Getting close to my blog quota for the month and we really are not even out of the first week of the new year. The good news is Project Chekov is still getting into gear which can mean only one thing – yep, another bird post. The featured bird today is a tad bittersweet for me. On the one hand it allows me to get through some pictures that were taken awhile back. On the other hand I would much prefer focusing on the latest series which were just taken last week while up along the Mississippi. Just more incentive to get caught up! As you probably noticed, the bird topic today is the Eagle.
These are second only to owls when it comes to my personal bird photography and really only second because they are becoming much more abundant in places we can easily reach. When Linda and I started taking pictures of these along the Mississippi River up in the Quad Cities area we would find maybe 5 or so along a particular road we frequently hunted. Now days, that same road has well over 50-70 of these majestic birds hanging out in the trees with probably another 300 or so circling the surrounding areas. Definitely a resurgence in their population – not sure if that is just a local phenomena and maybe there is some condition up North that is driving more of them down or they are just prospering as a species. In either case, we get the benefit of whatever is going on. The interesting thing is about a third of the birds we saw were juvis so we should have good viewing for some years to come. There is just something exhilarating about watching these large birds through the big glass as they scan the river surface looking for food. Once spotted, they’ll unfurl their wings and essentially drop off the branch before gaining enough air under their wings to lift up their strong torsos. A few circles and those talons emerge from under their tail feathers for the final dip into the water, often times snagging an unsuspecting fish. The other Eagles in the vicinity will notice this and give chase, but if the Eagle makes it back to the trees it is generally left alone to enjoy a hearty feast of fish. Every time I get to witness their ability to rip into fish makes me wonder what would happen if they got annoyed by my presence – those razor sharp talons and beak could do some harm. But then I think – oh, no problem, my UB has my back (collective laughter). Good for me, the Eagles tend to pay little attention to those annoying people with their cameras.
Having the pleasure to witness Eagles in the wild has a sobering effect when viewing them in captivity. I have mixed feelings about the whole zoo thing. As long as the birds are well taken care of and have an environment that is conducive to their lifestyle I have little issue – in fact, if it wasn’t for access to birds in this setting I would probably not be such an enthusiast today. The other condition that is completely acceptable is rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured birds (again, the latter still needs to have a conducive environment). When it comes to Eagles, I think injury and recovery are the only lawful means to have one in captivity – may be wrong about that, but that has been the universal reason for all the ones I’ve seen in zoos etc. Our own Wildlife Prairie Park has Eagle residents and both of those have damaged wings and are unable to fly sufficiently to be in the wild. Without this assistance they would surely be dead in the survival of the fittest wild.
However, under the protection of WPP, they appear to be well nourished and accepting of their pen. The hard part for photographers is this particular pen is encased in wire fencing. As mentioned in a previous post, The Beast can focus through most fences without much issue depending on how close the links are – if you look close at the shot above you can make out some soft areas where the links crossed through the shot.
Hit the jump to see a couple more shots from captivity
Same with the shot below – with a little work you can minimize the impact of those and as long as you keep the primary focus of the composition free of the wire usually people will not notice. I thought the shots below were interesting from a composition perspective since you usually do not see Eagles nestled close to the ground – they definitely prefer the high branches of the tallest trees they can find in order to keep watch on their surroundings and have a better angle for hunting.
This may also have something to do with keeping watch on Owls which are definite predators to Eagles. Although you would consider the national bird to be at the top of the food chain (at least in the US), but in truth the Owl is much more vicious. This was news to me when I learned about one of the Eagles at WPP being attacked and killed by one – probably why these particular Eagles have fencing above them now – for their protection
Note, The shot above is one of my favorites (in captivity). The composition came out well with the small amount of light that made its way through and of course I always like the heads turned across the body. It also shows the tongue which you do often see. It is a shame it will never soar the sky again, but comforting to know it is getting good care for the rest of its life while being a valuable tool to recruit future birders.
If you are in the area and prefer less effort to see these wonderful birds take a stroll through Wildlife Prairie Park in Edwards IL. Otherwise head on over to the Mississippi River near the Quad Cities (IA/IL) and see them in their natural settings.