Happy New Year from the Eagle’s Nest – Part 1 of 2

Hey, we made it to another year in spite of Nostradamus.  A few quick edits a new edition through the press and they will be good for at least another year of doomsday prophecy.  I hope everyone had a safe and fun Eve and kept the roads dry for the safety of others.  It is another year and true to my previous summary, I am going to continue with this little side project for sometime longer.  Keeping with my new goals (it is still early in the resolution season), today’s topic is more graphic.  Actually, it was so graphic the post was broken into two parts.  Unfortunately, the second part has some images of graphic violence but I think they you will still like them unless you are from PETA and don’t understand that violence in nature exists every day – hunter vs. prey has been around since the world decided plants taste like crap.

On the first day of 2009, I bring you America’s Pride:

American Bald Eagle

While Linda and I were in Davenport, IA over the holidays, we stopped down at the Bettendorf locks to snap a few shots of these majestic birds.  Every winter they migrate down (think that is right) to the Quad Cities area to feed off the Mississippi River.  It is absolutely stunning to witness these birds first hand and not have to look at an injured one through glass or chicken wire.  It is obvious they know they are at the top of the flighted foodchain.  Here is a view from the side that gives a better perspective of the weapon that obviously demands respect wherever they roam.

American Bald Eagle from the side

Since I have a lot of pictures today, I’ll go ahead and let you follow the jump to see the rest of them instead of overwhelming my home page.

The interesting observation is that other than the seagulls and some brave ducks, there are really no other birds that travel in their space or even dare to take up positions in a tree that contains an eagle.  I did look them up in my Smithsonian Field Guide to see how hostile they were to their relatives.  According the book, “Despite its reputation for being an opportunistic scavenger, many Bald Eagles may hunt live prey (such as coots and ducks)…”  Based on my observations over the years, I have never seen an eagle attack a duck (with plenty of opportunities in the Mississippi) much less any other bird.  I do disagree with the “may hunt live prey” comment.  Every single time I’ve had the opportunity watch them, they have picked fish out of the water at will – and I’ll prove it to you in part 2.

Here is another sitting shot.  For reference, I am about 100 ft away using a Nikon D70 with a Nikon 75-300 lens maxed out.  I am still learning all the settings and have a long way to go, but my shots are improving a little bit.  I am struggling with the shots crossing in and out of the sunlight and fighting against the focus points in the lens versus what I want to make the focus point.  I purchased some books for Linda (actually her camera) so she can learn some things and share them with me.

Bald Eagle Sitting

I personally really like the following shot because the completely accidental image in the bottom right.  I call it “Keeping Watch Over America’s Pride” because it can be taken from either perspective.   The eagle is a juvenile and the other fine American product is a Caterpillar excavator.

Juvenile Bald Eagle and Cat Excavator

But to be honest, the most beautiful and breathtaking views of these birds are in flight.  I have a number of single pictures of them soaring in the sky like this one:

Eagle in Flight

but decided to collage a few so you could get a better feel for the effect.  As mentioned previously, I was shifting in and out of sunlight so the shades of blues were shifting through the pan, but I think it still gives a lasting impression.   This one came in on us from afar and was actually taken by Linda.  It is definitely a juvenile and my guess is probably under 2 years based on the blackness of the head and lacking a lot of white I notice on the bellies of older immatures.  As a note, it takes at least 3 years for an eagle to get the adult plumage – at first we thought they were just the females.

Juv Eagle in Flight

It is amazing how effortless their flight seems.  There are only smooth rhythmic wing manipulation and completely silent.  Every small creature must tremble when that shadow crosses over them.  The following is likely a closer to 3 year old juvenile crossing away from our position (again think taken by Linda).  As you can tell, it has a lighter plumage which matches the images in the guide.  Notice those deadly talons are tucked up underneath their tail feathers.

Juv Eagle in Flight 2

It is their impressive wingspan that provides such graceful soaring.  The guide indicates their wingspan is in the 80″ range with their length in the 31″ range (weight around 9.5 lb).  This still gives a good view of that (yes, I know it could have been focused better, but it was moving pretty good)

Juv Eagle displaying his wingspan

But, you want to see the adults in flight don’t you?  No problem, I have those to.  This one was a quick shoot on one heading out to the middle of the river.  I like the first shot because it has the sun highlighting those razor talons.

Bald Eagle in Flight

Although I think you will like this montage a little better.  It flows from right to left and crosses into the trees where it decided to land.  Look closely boys and girls, this one has decided to be the minority according to the field guide.

Eagle in Flight with a Fish

Okay, so I lied a little and some of the graphic violence made it into this part as well.  I realize it could be a little more in focus, but that was a pretty hard shoot for me and I think it turned out great considering it was coming almost right in on me and I was working to keep the bird in view the whole time.  Did I mention they don’t actually jitter about much, but they move through the air like an arrow.  Don’t fret, I’ll post some other pictures of their fishing prowess in the next part.  Pretty long post, but hopefully it was interesting and visually entertaining.  I sure enjoyed searching through the collection of photos and putting everything together for you.  Unfortunately, do my limited bandwith (satellite) and respect for your download time I have to reduce these photos which takes some of the quality out.  The raws range from 1.5 to 1.85M where these have been chopped down to the 100K or less.

Have a good year everyone and as always thanks for spending time with me!   .. part 2 coming soon

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