Monday, October 11, 2010

The Bald Eagle

Although I am not looking forward to winter due to the cold, damp, and generally miserable gray skies of the midwestern weather patterns, it does bring the return of he Bald Eagles. Since I am geographically located very close to the Mississippi River and the lock and dam in Alton, IL., this creates a a great place to view and photograph a good concentration of eagles. As the eagles move down south to avoid the frozen north, they congregate along the river. Eagles main diet are fish, and they need open water to feed.

Bad Eagle Taking flight
Although you can find eagles all up and down the Mississippi River during the winter months, the greatest concentrations of them can be found at the numerous lock and dams along the river. The reason for this is that even when the weather is extremely cold and the river freezes over, the waters around the locks are still open. As the water comes through the dam, many fish are stunned or killed. The eagles feed on these easy pickings. This makes for superb bird watching and photographing these beautiful birds.

After catching a fish it was attacked by another eagle and forced to drop it

Eagles are very opportunistic and will routinely attack other eagles to steal the fish it has just caught. The photo above was captured at the Alton Lock and Dam, and the background is the lock wall where barges pass through. They will also catch and eat other birds or small animals out of necessity to eat.  

Taking a catch back to the perch to feed
In order to really get great photographs of these birds you are going to need a lot of focal length to reach them and fill the frame. Generally you will need about 400mm of focal length or greater to reach them as they fly out over the river. Occasionally I have gotten good shots with my 70-200mm and 1.4 extender attached when they fly close to where I am standing. Many times they will sit in the trees along the river which allows people to stop and get some closer views. 

Watching the river from the top of a tall tree

This eagle in the photograph above was sitting very high up in the tree watching the river. The angle shooting up from the ground was to steep in for a long telephoto lens. The tree was right next to the Clark Bridge in Alton, so I climbed the embankment and got up on the bridge ramp to get to nearly eye level to take this shot. After dodging some traffic, I was able to get some some great shots of this eagle. Although there was some good distance between us I was using a Canon 800mm lens that I had gotten on loan from Canon Professional Services to try out. That big lens made this an almost full frame capture.

Here is a great link if you want to learn more information about the Bald Eagle.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Central Illinois Landscapes

 In a recent post I comment on the challenges of doing landscape photography in my area of the world. While I would love to do more of the iconic scenery that can be found across this great county, I can find excellent scenes to photograph close to home. These are photographs I created within a close radius of my home.

Clark Bridge, Alton IL. at sunset

Goshen Rd. barn and building storm clouds

Goshen Rd. Sunrise

The barn in this sunrise scene is the same barn in the B&W above it. Amazing how the same scene can be photographed from different perspectives and angles to create many unique photos of just this one subject.

Fading Away Rt. 16 and Rt. 127, Hillsboro IL.

With Illinois being such a large agricultural state, the mostly pancake flat central part of the state has many of these old barns that are no longer being used because modern farming has made them obsolete.
They are usually left to rot away until they collapse and get burned or hauled away. I love to photograph them. 

Monday, October 4, 2010


Probably my two favorite words to hear are road trip. You will never have to ask me twice, nor will I think about it for more than a nano second. I love to travel and going by vehicle is by far the most enjoyable for me. I am heading out soon for a 18 day driving trip to Arizona and back. I would love to have unlimited time to do a very leisurely trip that allowed me the luxury to stop, explore, and photograph everything of interest to me, but then I would be gone forever. So I will be trying to cram what I would love to be a three month trip into a much shorter time frame.

I80 near Cody, WY.

I love to get off the Interstate and travel at a much slower pace to see the all the unique scenery and attractions that this country has to offer. This current trip will have me going to Arizona where I have a condo rented for a week in Cave Creek. Cave Creek is about 45 miles north of Phoenix.  From that base I will be able to drive to many of the places I want to photograph.

Old Rt. 66, Litchfield, IL.
There are a a few stretches along the route I am taking where you
can find much of the old historic Rt. 66 left. I am hoping to be able to have time to stop and photograph some of the iconic scenes and buildings that are such a big part of this piece of American history.

I am also planning a two day stop on the South rim of the Grand Canyon. Luckily I was able to find lodging at one of the national park lodges located there that is managed by Xanterra. From there I am headed for a two night stay at Monument Valley. The View Hotel is a fairly new hotel, and is the only located in Monument Valley. I am hoping to be able to get some great landscape photos on this trip. 

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Planning the trip is both enjoyable and agonizing. While I pour over the maps and books to research where I want to go and what I want to see, I must make tough decisions as to what gets cut out of the trip due to time constraints. I still have to finish the route back from Arizona, but I am fairly certain I will head up through Colorado. Sadly I will not have much time left to spend exploring that amazing region. I will be heading out on Oct. 14th and back on the 31st. I am hoping to do some posts from the road if I can.