February 28, 2020 — It was just after dawn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with temperatures hovering around 8 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was scouting for wildlife with three other photographers. We spotted a Bald Eagle high in a frosty tree. A long lens (400 mm Sony) afforded us a closer look.
For my friend Chris, this was his first time seeing a bald eagle. I had just been bald eagle watching and photographing in Florida the previous week, but seeing a Bald Eagle is always exciting.
We were only weeks away from the lockdown to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but we were blissfully unaware. How blessed we were to complete this trip to Wyoming before the crisis hit the United States. I think of that childhood game of Musical Chairs. This is where we were just before the music stopped.
Watching the skies for soaring birds around 6 pm, I saw an osprey, an anhinga, a cormorant and … a large raptor that looked like a juvenile bald eagle. That possible bald eagle disappeared in the trees to the south. Leaning my heavy lens, camera and tripod rig over my shoulder, I hiked in that direction and to the nearest lake edge. I scanned the sky again. A swallow tailed kite swooped over the lake and then disappeared into the trees, too quickly for me to find him with my lens.
Moorhens near my location squawked at each other, but they are too common to attract my attention. The breeze kicked up, helping me to feel a bit cooler in the April heat. I scanned the water and the trees. “Wait, was that a brown spot in the tree across the lake?” I wondered.
Looking through my 600 mm lens, I confirmed that fleeting sight. It’s an adult bald eagle — unmistakable — and on the next tree is the juvenile! The juvenile looks the same size as the adult, but is all brown with flecks of white. It will take 5 years for him/her to develop pure white head feathers and a white tail.
In this image, you can observe both parent and offspring in the same frame, as the juvenile takes flight. I stayed watchful for about 30 minutes, hoping to capture the adult bald eagle taking flight, but life was just perfect on that branch that evening and he/she outlasted me.
Earth Day 2020 is a quiet one for wildlife with the United States shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The animal kingdom is no doubt wondering, “where are the people?”
Between illness and unemployment at unprecedented high levels, humans are having a very rough time. For the millions sheltered at home, trying to adjust to a new normal, art and nature can help to lift spirits.
Wildlife photography can happen in a limited way during this period, and I have found a few chances to get outdoors while staying away from all other humans. When I went out looking for bird photography opportunities yesterday, I got lucky and spotted something brown in a distant tree. The long lens on my camera focused on a compelling sight: this beautiful Bald Eagle. Please enlarge this photo on your device to see the detail.
Perched in a nearby tree was a juvenile Bald Eagle. My next post will show both eagles in the same image. I hope this eagle photograph brightened your day, and I wish you and your family good health.
The first clue to the unfolding scene of predators and prey was the Bald Eagle with fresh blood on its white feathers. Our group of four photographers pulled off the road in Jackson Hole to study what was happening on this snow covered hillside.
Soon, we identified two bald eagles and a golden eagle perched on boulders. The golden eagle was much larger than the Bald Eagle, but as the scene appears compressed though the 600mm lens, you can’t see the size difference in the photo.
Yes, with binoculars we spotted a bloody carcass between the boulders with a magpie (black and white bird common to the mountainous ecosystem) currently picking at the carcass. The eagles must have had their fill.
Up the hill, watching over the scene was a lone coyote. He was likely the killer of the elk, who may have wandered away from the herd, not feeling well.
Scores of elk stay safe in a tight herd in the valley. It is also possible that a pack of wolves took down the elk. All these animals and moose too roam the national park in great numbers. Soon the bears will break hibernation and join the throng.
While we humans tend to pity the prey, we understand that all wildlife have to eat, and this is Nature’s way. We are privileged to witness it.
Young eaglet looks on as Mother Eagle flies away from the nest. We recognize the young eaglet by his dark feathered head and body, but he is nearly the size of an adult in just 8-10 weeks. Typically, he will learn to fly at 11 weeks, but in the meantime he relies on his parents to bring food to the nest. As mother bird flies from the nest in the morning light, youngster awaits her return.
At this bald eagle nest near Saint Leo’s Catholic Church in Naples, Florida, the fledgling has not yet flown from the nest. However, he has spread his large wings and practiced flapping them, jumping in place. At this stage, mother eagle leaves “junior” alone for some time while she goes out hunting for food.
Happy news: the Bald Eagle pair close to my home in Naples has an eaglet in the nest. One lucky observer saw the eaglet peering over the side of the nest. When I visited the nest, located high in a pine tree yesterday, I did not see the eaglet, but I did observe one of the parents standing guard, looking all around. After a few minutes I observed the parents feeding the eaglet. It was tearing little bits of pink flesh from some prey to feed to its young.
Male and female eagles look alike, so you can only tell the sex of the parent by seeing them together. Often the female is larger. Both parents participate in parenting by taking turns guarding the nest and hunting for food. The eagles know enough to guard the eaglet from an incoming predator like an osprey or iguana.
I will be stopping by frequently in the coming weeks to watch for the eaglet.
There comes a time when the bald eaglets are mature enough to fly on their own, and of course, the parents still like to keep an eye out for them. We human parents can relate! The pair of Bald Eagles who have raised two eaglets in their nest near Seagate Drive in Naples, Florida are taking their first flight. Join me in observing this special stage.
On a recent Saturday, I visited three active nests of American Bald Eagles in South Florida to observe the eaglets and the pair of parents and to photograph some of the activity. The nest in Marco Island held the youngest eaglets, with two in the nest who were still weeks away from their first flight. As the eaglets moved around and stood up on the edge of the nest to take care of business — you know, to keep the nest clean — we got a good look.
Using my Tamron 150-600mm lens on my Nikon D800 mounted on a Really Right Stuff tripod, I got these close up photos, using ISO 200 around 10 am.
Perhaps a dozen spectators with a variety of cameras, long lenses, tripods, binoculars and camera phones gathered on the sidewalk at a respectful distance (behind a rope as a reminder). One told the story of last year’s drama: The father eagle was electrocuted in a power line while chasing off prey. Some time later, a new male eagle arrived on the scene, and finding eaglets in the nest, he threw them out. The young eaglets, unable to fly, plunged to their deaths. This year, the family is doing well.
We haven’t seen an eaglet yet in this bald eagle nest, but we got a close up look at two good looking parents in Rookery Bay in their waterfront home. Nesting season begins in December or January in Southwest Florida, and baby eaglets develop in the nest for about 128 days. During this time, the eagle pair will be territorial to protect their young.
Another bald eagle pair can be found in North Naples, Florida in a cluster of golf courses that includes Royal Poinciana, Wilderness, Hole in the Wall and Country Club of Naples. This cluster of courses provides a wide region of Audobon friendly land filled with lakes, creeks and woods. It’s a great place to view a wide variety of bird species near dawn and dusk.