There was a commotion in progress when I reached the entrance to Eleven Mile Canyon, the screeching of eagles was echoing all about the tall cliffs surrounding the nest. I saw the nesting pair flying to and fro and then I spotted the intruder, a hapless juvenile that had come too close. I didn’t see the initial mistake, but arrived just as the nest owners were making sure there were no challenges to their ownership. The young eagle was in no mood for a battle with the older more experienced raptors and quickly relinquished the sky by rapidly descending to the snow below. He looked a bit stunned as he walked around in the snow before being
once again confronted by one of the intrepid pair. The smaller and younger bird leaned over onto his back with talons aimed upward while the bigger adult threatened with talons from above. Soon the adult flew away and the youngster was back on his feet, none the worse for the wear and ready for a quick exit from the scene.
My theory is that this was one of their offspring from the previous breeding season, thinking that a visit to the old homestead was a good idea. He quickly learned that eagle family roots are not deep and any
ideas of a family reunion during breeding season were quickly dispelled. According to established literature, juveniles migrate and never return to the nest but I’ve seen a few things in the canyon that aren’t supposed to happen so who knows, I like my theory.
Soon the nesting pair settled down and blended into the snowy hillside and peace was restored. I watched for a while to see if the young one would dare come back but after his getaway to the north past the lake it appeared he had learned his lesson.
Our next eagle encounter would be at the bend, the most popular fishing spot for eagles from the southern end of the canyon. The one the locals call Speckles, named so for the dark spots on his bright white head, was fishing from a tree near the point. I pulled over and angled the truck for a good view out the window and readied my camera. I was able to capture a few nice portraits of the handsome specimen before he took flight and flew right at us. I was shooting from inside the truck while Kevin had gone around front to see what he could get from there. First glimpses of my LCD screen were not promising, it appeared that my camera had been unable to focus on the flight and I hurled a string of insults at it and it’s parentage. Later on I would discover that the camera had captured a fine sequence of the flight and did not fail until it’s operator lost the bird out of frame. I was forced to apologize to my camera and our former cozy relationship has been restored 🙂
We saw the great raptor a couple more times and it appears that I have had one of the best eagle watching outings ever. Of course the good day was mostly due to the excellent cooperation of Speckles who seemed to revel in flying right past us on this day. I got many good portraits of him perched and a couple of amazing in flight captures as well. I seem to have achieved optimal settings for this camera for the exposure and focus settings. Those include a 1600th to a 2000th of a second for in flight images and a single focus point for portraits. If I’m lucky and watching intently I can tell when the eagle is about to fly, giving me time to switch to zone focus with nine central focus points
activated for the flight. The focus system has an extensive fine tuning system as well which I won’t go into at this time, but perhaps will reveal in depth in a future blog post.
Eventually all the eagles departed the canyon for their midday activities and our day of photography was complete. As we exited the canyon we spotted the nesting pair both perched in a dead tree below their nest watching over their domain. Within two weeks I imagine the female will take up her position on the nest keeping a new batch of eggs warm. With any luck by the end of March a couple of new heads will be visible over the top of the nest. Two years ago there was only one eaglet but last year three made it to flight. I’m hoping for at least two!
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