Shooting Behavior – Eagle Perspectives Part 3

Well, the extended roadtrip has officially come to the end. We arrived back home to snow on the ground and temperatures our bodies downright reject. To the best of my ability I’ll be covering the sites and sights in the coming months (possibly years ha). The image hopper is officially overflowing due to more than a terabyte of content we managed to bring back with us. Admittedly the shot total was inflated this trip due to my retirement gift to myself – finally gave in and purchased a new camera body. Every photography becomes one with their gear over the years, their babies if you will. Every setting that needed to be changed could be done by muscle memory without ever taking my eye off the subject. Each button, dial, menu setting custom configured to rapidly transition to different scenarios in the field. Similarity to the current body was a key determiner for the replacement – as to be expected there were a few differences and anomalies that have to be familiarized with over time. Missed a lot of shots this trip that irked me every time and for those I dive have time to experiment, the shot count increased tremendously. Fingers crossed we’ll find something in the digital darkroom worth sharing. Question is… how long will it take to get this comfortable with the new rig…

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

There has been a heavy focus on our national bird this month. Two posts previous and now today’s feature as well. This third and final part of the American Bald Eagle perspectives analysis completes the progression from the traditional shots that have overfilled my digital darkroom to the more interesting angles that has now become the quest in our Eagle outings.

American Bald Eagle found in Davenport, IA, in January 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more interesting perspectives of our majestic bird.

Everyone has their own interests, their likes, dislikes, the emotion grabbers and, as my wife categorizes, the hell no’s. One person’s mistakes can be another’s masterpiece when it comes to photography. It also depends on the type of field work being done. If I’m out after a new bird, prime directive is to get it in the tin any way possible. Once that is accomplished, progress to getting every angle possible and then work on improving the core shots. After that the focus moves to behavior shots with an emphasis on interactions, inter and intra species coupled with survival skills in their environment. It is really in this latter mode where the “interesting images” come to light.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

One can debate from the minute you get in the car to head to the field to the very moment you call it a day what it takes to get environment shots. My personal mantra – 80% luck enabled by 20% dedication. The chances you will be in the right place at the right time with the right settings is astronomically small – just finding the subject can be frustrating as hell, much less to get it to do something other than fly away with a large black barrel pointed at it.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

The remaining 20% allows you to do something with it when the stars align. You have to get to know your subject beyond the ID characteristics – what does it feed on, when does it hunt, how does it hunt, what habitat does it prefer, what calendar does it follow, are there secondary characteristics to look for – high perches, low perches, moving water, calm water, branches hanging over water etc. Arm yourself with the best equipment (knowledge) to increase the odds.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

The most important component is simply experience. The more time in the field the more nuances you can discover. A Tern will give a slight upward thrust right before a making a sharp bank and dropping vertical into the water – set your focus at that very point and simply follow it down to impact. In my experiences, our Eagle friends will make several passes before choosing its victim. The legs will usually drop down on those passes, but when they arch back up to a 45 for greater support on impact, well, that’s when things get serious.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

All that is left is to fail and fail and fail again. Each time a little more experienced, some nuance put in the memory banks or a tweak of a camera setting until you get your vision in the tin – then continue trying, continue failing until you get the next keeper (you will probably not even notice it is taking less attempts each time). For me, the challenge is what makes photography so fulfilling. I’ll look at a fuzzy picture with absolute joy if it happens to be the first time I’ve managed to actually get the bird somewhere in the tiny frame. Next goal, get it a little sharper or closer to impact or whatever the case is that moves you to better.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

Every once in a while, the 80% luck will combine with 20% you control to get something you are willing to bring out of the darkroom and hang on your refrigerator door for all your visitors to enjoy, and if you are fortunate, even critique. Be sure and take time to look at other refrigerator doors out there to keep inspired. There are amazing photographers out there that simply make my jaw drop based on their experiences and resulting products – clearly they have managed to significantly push the 80% bucket down.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

Linda and I had the opportunity to attend the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum back in December 2019 (link here). There are few things that would compel me to go to that city (it’s a downstate thing), but Linda used this exhibit as leverage to get me to go – forget at the moment what she wanted to see up there (maybe the Christmas tree display). Regardless, I’d go back there in a heartbeat as that was the most amazing collection of images I’ve ever seen in one setting. Each picture grabbed my attention, nonstop admiration and personal mental notes as the eyes scanned through every inch of the backlit images on display from all over the world. Linda would eventually tap my shoulder and remind me there were plenty more offerings to get to.

American Bald Eagle found in Bettendorf, IA, in January 2017

Looking back at the words here, it reads as if I am in any position to give advice when it comes to photography – definitely not the case! Just wanted to highlight a personal transition over these last three posts. I like the direction I’m heading and looking forward to building upon it. Will leave you with two beliefs learned in my development:

  • You only get better by being in the field and exercising the shutter finger.
  • Never let anyone see the cutting room floor of your digital darkroom.

Hoping you enjoyed a deeper look at an amazing bird. Breathtaking to witness and an appropriate symbol for our great nation


10 thoughts on “Shooting Behavior – Eagle Perspectives Part 3”

  1. Glad you are back home safe and sound, and with a new camera! Lucky boy. I’m still waiting for restrictions to be lifted so I can get that lens AND be able to go somewhere to use it!
    Hope you put out a few ‘tasters’ from your trip, don’t let them fester away for years in the mysterious ether. Seize the moment, strike while the iron’s hot etc, etc.
    Field craft is a difficult thing to learn from a book. Books can guide you but you are spot on you have to get out and do it. Some people never get it. How many times have you seen some idiot bumbling around scaring every living thing for miles when you have been patiently stalking your subject?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just read an article around the UK restrictions being kept in place until end of 2021 – let’s hope that isn’t the case – not sure what your vaccine rollout looks like over there, but at least our older community is getting their first round (mother got hers last week thankfully). Linda is all over me about my promptness on the latest trove so you can be assured there will be an emphasis to get the new ones out soon (at least the +1s if nothing else). I actually have a post coming related to one etiquette experience we had – imagine a bird that hasn’t been seen anywhere in the area for 13 years or so and still rare with the sightings before that. Another birder/photographer and I spotted it one morning. Another “supposed” birder wanders over and we share the incredible opportunity – the dude literally turns back, makes a piercing whistle to his friend some distance down the boardwalk and then proceeds to yell as loud as possible the rare bird is here. Almost threw the idiot into the Alligator pit. Thanks for the update B. and fingers crossed you will be able to get out and enjoy your retirement soon.

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      1. Here’s a little tale. Back in May 2000 when the Lemming was just over 2 we were holidaying in Dorset on the south coast of England. It’s a well known hot spot for rare birds on spring/autumn migration. Anyway, we were out for the day when my pager alert went off. A Fan-tailed Warbler (also called Zitting Cisticola) had been found on the Isle of Portland (connected by a bridge) just a couple of miles from where we were staying. This was only the second record for the UK and I was not going to miss out so we drove at break neck speed to get there before it decided to head back to the Continent.
        After a couple of false alarms the tiny bird (wren sized) shew briefly before flying over the growing crowd. Everyone went running after it except me as I had a small child swinging off my telescope tripod! As luck would have it it flew back over us and landed about 20 feet in front on a thistle, what a stunner! However the fast expanding horde came running past without a clue that it was right there, out in the open but not for long. Can you believe that? A local birder who stood next to me exploded in rage and who can blame him.
        Don’t think the bird was seen again, I remember the police were called as people from all over the Country were just abandoning their cars on the narrow approach road and not using the huge car park.
        Field craft, you either have it or not. Your alligators would have been very welcome.

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    2. Absolute insanity over there when it comes to rare birds – I haven’t experienced anything as crazy as that – in fact we were able to get a very rare bird while in Texas and it basically consisted of a few birders in the area sitting on swings waiting for it to show up – didn’t happen the first day (well, we missed it by a few hours), showed up 1 minute late the next day and just sat around enjoying the day keeping our distance and exchanging pleasantries with each other until sure enough it appeared again – everyone just sat where they were and snapped off whatever pictures they wanted. I can just imagine that playing out over there – ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

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