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.

1 comment: