Bald Eagle: A Day Defined by a Single Moment 20 April 2012
Animals are often faithful to a favorite roost, a favorite perch, or a favorite pattern that brings success and some certainty of more days to come. Familiarity with home range is requisite to survival. As a wildlife photographer, I have become a student of animal behavior. I have learned my own home range, and I have come to know the animals that live there very, very well. Marry this knowledge to good light, and great images may result.
Whatever regular day-to-day works may have transpired on this day in April would have to be looked up, maybe in a calendar or planner on my desk somewhere. I’m not sure what it was that day that must have filled the hours. What made the day memorable was a single moment, a moment of tension, a few seconds where a massive adult female bald eagle flew directly toward me, coming in for a quick look and a defensive posture. My meddling and wandering path brought my son, daughter and me to a brushy hill near the eagle’s nest. I had briefed my kids about a strict limit on time and about sticking close and being “one animal” together. We made a careful, respectful visit. I just had to show them what I had learned a few weeks before.
As she alighted on the top of a favorite snag, the eagle opened her mouth and uttered a defiant cackle. My son and daughter were both completely swept up in the moment, wide-eyed and silenced. Then, almost in unison, they whispered, “Woah.” The joy of seeing such a magnificent bird so closely was almost as great as seeing it through my children’s eyes. Reflecting compassion for my own children on the eagle's behalf, I instructed a hasty retreat. We walked on and gave the growing eagle family plenty of space.
The single moment, a few seconds of unusual perspective, a view not allowed to most humans, was ours. It was that riveting moment of nature arriving! Getting closer! The eagle made our day a “forever” sort of day, one that my kids will hold through old age. Life is about making memories!
The images were made with a Canon 40D set to Aperture Priority, 300mm f4 IS lens opened up to f4.0 (or pretty close to that). I used autofocus, but I honestly don’t recall if I used IS mode 1 or 2. I was too caught up in that moment to know. Whatever I did, I think it worked out pretty well!
A respectful nature photographer minimizes stress on photo subjects. Nest visits should be brief, well-researched, or achieved using a blind to which parent birds have been habituated. Always, the parent bird must be allowed to conserve energy, nurture the young and, of course, win and successfully "drive you away" when perceived conflict arises. I discovered this eagle nest in March and have visited it exactly four times in nearly two months. All visits have been brief and were planned for days on which light and wind would be favorable for photography. Instead of putting the cost on the eagles, I put the cost into good planning!