Exciting Bald Eagle Developments

So yesterday was a huge day, well obviously the huge day came a bit earlier but it was huge day for me! Eagle fans from all around the area have been eagerly awaiting news on the new eaglets in Eleven Mile Canyon. So yesterday I piled my gear in the old Dodge and headed for the canyon. The first place I went when I got there is my favorite eagle viewing area down on the banks of the South Platte River.

Bald Eagles with Eaglets

When I arrived both adult eagles were at the nest and I snapped a few pictures. Unfortunately I missed the father eagle’s flight out of the nest but I stayed to see what else may develop in the beautiful meadow across the river. Every once in a while I would aim my camera back at the mother eagle who seemed to be feeding the little tykes. Much to my surprise the little guy popped his head up over the rim of the nest in his quest for another bite from mama. Awesome… I was positive that there was going to be an eaglet to watch grow throughout the summer. Later on I heard a rumor that there were actually two eaglets and when I got my video clips home I was happily surprised to see that I had actually captured proof that there would be two babies this year!

Osprey Nesting Pair

From there I ventured over to the dam and then on to the osprey nest where I found mama osprey deep down in the nest… presumably busy hatching eggs. Last year she too hatched and raised two osprey chicks. I was a bit concerned because I hadn’t seen the father osprey in a few weeks so I climbed the opposite bank and sat on my favorite rock to observe. Much to my relief the father showed up after a few minutes to deliver a stick to the nest. He worked with the stick a bit and then took off again. This time I was ready for a picture so I was able to get a nice capture of him taking flight, now available on my website for purchase as wall art.

I rounded my day out with a few more minutes watching the eagles, which were both back at the nest when I returned. This time I was lucky enough to get some captures of the father eagle in flight as he soared overhead before heading downstream on another fishing trip.

Red-Winged Blackbird

I’m really happy with the results of this outing, several nice captures of the great raptors plus a couple of nice shots of the newly arrived red-winged blackbirds 🙂 I also captured enough video footage to create a nice Youtube video of the action, including the sighing of both of the new eaglets 🙂  So please be sure to visit my channel and leave a like and a subscribe if you enjoy the content!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

Bald Eagles with Eaglets

A Wildlife Photography Smorgasbord

I wasn’t sure what I would encounter this morning as I made the familiar trip to Eleven Mile Canyon. I knew that shooting the eagles and osprey was going to be an iffy proposition with both species in the midst of their brooding

Herd of Elk

and hatching season. I always look for elk and deer as I pass the beautiful Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Even though they are rarely spotted, large herds of the magnificent beasts reside there and I always hope to see them.

As I neared the monument I spotted a couple of elk cows out in the open and quickly found a place to pull over. Much to my surprise there were many more scattered around the meadow, all heading my way in a big hurry! Not sure why they were in such a hurry, I guess they just didn’t want to be left behind. I looked across Teller 1 to the west to see what they were moving towards and spotted the bulk of the main herd already waiting on that side. I just started shooting as many of the little groups as I could get my camera focused on… I know these moments are over as quickly as they begin. Later I wished I had shot a little video footage, but the still pictures are my bread and butter and they are often all I have time for.

Bald Eagles at the Nest

Eventually all the animals were on the west side of the highway, relaxing and feeding in a thick patch of reeds as they meandered toward the dense forest to the west. I wanted a capture of the entire herd but by this time all the beasties were facing away from me.

As I approached the entrance to the canyon I noticed that both bald eagles were in the nest so I stopped for a couple of images and some video as they cackled and squawked about something. We now have at least three great blue herons on the lower stretch of river but they were too far away for a meaningful image. A few merganser ducks, a couple of mule deer and some red-winged blackbirds rounded out the big variety of wildlife that were out enjoying a beautiful Colorado spring morning.

I went back to check on the osprey but there was little action at the nest… mama is sitting deep in the nest on the eggs and papa osprey is back on his regular perch high on the ridge to watch for threats, something he seems to have a great amount of patience for! I watched for a while but the cold wind blowing over the ice water of the South Platte River was more than I could handle for very long!

Mule DeerAgain there are far too many images from today to fit them all in this blog post, so please feel free to follow my Instagram page to see  the rest and much much more!

Also watch my Youtube Channel for a short video clip of the eagles!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

Merganser Ducks

Springtime in the Rockies Video

Check out my new video, Springtime in the Rockies! Includes some great footage of our osprey nesting pair, a juvenile bald eagle, a great  blue heron, red-winged blackbirds and more! Please don’t forget to click the thumbs up and subscribe buttons if you enjoy my content!

Osprey in Eleven Mile Canyon

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

How to Photograph Eagles in the Canyon

I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how to photograph the eagles…  I guess it’s time for a “how to” blog post 🙂

For starters I guess in order to photograph them you have to know where and when to look! I have to admit, it took a couple of seasons for me to figure out this part of the game myself. The when is easy be there at sunrise, by the time the sun gets high in the sky so do the eagles. Once they can catch the updrafts from the warming of the day they will only be found a thousand feet high in the sky. When I first heard there were eagles I looked high and wide with no luck at all. I thought I would see them high in the sky or high in the trees along the ridges but I never did. Eventually one time I was driving up the canyon doing some long exposures of the flowing water when I saw one of the bald eagles perched in a dead tree right along the banks of the South Platte.

Bald eagle looking for fish in the Platte River below in Eleven Mile Canyon Colorado

That little piece of knowledge completely changed the way I searched, and now with a little practice I can spot them a mile away. That still doesn’t completely solve the problem though, it takes some practice and finesse to be able to get ready without annoying the eagles and causing them to fly away before you ever get a chance to take a picture. Of course the eagles aren’t naturally tolerant of people and perceive anyone as a threat. I don’t know, sometimes I think many animals are so intelligent that they remember people and are in time able to become comfortable with the people they know not to be a threat. This of course takes a lot of time and patience and comes with great responsibility not to betray that trust. Also this is only possible with raptors that have established a permanent presence in a location. Migratory birds by nature are temporary and are a completely different ballgame

Once you have cleared that major obstacle you can then concentrate on the photography. For starters you are going to need a long lens. I recommend at least a 400mm professional model and it is going to be of sufficient quality to resolve feather detail at long distance. Even after a rapport has been established you will be lucky to get closer than 50 yards. I personally use a 400mm professional lens with a 1.4x resulting in 560mm of magnification. Even with that it is common for an image to be severely cropped in Photoshop to acquire a respectable composition.

_MG_8555Acquiring an extensive command of your auto focus system is also going to be necessary to capture such difficult images as it will be necessary to quickly switch between focus modes. Sometimes it will be better to utilize all the focus points your camera is capable of. Other times there will be branches in the way and it will come down to using only a single precise focus point. There are times when I am using a single point on a perched position and have to quickly switch to a zone of nine points when the bird takes flight. Once in the air against the clear sky it might be best to switch to a wide open array of focus points.

I have also used another feature on my camera that is available on most DSLR’s widely know as back button focus. This setting uses an additional button on the back of the camera labeled AF to set the focus, conveniently removing the focus selection from the main shutter button. With the standard half depress and re-compose method, very few correctly focused captures are going to be possible. The instant the bird moves focus is going to be lost. While continuous mode focus called SERVO in Canon lingo may be able to recover focus, it is much more convenient to use a completely free button. With back button focus the best of both worlds are achieved. One click of the button allows focus on a still subject, and until that subject moves focus remains for as many captures as you are able to manage. Once the bird starts flying, holding the AF button down puts the camera in SERVO mode until you release the button. Plus it is the thumb, a free appendage that is used on the back button, allowing your shutter finger to fire away with no additional duties.

Bald Eagles in Eleven Mile Canyon

I also recommend a camera that can accomplish around 10 frames per second. The first two seconds after the animal takes flight are the best opportunity for dramatic images and the more captures accomplished in that time the better! A good sized buffer that can hold at least 15 or 20 captures is also a good benefit in these critical seconds.

Exposure and shutter speed are another difficult trick. At the distances that are often required I recommend no less that 1/1600th of a second for a shutter speed, at least a 2000th of a second when in flight if there is enough light. Of course in low light situations more than a 2000th of a second might result in requiring an ISO of 20,000 or higher which is going to begin to adversely affect the detail in your image. Aperture values, the amount of light and depth of field your lens can perceive is also going to be a significant factor in the quality of your image. Unless you have a very expensive lens a long telephoto is probably going to be able to open only to F5.6 at best. With a 1.4x attached that becomes F8. Both of those values are sufficient to give you plenty of depth of field.

Which leads me to my next subject, my method of best settings for any situation that may arise. I keep my camera on shutter priority mode (Tv), set to a 1600th or 2000th, depending on the amount of available light and my prediction for what is going to happen. If I think the bird is ready to fly I like to make sure I’m ready with a 2000th of a second. The camera is going to select the fastest possible aperture which is going to be F8 in my situation. I keep the camera on auto ISO to assure that a correct exposure is going to be possible. If the lighting situation results in a ridiculous ISO value I may dial the shutter speed down and carefully snap a few perched images to make sure I have captured something acceptable from the scene. It’s possible that I might have to get out the tripod if this is the case.

_MG_9343.jpg

The other important variable and quite possibly the most important factor in photographing bald eagles is the exposure compensation. The issue here is that bright white head, the most critical part of the entire image. If the highlights on that part of the image are even slightly blown the image is ruined. Without the intricate detail of the head feathers and the eye, there is no image at all… just a bitter reminder of what could have been. Each camera is different of course so it will require some experimentation, but I find that early in the morning before the sun is beating down a value of -2/3 of a stop seems to render a good exposure. later in the day when the sun is shining the compensation needs to be dialed back to at least a full stop, and the other day in bright sun I was getting highlight warnings all the way down to two full stops under. That selection on this image provided for detail on the white head and wing feathers as well.

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

The beauty of Tv is that the shutter speed can quickly be adjusted on the front wheel of my Canon 90D and the exposure compensation at the ready on the back wheel. That way if the eagle flies above the trees and into the bright blue sky I can quickly dial the compensation wheel a few clicks to the right to get a good exposure against the bright sky. Depending on the light the compensation can be anywhere from -1/3 to a full stop over. Again, experimentation is going to be required for each individual camera.

 

If you are blessed with an expensive lens, something like an F2.8 400mm prime for example, you may find that manual mode is necessary. If you find the camera selecting F2.8 there may not be sufficient depth of field which would necessitate fixing the aperture to F5.6 or 8. Adjusting the compensation quickly in manual becomes problematic, with the front dial assigned to the shutter speed and the back dial assigned to the aperture, the only access to the compensation is through some sort of menu option. Canon has the Q button on the back that can go directly to the necessary screen, but making a change in a fraction of a second becomes impossible.

Tremendous concentration and patience are required in this endeavor. In time a photographer will learn to watch the eagle for signs that he is about to take flight. At first you will believe that there is no warning at all, but in time you will spot certain telltale signs, a twitch here, a twitch there, a ruffling of the feathers, an agitated glance… And when it happens the photographer must be ready to explode into action, two seconds and the entire show may be over with and the opportunity lost.  

Even packed with all this knowledge there is no substitute for practice, no substitute for muscle memory that automatically leads your fingers and thumbs to exactly the right button at exactly the right time. Practice on every bird that flies by, leave no opportunity unchallenged. Geese, ducks and crows are a lot more abundant and provide for any amount of practice necessary.

I hope you have found this piece helpful, if you enjoy the content please be sure to click the follow button to be alerted each time I publish a new article. In addition to the still imagery found in my blog posts I also have a YouTube channel where I will soon be publishing a video on this subject. Please subscribe so you will be sure not to miss it!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

This blog post is not sponsored. Any equipment used in the production of this post was purchased by myself on my own volition.

Exciting Eagle News

It appears we’ve had an exciting development on the bald eagle watching front! Mama eagle is exhibiting signs of new motherhood! As of yesterday she has begun sitting on the nest indicating there are or soon will be eagle eggs! Watch my new video to witness the new bavior, plus more amazing imagery of the great birds hunting and fishing! Also don’t forget to smack the subscribe and share buttons!!!