Eagle Eyes

Well, as of 4:00pm today I am officially on holiday break from work until 2012 – WOOT. Of course, that really just translates to two extra days of standing in long lines at local merchants trying to finish up the gift list. Fortunately, that activity can start LATER in the morning so no need to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for the commute to the office. This month was dedicated to shots from our recent Yellowstone vacation. So far we’ve covered the Trumpeter Swans (link here), Mergansers (link here) and two posts covering those scary Ravens (link here and here). We’ll get to the big game soon enough, but today brings us a true American icon… The Bald Eagle.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the eagle a number of times now, both locally as well as up in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. I was excited to hear that they were out in the Yellowstone area as well. The first day we saw one from a distance gliding around, but the second to last day produced a great opportunity.  We were heading back to our room towards the end of the day when we passed by a small valley.  A glint of white from the trees caught my eye.  Hoping I was right, I had Linda turn back for a closer look.

Did you see it? (having it centered in the picture makes it pretty easy, but against the full backdrop of the woods it was definitely harder to locate).  The shot above is a pulled back shot with the Beast which starts at 200mm so you can guess how far away this eagle was from the road.  However, This is exactly where the Beast shines.  Pulling the bird in to the full 400mm gives a MUCH better shot of this awesome bird.

And there it sat keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.  I was actually shooting out the back window of the SUV trying to use the window frame to steady the lens.  The initial shots were producing a lot of blur likely due to the engine vibrations coming through the vehicle frame.  To adjust for that, Linda shut the car off.  that dampened it a bunch, but that distance just amplifies any movement

Heck, why don’t we just pull that shot in a little more!

Hit the jump to see more pictures from the set!

While I was in back shooting away with the Beast, Linda was trying her hardest to get shots with our 70-200mm workhorse.  It turned out to be just too far for that glass.  You could make out the bird, but they are pretty blurry.  Not positive, but she might have even tried using the monopod positioned outside the car, but still no luck.  At one point, my shutter finger became eager with anticipation – it looked as though the eagle had spotted dinner somewhere below on the valley floor which would produce some awesome shots.

… but then it became slightly distracted.  It is hard to tell if he was bothered by us (we were pretty far off), but the barrel on the Beast can be intimidating if it spotted that sneaking out from inside the car.

From that point on it was looking up, down and all around, but it’s body was remaining fairly still.  Clearly the behavior of an animal near the top of his food chain – but always on the lookout for those dangerous eagle killers, the dreaded owl.

Eventually, it had had enough and brought the shoulders out to take flight.  Eagles at rest are pretty cool, but an eagle in flight is a sight to behold.  Now the shutter finger was ready to go.  I really like the shot below.

… but the one below is my favorite from the set.  Not only did it freeze the flight motion, but the angle of the flight matching perfectly with the angle of the  fallen tree results in a very pleasing composition.

Seconds later, the eagle was lost in the tree branches putting an end to the shoot but the memory was sufficiently captured!

During the course of the week we saw some additional eagles in flight over Yellowstone.  The two shots below were actually taken on our way to Custer State Park.  At the time it was difficult to distinguish whether it was a juvenile eagle or possibly a golden eagle.  Once home, the full breadth of the bird references were available.

Based on those books, these two pictures are of a souring juvenile eagle.  The distinguishing markings were the white colorings near the body.  Goldens do not have this prominent white coloring that close to the body.

Which brings us to the last eagle shot below.  This was located while driving on a fairly rugged trail in Yellowstone – the name of the trail escapes me at the moment, but later in the week this drive was blocked off – possibly for the winter since the snow was coming in.  The lighting was not conducive to getting a real good shot of the dark bird, but this one is sufficient to make out some of the details.  With the back turned to us, it was impossible to see the feather pattern on the feet which would have made identifying it pretty easy – feathers further down the foot would signify a golden for sure.  After going through countless pictures trying to match the profile and feather markings, the conclusion is this bird is a golden eagle.

I will gladly accept differing opinions, but the coloring on the beak and small amount of white in the feathers (not speckled as often seen on the bald eagle juvis) give credence to the golden theory.  Next time we are out there and encounter this situation I’ll make sure we get some additional angles (especially the feet).

We have come to the end of the post my friends.  I hope you enjoyed this set as much as the others.  There are probably two or so more Yellowstone bird posts before we step up to the big mammals and then on to the scenery shots. Being on vacation and all, I just might give some bonus posts this month to make up for the Yellowstone flood.

10 thoughts on “Eagle Eyes”

  1. Nice pictures–the one in flight is fantastic. Maybe next time before you put The Beast out the window to take a picture of an eagle, you can turn and ask Linda to tie a live mouse to the end of it. Then sit back and get the best pictures ever! And record the audio in the car, please.



  2. Thanks! Not sure about your idea though. On one hand it is a fantastic idea and as the Rare recollection post point out, baiting can result in awesome shots…. but then there is that whole a) do I want to be that close to a hungry eagle’s talons and b) do I really want to spend the rest of my life single with a traumatized ex. I can also kill the anticipation and simply tell you the conversation would go something like this

    You want me to do WHAT?
    ummm just to hold this little rodent thingy just above the Beast and make loud squeaky sounds
    Have you lost your flippin’ MIND?
    ummm no, Ron thought it would be a good idea and he’s kinda smart sooo… here’s the string
    you know, you’re right… let me go find a snake instea.zzzzz
    {a wicked right cross knocks my butt out}

    … truth is she probably won’t help because she knows that would result in another year of her being the UB thanks to taking the resulting picture to every competition I could find hehehehe.


  3. I agree with Ron,

    The one of the eagle in flight is very cool! Nice shot! Looks like “the beast” is paying for itself with those photos you can grab with it!



  4. Thanks SkidMarks!

    I’d like it to go on the record that I did not suggest a snake even though it obviates the need for string.

    It’s not like I didn’t think of it, though.



  5. Thanks Skids, The Beast is definitely paying off…well … delivering on expectations – it has a LOOOONG way of before if pays for itself – I actually cringe a little every time I recall the cost that glass. But what is life without a little splurging.

    don’t tell anyone, but I asked for a 1.4 teleconverter for christmas to get that extra reach on the beast – not sure if I was good enough this year for Santa to bring it or not, but once that is attached to the Beast we’ll be in business.

    Appreciate taking the time to comment and good luck with your new camera in Yellowstone this weekend.


  6. Ron,
    Wait a minute, I distinctly remember reading SNAKE and something like – hey, Linda hates snakes, why don’t you freak her out and use a snake as bait and then take a video of her screaming and jumping up and down to put up on You Tube so we can all laugh about it at our next family gathering. …. yep, that is pretty much how I remember it (hehehehe)

    by the way.. Linda would like some words with you (are your ears burning?)


  7. Again I’m sorely misquoted. The suggestion was to use a mole for bait, and any ancillary attraction to snakes was a secondary effect beyond my control. I went with a cute mouse this time. Who doesn’t like a cute little mouse??

    I guess I’m down to suggesting a nice rare steak for bait. So, am I back on for a Christmas gift?



  8. hmmmm moles you say… I’ll buy that.. besides, who doesn’t like a dead mole?? I’ll have to let Linda weigh in on the Christmas present – she should be coming out of her catatonic state you put her in with the snake reference any day now – I’ll make sure she puts her $0.02 in.

    .. on a side note, you sure are keeping up with my blog this month … did you get access to the iPad again?


  9. Just FYI… while driving to Yellowstone this weekend for our little Christmas getaway, the wife and I actually saw two bald eagles on the side of the road eating roadkill. That was absolutely the first time we had ever seen that. Unfortunately, since we were traveling around 80 MPH (speed limit is 75), we had no way of taking a picture by the time we realized what we were looking at.


  10. Shutter Priority (if not Manual) 2500th-3000nd shutter – ISO at 1600 (if later in the afternoon) Ch shot mode… fire away! hehehe

    that’s why I make Linda drive all the time!

    I have to say I have not seen bald eagles eating a roadkill either – they really don’t have a strong need to do that with their hunting abilities so not sure what was going on there – what a unique sight.

    thanks for sharing and we can’t wait to see your pictures from your trip .. with your new camera!


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