Well, as of 4:00pm today I am officially on holiday break from work until 2012 – WOOT. Of course, that really just translates to two extra days of standing in long lines at local merchants trying to finish up the gift list. Fortunately, that activity can start LATER in the morning so no need to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for the commute to the office. This month was dedicated to shots from our recent Yellowstone vacation. So far we’ve covered the Trumpeter Swans (link here), Mergansers (link here) and two posts covering those scary Ravens (link here and here). We’ll get to the big game soon enough, but today brings us a true American icon… The Bald Eagle.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the eagle a number of times now, both locally as well as up in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. I was excited to hear that they were out in the Yellowstone area as well. The first day we saw one from a distance gliding around, but the second to last day produced a great opportunity. We were heading back to our room towards the end of the day when we passed by a small valley. A glint of white from the trees caught my eye. Hoping I was right, I had Linda turn back for a closer look.
Did you see it? (having it centered in the picture makes it pretty easy, but against the full backdrop of the woods it was definitely harder to locate). The shot above is a pulled back shot with the Beast which starts at 200mm so you can guess how far away this eagle was from the road. However, This is exactly where the Beast shines. Pulling the bird in to the full 400mm gives a MUCH better shot of this awesome bird.
And there it sat keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings. I was actually shooting out the back window of the SUV trying to use the window frame to steady the lens. The initial shots were producing a lot of blur likely due to the engine vibrations coming through the vehicle frame. To adjust for that, Linda shut the car off. that dampened it a bunch, but that distance just amplifies any movement
Heck, why don’t we just pull that shot in a little more!
Hit the jump to see more pictures from the set!
While I was in back shooting away with the Beast, Linda was trying her hardest to get shots with our 70-200mm workhorse. It turned out to be just too far for that glass. You could make out the bird, but they are pretty blurry. Not positive, but she might have even tried using the monopod positioned outside the car, but still no luck. At one point, my shutter finger became eager with anticipation – it looked as though the eagle had spotted dinner somewhere below on the valley floor which would produce some awesome shots.
… but then it became slightly distracted. It is hard to tell if he was bothered by us (we were pretty far off), but the barrel on the Beast can be intimidating if it spotted that sneaking out from inside the car.
From that point on it was looking up, down and all around, but it’s body was remaining fairly still. Clearly the behavior of an animal near the top of his food chain – but always on the lookout for those dangerous eagle killers, the dreaded owl.
Eventually, it had had enough and brought the shoulders out to take flight. Eagles at rest are pretty cool, but an eagle in flight is a sight to behold. Now the shutter finger was ready to go. I really like the shot below.
… but the one below is my favorite from the set. Not only did it freeze the flight motion, but the angle of the flight matching perfectly with the angle of the fallen tree results in a very pleasing composition.
Seconds later, the eagle was lost in the tree branches putting an end to the shoot but the memory was sufficiently captured!
During the course of the week we saw some additional eagles in flight over Yellowstone. The two shots below were actually taken on our way to Custer State Park. At the time it was difficult to distinguish whether it was a juvenile eagle or possibly a golden eagle. Once home, the full breadth of the bird references were available.
Based on those books, these two pictures are of a souring juvenile eagle. The distinguishing markings were the white colorings near the body. Goldens do not have this prominent white coloring that close to the body.
Which brings us to the last eagle shot below. This was located while driving on a fairly rugged trail in Yellowstone – the name of the trail escapes me at the moment, but later in the week this drive was blocked off – possibly for the winter since the snow was coming in. The lighting was not conducive to getting a real good shot of the dark bird, but this one is sufficient to make out some of the details. With the back turned to us, it was impossible to see the feather pattern on the feet which would have made identifying it pretty easy – feathers further down the foot would signify a golden for sure. After going through countless pictures trying to match the profile and feather markings, the conclusion is this bird is a golden eagle.
I will gladly accept differing opinions, but the coloring on the beak and small amount of white in the feathers (not speckled as often seen on the bald eagle juvis) give credence to the golden theory. Next time we are out there and encounter this situation I’ll make sure we get some additional angles (especially the feet).
We have come to the end of the post my friends. I hope you enjoyed this set as much as the others. There are probably two or so more Yellowstone bird posts before we step up to the big mammals and then on to the scenery shots. Being on vacation and all, I just might give some bonus posts this month to make up for the Yellowstone flood.