By John Craig—Eagles provide many opportunities for viewing and shooting from capturing them sitting in a tree to laying over on their backs as they talion joust high above. On occasion they hit each other breast to breast and the sound is quite loud. They certainly don’t mind knocking another eagle off the best observation limbs high in the tree.
If you are new to locating and observing these majestic birds, here are a few things to consider and watch for:
(a) Tall dead trees with several limbs that not only provide a good lookout for the eagle but accommodate several birds based on their “pecking” order.
(b) Watch for the eagles in flight early to mid-morning as they make their rounds looking for food. They will be flying in a straight line to each destination to see what, if any, food is available. They can cover several miles in a short period and will usually go to where the last food was found. If nothing is located during these “observation” flights they will normally return to their favorite observation trees to wait and observe.
(c) Watch for the bright white of their tail feathers, which can be seen by the human eye for a considerable distance. The eagles can see them several miles away.
When you do locate eagles there are things you should do and not do for the benefit of the birds. Be patient. Observing the eagles going about their routine will provide you with possible camera opportunities and memories. The eagle, like any other creature has a “comfort zone.” If you enter their zone, they will become very wary and leave the area if they feel threatened.
You can drive the back roads looking for opportunities to catch them in their “observation” tree. Some eagles are confident and will stay while others are not. Park safely and stay in your vehicle. I can just about assure you that in most cases if you attempt to get out of your vehicle to take pictures the eagle will depart the area.
Here is a tip to remember that can work to your benefit. If there are at least two of you, watch where the eagle flies to. It will usually fly to the same tree. One of you get into position near the tree and determine if you will be able to get a good photo when they fly into the tree. For this to work you must remain very still as the eagles will pick up your movements very quickly and change their direction. The other person can stay in the parked vehicle or drive away, fooling the eagle, turn around and come back for the photographer left patiently waiting.
While visiting the area it is a must to respect property owners land. Do not cross fences, climb on gates etc. Also be mindful of local traffic. Don’t block traffic or roadways connecting with the main travel routes. Also keep in mind that when walking through nature’s beauty a person is likely to encounter insects, possibly snakes, and certainly uneven terrain.
You may have the opportunity to observe an eagle capture fish. It’s quite the sight. Depending on the speed of flight and wind conditions the eagle will glide into position, making the necessary adjustment in speed and elevation in relationship to the fish. The eagle extends its legs which are equipped with razor sharp talons. Sometimes the eagle is fortunate to make the catch on the first pass, however, if not successful the eagle will circle into the wind for another pass. When making contact with the water there is a large splash. It is not uncommon for other eagles in the area to try to steal the bounty. The successful eagle may start to eat the fish in flight and may have to fight another eagle to keep his prize.
Depending on what’s happening at the nesting site, the eagle may consume the fish while on the observation tree or take the catch to the nest to feed the mate and/or demanding chicks. An eaglet’s cries for food can be heard a considerable distance. The further the food source is from the nesting site influences, in part, how many eggs are laid and the number of eaglets that successfully fledge to start new territories continuing the cycle.
Photographing eagles is surely a great thrill. To capture the best photographs, it is recommended to use a tripod to eliminate blurred images due to movement and helps eliminate fatigue from holding the camera. My best photos come from using a NIKON D850 with a Nikon 600 mm prime lens. I also attach a 1.4 extender. The average picture is taken at 100 yards or more.
John Craig inherited his love of wild places. He was born in Wyoming and raised alongside the North Platt River near dozens of small creeks, the plains and mountains. He moved to Arkansas in 1998 and he and is wife, Mary Ann, made Bella Vista their home in 2005.
John will be a regular contributor to Discover Bella Vista and Gateway to Oz as he joins those in the Bella Vista Community in telling the story of Bella Vista, “Nature’s Gem of the Ozarks.”
You can see more of John’s work on his website: jlcraigphoto.com