Raptors in Motion

The excitement is building in the world of raptors, especially in the bald eagle department! The mating season is near and the unattached birds are preparing for migration. That means here in Colorado we photographers are getting ready for the highlight of the year when hundreds of the great raptors descend upon our rivers and reservoirs to look for mates and make the journey south for warmer digs.

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

The nesting pairs that choose to stay however, are busy getting their nests ready for the long cold Rocky Mountain winter. And that’s exactly what my favorite nesting pair was up to at Eleven Mile Canyon on this photo adventure. It was chilly when I left before sunrise so I made sure to bundle up in my warmest winter gear for what was sure to be a bone chilling visit to the banks of the South Platte River at my favorite eagle viewing vantage point.

As I drove into the park and the nest came into view I was delighted to see that both eagles were still on location just as the sun was clearing the mountains to the east. The light was perfect and I was going to get the opportunity to capture some great moments!

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile CanyonAt first there didn’t seem to be a lot going on so I settled into my camp chair for a long visit along the frozen banks of the clear cold South Platte River as it flows out of the Rockies toward it’s destination in eastern Nebraska. Pretty soon I began to see some activity, one of the eagles hopped out of the safety of the nest onto the “eagle porch”, a piece of dead branch sticking out over the nest.

I took this as a sign that something was about to happen, these eagles often hop up there when they are about ready to depart for their favorite fishing grounds for the day. It wasn’t long before the pair flew away without my being able to get a very compelling image of them in flight. I decided to stick around for a bit to see if maybe they would come back. And it’s a good thing I did, both birds returned with a stick for the nest! I watched as the mother eagle carefully decided upon the optimum location for the new building materials… Speaking of building materials, I recently read that an eagles nest can grow to ten feet wide and weigh up to half a ton!

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

Eventually both birds took flight again, this time in a direction more toward me, as they flew past the beautiful cliffs behind the nest where I could get closer and more interesting images. I thought myself fortunate for this brief moment but much to my surprise both of the huge raptors  flew skyward and circled together past me several times 🙂 I have never seen them do this before and I snapped each of their approaches toward me several times as they circled higher and higher, eventually drifting away and out of the range of my camera.

It was still early though and I wasn’t quite ready to give up on my day… so I decided upon a hike into the icy canyon to see what else might greet my day. As I strode along the river I noticed a herd of mule deer mirroring my journey on the other side of the river. I wondered if they might have the low point along that side in mind for a drink or a possible crossing so I did my best to stay out of sight as I tried to beat them to the spot.

Doe Mule Deer in Eleven Mile Canyon

I arrived first and took up a seat to wait patiently on a rock partially obscured from view on the other side by some foliage. I was right, it wasn’t long before the small herd of does arrived along the shores if the river for a morning drink. Unfortunately just as I was about to get some good river shots a fisherman roared up in a monster truck to disturb my scene and scare off my subjects. I was able to catch some pretty nice images of the herd as they departed, this being my favorite one. I also chose this image to try out the new radial filter in Adobe Camera Raw… the background was a bit bright for my tastes and I was pleased to be able to create this nice low key rendition of the scene as the furtive herd drifted back into the safety of the tall pines and mountains beyond.

American Dipper Fishing

The fisherman mentioned that he had been seeing what he thought was a mink swimming in the water near there so as I made my return trip I kept my eyes on the water, hoping for yet another photo opportunity on this beautiful early winter morning. And just as I was nearing the fast water, and the end of my ambition to photograph river life in he canyon, I spotted some movement, a sign of life in the cold dark water. It was an American Dipper… jumping from the safety of a rock into the icy water in search of a meal.

American Dipper Fishing

I watched in amazement as the diminutive bird actually dove under the water for several seconds at a time before popping back up several feet away with a little prize. These little birds are amazing, but I never imagined that they would actually swim underwater, submerged for seconds at a time! This proved to be very difficult to photograph however, I was never able to get focused in time for the entry and I was also unable to guess the exit location in time to be able to get a shot. The best I could do were a few images of the little guy on the rock, planning his next attempt.

I’m looking forward to the climax of the mating and migration season in the middle of next month. Another eagle watcher in the canyon yesterday said that she had been seeing a few more eagles, five in one day… including both golden and bald eagles!  Be sure to click the button to follow my page and not miss the next episode in the wilderness of these beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains!

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