he still sits there. Finally after walking around in the grass below him he decides to leave. I don't think it was because of me though. He'd have taken off long ago.

Oh yeah before he took off I had to get a shot of his talons. 400 PSI grip strength in those evidently. I don't know how that is possible. Ain't that the same as a 400lb man standing on something that ends in a square inch and putting that on say, your finger? I must be missing something.

This wasn't terribly easy. They were gliding up in loops. It's hard to follow one and snap it right as it crosses paths with another. I failed at it a lot. You just watch through the eyepiece but with your other eye kind of open for the peripheral to get the other timed.

Splat!