Photographing bald eagles at their nest is at all times difficult. Over the course of a current summer season, I used to be privileged to look at 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, favor high-rise waterfront views and decide their nesting tree accordingly. Since their nest, 100 ft up in an jap white pine, was largely seen from the water, I developed (after some experimentation) a capturing method utilizing a canoe. A good friend 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 downside was drifting resulting from present or wind, countered occasionally by tying up on the other shore, although my view of the nest was considerably lowered. 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 had been unperturbed by the presence of my canoe as they had been accustomed to seeing kayaks, canoes and small engine energy boats on the lake.

Gear & Publicity Settings

My digicam arrange consisted of a digicam and a Canon 800mm lens mounted on a Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head supported by a Manfrotto 682B monopod. With this association, the digicam and lens had been balanced and required little effort to carry throughout capturing periods that usually 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 {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 will be compensated for in publish processing, however a blown-out head ends in an image headed for the trash bin.

A mixture of digicam 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 supplied me the pliability to border photographs based mostly on their exercise on the nest and close by perches.

To seize sharp in-flight pictures, I attempted to be sure that my shutter velocity was at the least 1/1600 of a second or increased. I shot in aperture precedence mode and set a depth of subject to maintain all the components 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 subject of about 13 ft at 100 yards for the 800mm lens. I’d modify the ISO manually to realize these settings for the given mild state of affairs that day.

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

Bald Eagle Habitat & Habits

Mild on the nest was greatest from late afternoon till sundown. This was additionally when the dad and mom would typically herald a fish to feed the chicks, offering one of the best photographic alternatives. Photographing wildlife requires appreciable persistence, however placing within the time will yield outcomes.

If there’s 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 route. Some days consisted of watching an grownup and the chicks simply sleeping and grooming. Different occasions, they’d herald two or three fish inside a half hour, and I’d simply shoot a whole lot of frames. To be a profitable wildlife photographer requires each planning and perseverance, together with good gear and mastery of its use—to not point out that you could discover the topic to begin with!

I first noticed the 2 chicks, trying very similar to child dinosaurs, peeking out of the nest in mid-Could. Eagle dad and mom are very devoted to their offspring. When the chicks are small and susceptible, one father or mother 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 obligation whereas the male did a lot of the fishing.

It was fascinating 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 at the least one chick.

Because the chicks grew bigger and stronger, the dad and mom started to depart them alone for longer durations of time. The kids spent a lot of their time seeking to the sky for his or her dad and mom and screeching endlessly for meals. When a father or mother arrived again on the nest and fed them, they’d settle down and take a nap.

In preparation for flight, the chicks would vigorously flap their wings to develop their muscle tissues. By early July, they started hovering just a few 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 quick hops across the nest and close by limbs as an preliminary step in studying to fly.

As they grew to close grownup measurement the dad and mom spent much less and fewer time in shut proximity to the nest, returning solely to usher in fish to feed the chicks. Nonetheless, the dad and mom appeared to be at all times close by as one would instantly seem out of nowhere if there have been a perceived menace. Someday an osprey flew in and hovered excessive above the nest, and the male eagle instantly flew to the highest of the very 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 had been 12 weeks previous, they fledged from the nest. They continued to roost within the timber close by, recurrently flying from tree to tree, growing their flight abilities and persevering with to make awkward landings. In simply a few weeks, they could possibly 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 acquire their traditional white head and tail feathers. The change within the shade 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 shiny yellow, and their eye shade 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 not actively visited it because the nest is simply 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 dad and mom take an energetic function in instructing their younger learn how to fish. I used to be lucky to witness the feminine exhibiting a teenager learn how to fish by hovering and swooping all the way down to the water repeatedly in an effort to have the teenager mimic her actions.

A household squabble occurred at some point when the 2 kids had 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 giving freely “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 teenager took the tree high perch and proceeded to boost 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 dad and mom, with mom on left, relaxation in a close-by tree whereas retaining watch over their chicks.

You is perhaps shocked, 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 could possibly be seen roosting in timber over a mile from the nest, normally with one of many adults close by. In early September, all 4 eagles disappeared from the world. When the adults reappeared later in September, the children had been not in tow. That they had apparently been despatched off to search out their very own manner on the planet. Thus, my time with the Adirondack eagle household turned a cherished reminiscence.

Bald eagles had been reintroduced to the Adirondack Park although a New York program within the 1970s, and a number of 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 capable of be taught 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. In some way they discovered one another and have made their house within the Adirondacks for at the least eight years.

In a tragic postscript, the subsequent spring catastrophe struck when a extreme windstorm broke a serious department supporting the nest. The nest was completely destroyed because it crashed to the bottom and, together with it, a single chick. The quick 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’s one, has but to be situated.

Howard Arndt’s Wildlife Pictures 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 digicam 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 gained a number of awards, together with a photograph chosen as one of many High 100 in Audubon’s 2016 Photograph Contest. See extra of Arndt’s work at howardarndtphoto.com.

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