Photographing bald eagles at their nest is at all times difficult. Over the course of a latest summer time, I used to be privileged to watch a pair of bald eagles as they raised two chicks on a lakeshore in Adirondack Park in upstate New York.

Bald eagle father, who’s chargeable for a lot of the fishing, arrives on the nest with a catch for the chicks’ dinner.

Discovering Perspective When Photographing Bald Eagles

Apparently eagles, like people, desire high-rise waterfront views and choose their nesting tree accordingly. Since their nest, 100 ft up in an japanese white pine, was principally seen from the water, I developed (after some experimentation) a capturing method utilizing a canoe. A buddy made me a “legless” chair for the underside of the canoe so I may sit in consolation and use the canoe like a kayak. This gave me an simply maneuverable and secure platform—more often than not. The largest drawback was drifting as a result of present or wind, countered once in a while by tying up on the other shore, although my view of the nest was considerably decreased. I used to be sometimes capturing at a distance of 100 yards or extra from the nest to have the absolute best view of the nest in addition to the eagles’ ingress and egress routes. The eagles have been unperturbed by the presence of my canoe as they have been accustomed to seeing kayaks, canoes and small engine energy boats on the lake.

Gear & Publicity Settings

My digital camera arrange consisted of a digital camera and a Canon 800mm lens mounted on a Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head supported by a Manfrotto 682B monopod. With this association, the digital camera and lens have been balanced and required little effort to carry throughout capturing periods that always stretched for a number of hours.

Bald eagles are significantly difficult to {photograph}, as they’re a high-contrast topic with white head and tail and darkish brown physique. To acquire an excellent {photograph}, the top have to be correctly uncovered, necessitating capturing at -1 EV (publicity worth) or extra so as to not overexpose the top. Some underexposure of the physique could be compensated for in submit processing, however a blown-out head leads to an image headed for the trash bin.

A mixture of digital camera our bodies and a first-rate lens with and with out an extender enabled me to realize efficient focal lengths of 800mm to 1456mm. This offered me the pliability to border photographs based mostly on their exercise on the nest and close by perches.

To seize sharp in-flight photographs, I attempted to be sure that my shutter pace was a minimum of 1/1600 of a second or increased. I shot in aperture precedence mode and set a depth of area to maintain all the parts of the scene on the nest in focus. The nest was over 10 ft throughout and an eagle’s wingspread is about 7 ft. Thus, I normally tried to shoot at about ƒ/8, which yields a depth of area of about 13 ft at 100 yards for the 800mm lens. I might modify the ISO manually to realize these settings for the given gentle state of affairs that day.

Photographing bald eagles: mother and chicks wait for dinner
The bald eagle mom sits for hours at a time, carefully guarding her 7-week-old chicks on the nest whereas father is away fishing.

Bald Eagle Habitat & Conduct

Mild on the nest was finest from late afternoon till sundown. This was additionally when the mother and father would typically herald a fish to feed the chicks, offering the perfect photographic alternatives. Photographing wildlife requires appreciable endurance, however placing within the time will yield outcomes.

If there may be one factor that I discovered, it was that eagles are unpredictable. I needed to be on fixed alert, as they may seem with out warning, flying in from any course. Some days consisted of watching an grownup and the chicks simply sleeping and grooming. Different instances, they might herald two or three fish inside a half hour, and I might simply shoot tons of of frames. To be a profitable wildlife photographer requires each planning and perseverance, together with good tools and mastery of its use—to not point out that it’s worthwhile to discover the topic to start out with!

I first noticed the 2 chicks, wanting very similar to child dinosaurs, peeking out of the nest in mid-Might. Eagle mother and father are very devoted to their offspring. When the chicks are small and susceptible, one guardian at all times stays in or close to the nest to guard them from predators. The feminine spent essentially the most of her time on guard responsibility whereas the male did a lot of the fishing.

It was attention-grabbing to notice the totally different habits of the 2 adults as they interacted with the chicks. When the feminine introduced a fish again to the nest, she would tear off items and feed the chicks, whereas the male would sometimes fly in, drop off the fish and go away it for the feminine to feed the younger. The firstborn chick is dominant and it’s fed first to make sure the survival of a minimum of one chick.

Because the chicks grew bigger and stronger, the mother and father started to depart them alone for longer durations of time. The children spent a lot of their time trying to the sky for his or her mother and father and screeching endlessly for meals. When a guardian arrived again on the nest and fed them, they might calm down and take a nap.

In preparation for flight, the chicks would vigorously flap their wings to develop their muscle tissue. By early July, they started hovering a number of ft above the nest after which bravely rose as much as 20 to 30 ft, typically making very awkward crash landings again into the nest. They appeared amazed at what they found they may do! The dominant chick was clearly a risk-taker whereas its youthful sibling would look on in obvious awe.

The 10-week-old bald eagle sibling chicks are “branching” as they make brief hops across the nest and close by limbs as an preliminary step in studying to fly.

As they grew to close grownup dimension the mother and father spent much less and fewer time in shut proximity to the nest, returning solely to usher in fish to feed the chicks. Nonetheless, the mother and father appeared to be at all times close by as one would out of the blue seem out of nowhere if there have been a perceived risk. Someday an osprey flew in and hovered excessive above the nest, and the male eagle instantly flew to the highest of the best tree close to the nest to aggressively defend his territory. The osprey flew off, however the male maintained his moderately precarious perch for over an hour, scanning the sky. No sooner had he moved to a decrease, extra substantial department, than a 3-year-old grownup bald eagle flew by and the grownup male launched an assault to drive away the interloper.

Photographing Bald Eagles Leaving The Nest

In mid-July, when the chicks have been 12 weeks previous, they fledged from the nest. They continued to roost within the bushes close by, frequently flying from tree to tree, growing their flight abilities and persevering with to make awkward landings. In simply a few weeks, they might be seen hovering and pirouetting excessive within the sky, exhibiting the great thing about eagles on the wing.

Whereas they develop in a short time throughout their first months of life and grasp flying with relative ease, bald eagles take 5 years to succeed in maturity and procure their traditional white head and tail feathers. The change within the colour of their head and tail feathers is gradual, and younger adults typically have a mottled look, particularly after their third yr. As they transfer towards maturity, their beaks change from a darkish brownish black to brilliant yellow, and their eye colour goes from brownish black to yellow as nicely.

After the chicks fledged, the household dynamics modified. Whereas they remained within the neighborhood of the nest, the household now not actively visited it because the nest is barely used as a spot for nurturing the younger earlier than they will fly. The adults continued to feed the chicks for about two months as they matured. They stopped feeding them within the nest and as an alternative introduced fish to areas on the bottom. Eagle mother and father take an lively position in educating their younger how you can fish. I used to be lucky to witness the feminine exhibiting a teen how you can fish by hovering and swooping all the way down to the water repeatedly in an effort to have the teen mimic her actions.

A household squabble occurred sooner or later when the 2 kids have been sitting on the bottom squawking for meals. The dominant sibling flew off to a perch in a tree, and the youthful sibling flew ahead to take the spot simply vacated. Quickly thereafter, the male flew in with a fish that he gave to the youthful sibling, which scurried off to the safety of some low pine tree branches to devour its meal. The dominant chick flew in screeching and attacked the male for freely giving “its” fish. The male flew to the highest of the tree and the dominant sibling adopted, knocking him off his department. As he flew away, the teen took the tree prime perch and proceeded to lift his head straight up, screeching in obvious anger on the male’s temerity in feeding the youthful sibling first. The feminine sat in a close-by tree watching however selected to not become involved.

Photographing bald eagles: parents keep watch over the chicks
The proud bald eagle mother and father, with mom on left, relaxation in a close-by tree whereas conserving watch over their chicks.

You is perhaps stunned, as I used to be, to find that eagles can swim. Someday the male swooped all the way down to catch a fish and in some way ended up within the water. Completely soaked, he seemed round as if to evaluate the state of affairs and swam ahead doing a breaststroke along with his wings for 20 to 30 yards. He then flew a brief distance to a log the place he shook off the water and groomed himself.

Throughout August, the younger eagles might be seen roosting in bushes over a mile from the nest, normally with one of many adults close by. In early September, all 4 eagles disappeared from the realm. When the adults reappeared later in September, the children have been now not in tow. That they had apparently been despatched off to seek out their very own manner on this planet. Thus, my time with the Adirondack eagle household turned a cherished reminiscence.

Bald eagles have been reintroduced to the Adirondack Park although a New York program within the 1970s, and several other mated pairs now make their house within the park. The 2 adults I watched are each banded, and thru their registration numbers I used to be in a position to study their background. New York State’s Division of Environmental Conservation personnel banded the feminine (E74) as a chick in 2001 close to Tusten, New York. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife personnel banded the male (WK3) in 2002 close to Conway, Massachusetts. Someway they discovered one another and have made their house within the Adirondacks for a minimum of eight years.

In a tragic postscript, the subsequent spring catastrophe struck when a extreme windstorm broke a significant department supporting the nest. The nest was completely destroyed because it crashed to the bottom and, together with it, a single chick. The brief breading season within the Adirondacks precluded beginning one other household that yr. The eagle pair continues to be seen across the lake, however a brand new nest, if there may be one, has but to be situated.

Howard Arndt’s Wildlife Images Gear

  • Canon EOS-1D X Mark I
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM
  • Canon Extender EF 1.4x III
  • Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Head
  • Manfrotto 682B Monopod
  • LensCoat lens cowl & RainCoat
Photographing bald eagles from a boat
The creator is proven along with his canoe capturing setup of digital camera and lens mounted on a gimbal head, which is supported by a monopod. Photograph by Marcia Arndt.

Howard Arndt is a wildlife and conservation photographer based mostly in Amherst, New Hampshire. He has received a number of awards, together with a photograph chosen as one of many Prime 100 in Audubon’s 2016 Photograph Contest. See extra of Arndt’s work at howardarndtphoto.com.

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