Saw my first eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon since last spring I think. The rumor around the mountains is that the yearly migration of the baldies has begun so I was hoping I would see a few around the canyon. I slowly drove up the canyon scanning the dead trees along the banks of the beautiful South Platte River, hoping to spot the intense white heads shining through the trees when I spotted a pair of mule deer walking along the east bank. I stopped behind a big bush hoping to get a shot of the pair crossing the river but unfortunately they were already on the side they wanted to be on and soon began the treacherous ascent of the steep and rocky canyon wall. Fortunately for me they passed through a clearing high on the rocks where I could get a shot of them, one at a time though…
Soon they disappeared over the ridge and I turned my focus back to searching for the bald eagles. Then just as I was nearing “the bend” I spotted the familiar sight. One lone baldy on a branch looking down fiercely at the river below. I stopped the truck a ways back from his location and aimed my long lens out the window, using the window frame for support. At this time there wasn’t a lot of light and at a 1600th of a second I noted that my ISO was coming in at a questionable 6400 value. I wanted to be sure to get a clear image of the great raptor on the branch so I dialed back my shutter speed to a 320th of a second for a few shots before switching back to watching for a take off with a higher shutter speed.
Much to my surprise the eagle was content to remain on the branch so I fired up the truck and moved ahead another 20 yards or so for a closer view. By now it was getting a bit lighter but I still went back and forth between high and low shutter speeds as I captured a few more stills while waiting for the inevitable flight. Eventually the great bird evacuated his load and began fiddling with his feathers, a sure sign that a takeoff was imminent! By now the sun had cleared the ridge and light streamed up the valley right onto the bright white head. I snapped a shot to make sure that my exposure compensation was in range and discovered that the -1 value was now completely blowing out the white head. After a bit of experimentation I settled on -2 for the big event.
This time I was lucky, baldy gave me some warning before taking off… he rustled his wing and stood up a bit higher on the branch, telling me that flight was imminent. I was already prepared with zone focus mode activated, giving me nine focus points in the center of the frame with which to track the flight trajectory. As he took flight I snapped off a few frames before clamping down on the back focus button, and after having lived this scenario a few hundred times my thumb seemed to know the exact moment to activate the focus tracking system, giving me one of the most sharply focused series of flight images I have ever managed to capture!
Unfortunately on this day the eagle had decided to perch on what is probably the ugliest tree in the entire canyon so this series isn’t even close to my favorite ones from last winter, but it was still good to see my old friends again. I was able to use the new Photoshop selection and masking tools to somewhat subdue the ugly background. The new masking tools in Camera Raw made a surprisingly accurate selection which after inverting enabled me to desaturate and darken the tangled branches.
I hope you enjoy the images, please be sure to check out out Eleven Mile Canyon Facebook Group where we keep track of all the amazing activity in this amazing canyon!
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