Question for the Bird and BIF photographers

obajobaobajoba Posts: 206Member
edited March 2013 in General Discussions
I've been trying to find info on this, but it seems to be a bit elusive. Between my house and office (about 4 miles of largely unpopulated area) I see Bald Eagles regularly. In fact, today we say three BE's and 2 that we thought were golden (but may have been juveniles.) They hang around a lot this time of year, though we see them year round, too. So, it seems every time I bring my gear to work with me the birds are nowhere to be seen (good old uncle murphy stepping in again.) I can't seem to find a pattern to their behavior and though they appear to enjoy hunting in the fields nearby, I've never seen one with a catch (though we do see the hawks regularly snag rabbits, prairie dogs and snakes.)

What is the catch to finding these guys? Are there certain times of day they tend to hunt? They are magnificent to watch as they fly past my office window, or fly over head while we're eating lunch on the patio at work and I would love to take a crack at getting some BIF shots since they fly around for 10-20 minutes when we do see them.
D4 | 70-200 2.8 VR | 24-70 2.8 | TC-17e II
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  • SquamishPhotoSquamishPhoto Posts: 608Member
    edited March 2013
    You'll have to figure out what they're preying on for food and then figure out where they're most likely to be doing that. Most of the time its shortly after sun rise that they start getting active around here. Once you figure out where they are and when you'll want to get there before they do and find somewhere to hide. Then chill out and wait. Not something that can be done on a lunch break, obviously. :]
    Post edited by SquamishPhoto on
    Mike
    D3 • D750 • 14-24mm f2.8 • 35mm f1.4A • PC-E 45mm f2.8 • 50mm f1.8G • AF-D 85mm f1.4 • ZF.2 100mm f2 • 200mm f2 VR2
  • obajobaobajoba Posts: 206Member
    Yeah, I figure they must nest somewhere near by. I would say the most common sightings are between noon and 4:30PM. Three days in a row on my way home I saw two of them hanging out on the large power poles that look out over one of the fields that is densely populated with prairie dogs.

    Given your info though Squamish, I'm tempted to pack up my gear and ride my bike to work tomorrow, leave around 7:00AM (just before sunrise in Denver). That would give me a couple hours to look around and I maybe I can see what they are up to so I can figure it out for the future. I assume this requires lots of recon as you're saying. Of course, until my tripod legs and ball head arrive I am going to be shooting with a monopod only. The bonus is that they don't seem to be shy around the traffic, people, or my trusty cubicle at the GOOG.
    D4 | 70-200 2.8 VR | 24-70 2.8 | TC-17e II
  • DJBee49DJBee49 Posts: 133Member
    Obajoba.

    I am just jealous you have such wonderful birds so accessible to you! I am hoping to get some shots of large raptors in Colorado this summer but wild bird photography is so difficult and time-consuming, it may well not happen. Usually family commitments intrude!

    Good luck.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    @ SquamishPhoto

    +1
    Msmoto, mod
  • obajobaobajoba Posts: 206Member
    Yep, we also have a horned owl of some sort that nests about a mile from my office. The city shuts down the shoulder and all easy access every year around this time so that no one disturbs it. I don't know a whole lot about birds but this owl is pretty darned protected. My wife let me know this morning that they blocked access beginning yesterday. We live in a fairly populous area with small open spaces everywhere. On a map it is from 120th Ave and I-25 to Hwy 7 and I-25 on the north edge of the Denver metro area.
    D4 | 70-200 2.8 VR | 24-70 2.8 | TC-17e II
  • CoastalconnCoastalconn Posts: 527Member
    A bike ride would be a good start. Bird photography takes a big chunk of time a dedication. If there are any lakes in the area I would start with that. Eagles would rather scavenge, but a water source is always a good start. If you can get into the woods look for giant nests like 3-4 feet across. If you want to catch them in flight you really want a bare minimum of 1/1600th sec so a mono/tri is quite as helpful... Good luck let us know how you make out..
  • GitzoGitzo Posts: 174Member
    @obajoba
    Bald Eagles.......several things about Bald Eagles .......they are primarily fish eaters; many of them, fish are almost 100% of their diet; but it all depends on where they nest; almost always near a lake or other water; the one thing about them that helps more than anything else........they tend to re-use the same nest, year after year, and also add onto it each year. Where I live in western Indiana, we have a number of small to medium size lakes nearby, and a bunch of them have bald eagles nesting nearby. the one nest that I know about is about 10 t0 12 miles from my house; the first year we went there, a young boy came by and was telling me about the pair that use the nest; pretty soon his Mom stopped by, and after a bit of conversation, she was very helpful to us; she can actually see the eagle's nest from her house, told us they had nested there every year for 11 years, and even how many hatchlings they had fledged in that time; they typically lay 3 or 4 eggs, but after the eggs hatch, they seldom have more than one of two chicks that "make it" to be able to fly and find their own food; this particular nest is beside a very small creek, and the lake that they go to every day to fish is about 3 to 5 miles away; once their chicks hatch, one of the "adults" stays and guards the nest, while the other one goes to the lake to fish; some time he's only gone for maybe 30 min≤ and other times he's gone for 3 hours or more….

    It takes them til late fall to get the young ones "om their own", and after that, I don't think they use the nest any more until the following year; at least Im never see them around the nest when I occasionally go byb there in the winter time. Most eagle nests will be built fairly high; the one I'm referring to is probably 50 to 70 feet high, in a big sycamore tree; once you see an eagle's nest, you won't confuse it with anything else; some of they get to be 10 or 12 feet across after they're used for quite a while; a good place to find bald eagles is near a coal-fired power plant; the plant where our power comes from is on the EWabash River about 30 miles from here; all power plants take in huge quantities of cooling water, and after it cycles through their turbines, it raises the temperature way up to maybe 50 to70 degrees, then it's discharged back into the river, and the river water stays warm all winter; because of the warm water, there is always an abundance of aquatic life, which draws fish from miles and miles away, and the bald eagles hang around all winter, taking advantage of the "easy fishing"; Duke Energy has "Eagle Day" every 2nd weekend in February every, and I always try to make it to the power plant to take pictures of the eagles; the problem being though, the weather is only conducive to photography about 2 years out of every 10 or so. ( so far I'm batting 0 for about 5 or 6 "attempts" ) I feel sure there are probably a few nests in the general vicinity, but so far I've never gotten around to getting a boat to go look for nests. If you do find eagles nesting, you shouldn't get too close  to the nest; some will actually abandon the nest if people getv too close, while others don't seem to care; most of the shots you're likely to get at a nest site are overhead flight pictures; the first year I visited the nest I'm referring to, the female was standing on the edge of the nest, right in plain sight, while I was getting my tripod set up, got the camera on the ball head, ready to go........the she hops back into the center of the nest, completely ojut of sight, for the next 3 or 4 hours ! ( if youtend to be impatient..........forget eagle photography......you won't like it !
  • TaoTeJaredTaoTeJared Posts: 1,306Member
    Bald Eagles are popping up everywhere - I'm in Nebraska and people are finding them everywhere. Even my grandfather never remembers hearing of them in this area. By my Cousins house on the edge of the city (by a lake), people have counted over 15! They are nature lovers (cousins) and they have been watching them for months. What they have told me is that they seem to stay in an area for a week, move somewhere else for a while, then come back. Very skittish, getting closer than 200ft is very hard. Camo seems to be is a necessity and better yet to pre-set a blind up. Around in the mornings (sunrise-9am).

    They have been trying to get photos of them for months and even though the normal nesting perch is less than 300ft, they have not got a single "good" one yet. The times I have stopped by they have flown away before I get within 300 yards of them. If they are around this summer I'm going to borrow a friend deer blind and set it up, camp out the night before to see if I can get any good shots.
    D800, D300, D50(ir converted), FujiX100, Canon G11, Olympus TG2. Nikon lenses - 24mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, (5 in all)50mm, 60mm, 85mm 1.8, 105vr, 105 f2.5, 180mm 2.8, 70-200vr1, 24-120vr f4. Tokina 12-24mm, 16-28mm, 28-70mm (angenieux design), 300mm f2.8. Sigma 15mm fisheye. Voigtlander R2 (olive) & R2a, Voigt 35mm 2.5, Zeiss 50mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4. I know I missed something...
  • obajobaobajoba Posts: 206Member
    Thanks everyone for all of the info!

    I did some research (a lot of Google searching and hours of reading) and what I've found is that the creek which runs about 1/2 mile from my house (Big Dry Creek), and the S. Platte river (just a few miles to the east of my house,) are both home to a large number bald eagles for 'part' of the year. I also found out that there is a nest about a 1/4 mile from my house but it is not inhabited yearly, though most years there are some migratory BE's that use the nest. Unfortunately we have 30-60MPH winds today so I haven't had a chance to walk over there. I've lived here 5 years and had no idea it existed even though I've seen hourdes of retired bird watchers out there in the past.

    I don't have the patience (I actually have A.D.D) to hang out for hours but I'm going to start bringing my gear to work with me every day. Even though it's completely contrary to everything I have read, I'm pretty certain that if I sit outside for an hour at lunch I should be able to get a shot. Two of these Bald Eagles literally swoop 10-15' above our patio at the office multiple times per week; they almost seem to be ok with ignoring people and traffic because they sit on the power lines going up a major road nearby. Their behavior is definitely atypical for eagles.

    If I can get some shots, rest assured, they will be on P.A.D. If I don't? At least I have learned quite a bit about our National Bird - and I can pass that along to my son :)
    D4 | 70-200 2.8 VR | 24-70 2.8 | TC-17e II
  • SquamishPhotoSquamishPhoto Posts: 608Member
    edited March 2013
    @obajoba
    Bald Eagles.......several things about Bald Eagles .......they are primarily fish eaters; many of them, fish are almost 100% of their diet;
    Despite there being three major rivers flowing out to sea and several lakes, here the local bald eagles, ones that stay here year round, are mostly scavengers. They'll also hunt small mammal prey as well as snakes much like hawks do. A photo that I've seen many a time and yet have never managed to capture is a bald eagle catching and eating a sea gull. Around here where you find one you always find the other, including the local dump. And truthfully, as far as fishing goes, when they're large like most salmon get its actually next to impossible for many of them to actually catch and retrieve a live river running salmon. They tend to eat the ones that are washed up dead on the side of the river that are a little decomposed and easier for them to pick apart. As the winter season progresses the birds get desperate enough that they'll fight over rotting brown piles of goop that one can only identify as a fish based on the putrid yet very definitely fishy smell.

    Just sayin. :]

    Post edited by SquamishPhoto on
    Mike
    D3 • D750 • 14-24mm f2.8 • 35mm f1.4A • PC-E 45mm f2.8 • 50mm f1.8G • AF-D 85mm f1.4 • ZF.2 100mm f2 • 200mm f2 VR2
  • StevePSteveP Posts: 1Member
    During the calving season many eagles migrate to the Carson Valley south of Reno Nevada. They feed on the afterbirth and the calves that don't make it. They can often be seen from the highway between Carson City and Gardnerville.
  • proudgeekproudgeek Posts: 1,422Member
    Wanted to resurrect this thread. While out on my boat yesterday I came across an eagle's nest on the shore of an island, about an hour's ride from the marina where I dock. So my question is whether eagles are migratory (I live pretty far north, although not as far north as Squamish). I'd love to go back, but not if you think they might be gone.
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 3,973Member
    The answer isn't simple, because some eagles do migrate, while others do not. They aren't migratory in the sense of some other birds mind you. Often eagles move from one area to another simply due to a lack of food, rather than a natural drive to migrate.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • SquamishPhotoSquamishPhoto Posts: 608Member
    Exactly. Its more of congregations where the salmon are running in the greatest numbers and the water levels allow for easy fishing. Some years its amazing here in Squamish and the birds are in the thousands and other years its paltry and you only see a couple hundred birds. Our Chum run has been awful for the last few years which explains the last few years sucking. :]
    Mike
    D3 • D750 • 14-24mm f2.8 • 35mm f1.4A • PC-E 45mm f2.8 • 50mm f1.8G • AF-D 85mm f1.4 • ZF.2 100mm f2 • 200mm f2 VR2
  • proudgeekproudgeek Posts: 1,422Member
    edited August 2013
    Running salmon aren't really an issue, here, as we're landlocked. We do have some landlocked salmon and some fairly large lake trout. The island where the nest is located is in very deep water. Depth is 50 feet within 20 yards of shore. On the other side of the island the depth gets to 250+ pretty quickly. For reference, here's a shot on Flickr of the tower where the nest is (not my shot).

    Valcour Island lighthouse

    This was taken about five years ago, before it was built.
    Post edited by Golf007sd on
  • TriShooterTriShooter Posts: 219Member
    Eagles are challenging to photograph without knowing where they nest because they hunt over a huge range. These birds have been know to travel 10 miles for a meal. I have captured random shots occasionally near the nuclear power plant in Virginia, and the TVA in Tennessee, but usually they are too far off to get a decent picture. A lot of birds will follow a specific path for days, or weeks, and then suddenly disappear, probably because they have found a better place to find food.

    Look for the eagle's nest. They like power plants that pump warm water year round. If you see an eagle's nest you will know it because they are much larger than an Osprey's nest. Both Eagles, and Osprey generally return to the same nest repeatedly, year after year. Mating eagle generally return to their nests between late September and October, and assuming a successful mating will remain until about May. Find the nest and you will get some great pictures depending on the terrain. The nests are almost always very high so it takes a good telephoto lens to get good shots, and in flat terrain, like Mississippi it can be frustrating because they can sit in the middle of their nest for hours at a time. Both mates hunt so you will still see them when they fly off, and back, or the one of them perches on a tree limb.

    Eagles generally are opportunists when hunting. They will go for the least amount of effort, and prefer cunning to hard work, although their eye sight is incredible when they are forced to really hunt. They can spot a fish swimming with its dark back side facing up at them from high altitudes than you will care to shoot. Eagles are weight limited as to what they can carry.

    Instead of attacking a particular bird in a flock of geese, for example, they will panic the flock, which will cause the panicked geese to run into each other, and then kill off the injured birds. They will hunt large mammals, like goats, and sheep, in a mountain terrain where they can frighten, and confuse these animals into falling to their death. They hunt like this because their bones are extremely fragile, owing to being hollow, for self-preservation, not out of cowardice. If their nests are compromised by a threat, they are more likely to leave than stand their ground because they seem very aware of their limitations in a direct confrontation.
  • proudgeekproudgeek Posts: 1,422Member
    Super helpful thanks. As I explained above, I know where the nest is (it's definitely an eagle's nest and not an osprey; I have a lot of experience with the latter). My only issue is that it's on an island an hour's boat ride from where I keep my boat. The lens shouldn't be a major issue (300mm f/2.8), it's just a matter of finding the time to get there and having the patience to wait. October in northern Vermont isn't exactly boating weather. :)
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    For those who know or may not know...this is just a shameless plugin on my behalf regarding one of our members. The images should be familiar:

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  • heartyfisherheartyfisher Posts: 3,172Member
    Nice info and gear and advice on technique!
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  • CoastalconnCoastalconn Posts: 527Member
    I love shameless plugs :) thanks golf :)
  • heartyfisherheartyfisher Posts: 3,172Member
    Nice gear Coastal ! ( i got distracted by your distraction though.. next time think that the camera is your best friend and not just a boring black thing.. :-) ) PS You made me look up the tokina 300 F2.8 ! !
    Moments of Light - D610 D7K S5pro 70-200f4 18-200 150f2.8 12-24 18-70 35-70f2.8 : C&C very welcome!
    Being a photographer is a lot like being a Christian: Some people look at you funny but do not see the amazing beauty all around them - heartyfisher.

  • tc88tc88 Posts: 309Member
    Coastalconn, I like to get your take on the importance of camouflage. On one hand, seems to me that with the eyesight those raptors have, they should see you no matter what. So do you think the camouflage just makes one less threatening so that they let you closer? Or do you think camouflage helps to the extent that the birds may fly close because not noticing you? That is, if they notice you afterwards, they will fly away to keep a safe distance as usual. I like to hear your experience. Thanks.
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 3,973Member
    edited September 2013
    I think it's hard to say if camo really works. I've been shooting birds for 5 years now, and I find the amount of people around has more impact than what you wear. When there are a lot of people in a given area the birds take off faster, regardless of what you have on. I have worn some camo, and non camo cloths on shoots and noticed almost no difference at all. I've found that patients and knowing where a bird likes to feed or roost is more important. If you stay still for a long period of time you become part of the environment and they will ignore you.

    Some birds are more easily startled than others. Some will take off at the first sign of movement, even if it is just a leaf falling from a tree, while others will let you walk right up to them. The reaction can also change from bird to bird. Example, one afternoon I was shooting a Great Blue Heron and I couldn't get within 50 meters of it without it taking off. Another day, with a different Heron I was less than 10 feet away and it didn't even flinch. Keep in mind my approch was different. In one case I was simply walking, to see over tall reeds, and in another case I got down on my knees and slowly inched my way towards the bird. Point is, you never know how a bird will react to you, it really is a case by case processes.
    Post edited by PB_PM on
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • tc88tc88 Posts: 309Member
    I've found that patients and knowing where a bird likes to feed or roost is more important.
    I completely agree with that. I rarely get good enough shots the first time around a new location in either wildlife or landscape. Usually only after scouting out a location, knowing where the light is from and what weather is good for the scene, when the birds are going to appear, which routes they are going to take and where they like to stay, then I start to have a chance. BTW, thanks for making me not feeling too bad when I skip the camouflages. :)
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