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Posts Tagged ‘Haliaeetus leucocephalus’

This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) definitely did not seem to be thrilled with my presence last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Despite its looks of disapproval, though, it remained in place for our little portrait session and was still perched when I continued down the trail.

You never know how wildlife will react when they detect your presence. Most often they will crawl, swim, or fly away immediately, because they perceive you as a predator. Occasionally, particularly when they are young, they will look back at you with a mixture of wonder and may even come a little closer. On rare occasions, you seem to come to a silent agreement with your subject to peacefully coexist.

Generally I photograph wildlife subjects from a good distance away (with the notable exception of insects that I like to photograph at close range) and try not to spook them. Sometimes, though, you just can’t help it. This eagle was perched on some branches overhanging the trail that I had to use to get back to where my car was parked—I had to pass right under the perched eagle.

I tried to move slowly and stealthily, but I knew from past experience that an eagle’s eyesight is much keener than mine and its reaction time much quicker—there was no way I was going to pass by unnoticed. As you can undoubtedly tell, I took these shots shooting upwards from almost directly below the eagle. I made small adjustments to my position as I tried to frame the eagle through the branches, but I did not want to scare away the eagle.

As I departed, I was really happy with the encounter and the fact that the eagle was able to retain its chosen spot. The eagle, for its part, was probably equally happy to return to basking in the warmth of the winter sun after being momentarily disturbed by a pesky photographer.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Wednesday was a wonderful day for photographing Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I spotted them at several locations on the refuge and even managed to get a few portrait-style shots in which the eagles look particularly regal and majestic.

Earlier in the day the sun was shining brightly and I had the brilliant blue sky as a backdrop, as you see in the second photo below. However, that eagle was buried a bit in the vegetation and the background is a little more cluttered than I would have preferred. Still, I like the expression on the eagle’s face, the kind of semi-smile that some people make when you ask them to pose.

Later in the day the skies clouded over and the color of the background was much more subdued. Somehow, that seems to fit well with the serious expression on the face of the eagle in the first image. I like too that he was perched on a “snag,” a dead or dying tree that is still standing, so there were no distracting small tree branches.

I am always happy when I manage to see a Bald Eagle, one of the symbols of the United States, and even more thrilled when I can capture images like this one.

bald eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) left their big nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge unattended last Wednesday and several Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) decided to check it out. I don’t know if the eagles were eating fish in the nest in the past or if the vultures were merely curious.

Later in the day I passed the same nest and both of the eagles were perched near the nest, including the one shown in the second image below. That shot gives you a good sense of how big that nest really is. The eagles have been using it for many years and each year they seem to add on to it. It is so deep now, that it is almost impossible to tell if an eagle is sitting on eggs, but I will be checking periodically for other signs.

Turkey Vultures

eeeagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted Bald Eagle couples (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) near each of the two bald eagle nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past week, but I have not yet seen them in the nest itself quite yet. I believe that it is now mating season and it probably will not be long before the eagles start nesting.

This past Wednesday I spotted one of the eagle couples perched on an osprey nesting platform that is not far from one of the eagle nests. This seems to be one of the favorite spots for the eagles to hang out together and I have seen them at this spot multiple times in the past. I was a good distance away from the eagles, but was monitoring them through my telephoto zoom lens.

I sensed that they were getting prepared to take off, so I got ready prepared in case they happened to fly in my direction. I was delighted when they zoomed past me and was even more thrilled when I managed to capture this image with both of the eagles in flight.

It is pretty hard to photograph a bird in flight under the best of circumstance and really difficult when there is more than one bird. I would consider this one to be a successful shot.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week I managed to maneuver myself so that I had a clean line of sight to one of the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time my view is at least partially blocked by vegetation or the eagle flies away before I can get myself into position.

This eagle was perched on a broken off tree, not far from a nesting site. I extended my 150-600mm telephoto lens to its maximum length and watched and waited. Fortunately I was using a monopod to steady my camera and lens, so I was able to keep my camera and raised for an extended period of time and the eagle adjusted its feathers and monitored the area from its high perch.

After a while, I noticed that eagle was getting a little fidgety and I correctly anticipated that the eagle was preparing to take off and managed to capture a couple of images as it was doing so. It may sound like a pretty straightforward process, but in fact the eagle has lots of options when it takes to the air—it can fly off in any direction and at any height.

When I am in this kind of situation, I feel a bit like the goalkeeper for a penalty kick in a soccer (football) match. I know that there will be a moment of decisive action and that I will have to react quickly. I will watch my “opponent” for telltales signs of his intentions, but ultimately I will have to commit to one direction as I “guess” when and how it will act. Sometimes the goalkeeper makes the save and sometimes he is outsmarted by the offensive player—that, in essence, is the story of the life of a wildlife photographer.Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is almost nesting season for Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Recently when I have seen eagles, they have mostly been in pairs. When I spotted the Bald Eagle in the first photo last Monday, it was calling out loudly to its mate, I believe, as it perched atop a raised platform at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on which ospreys sometimes build a nest. An actual nesting site that has been used in recent years is located in a nearby sycamore tree.

A much larger nest is located in another part of the refuge, as shown in the second photo. Two eagles—presumably a mating pair—were hanging around close to that nest, though I have not yet seen them occupy it. The final photo is a close-up shot of the eagle that was perched right above the nest.

I will be checking the nesting sites periodically for signs of further activity. The large nest is set back from the trail a good ways, so you cannot approach it and the trail remains open. The smaller nest in the sycamore tree is adjacent to a trail that is now closed to keep the eagles from being disturbed. I am able to observe that nest from the barrier that blocks the trail and, if I am lucky, I will be able to monitor the nest and capture a few distant shots as I have done in the past.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was wedged in so tightly between the branches that it almost looked like it was hugging the tree last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The eagle was perched in a tree just off of the trail that I was following. The sun was shining brightly, but it was not generating much heat and a breeze was kicking up periodically, ruffling the eagle’s feathers.

I realized that I had a problem when I first focused on the eagle—I was looking right into the sun and the eagle was nothing but a silhouette. On one side of me was thick vegetation and the water of the bay was on the other side, so my options for framing a shot were limited. I realized that the only way that I could get a decent shot of the eagle was to walk past it and then turn to face it with the sun to my back.

Sound crazy, right? I moved as slowly and cautiously as I could and amazingly my plan worked. As the first photo suggests, the eagle was aware of my presence, but did not immediately take off. I observed it silently for a few minutes as it adjusted its position and preened a bit.

I was preparing to move on when suddenly the eagle took off. My camera was zoomed in all of the way, so I was not able to capture the eagle’s full wingspan when it flew almost directly over me as it cleared the sweet gum tree in which it was perched. I managed, however, to get a pretty good shot at the eagle’s body and especially its talons from this unusual shooting angle.

It is almost time for the eagles at the refuge to begin their nesting and authorities have already blocked the roads in some areas of the refuge. With a little luck, though, I will be able to get some shots in the upcoming of the eagle couples as they renovate the nests, albeit from a far greater distance than when I captured the images in this posting.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold, cloudy, and windy last week when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—it definitely is beginning to feel like winter. I had bundled up, wearing a hooded jacket and gloves in an effort to stay warm.

On days like this, I often marvel at the ability of wild creatures to survive in harsh weather conditions. I was a little surprised when I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nestled into the inner branches of a tree. Quite often when I see eagles, they are perched at the top of trees, majestically surveying their kingdom from on high.

This eagle, however, seemed to be hunched over a bit with its feathers puffed up, perched lower in the tree. The eagle’s feet with their massive talons were tucked in under the feathers, presumably to help them stay warm.

Vegetation kept me from getting very close to the eagle and I really did not want to disturb the eagle from its comfortable perch. So I framed my shots from a somewhat awkward angle, content that I had even spotted this handsome bird.

As I was preparing to move on, I noticed the eagle beginning to shift around a little. I correctly guessed that the eagle was preparing to take off, but did not react quickly enough to capture the action. I was still focused on the branch and when the eagle spread its wings and took to the air, I clipped its wings, not realizing in that split second that I had zoomed in too closely.

Still, I am pretty happy with the second shot below and the way that it caught the eagle in mid-air. There is a dynamic feel in this kind of action shot that is impossible to capture when a bird remains perched. The degree of difficulty though is significantly magnified when motion is involved, so I tend to judge myself a little less critically when photographing moving subjects, like this puffy bald eagle, vice static subjects.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cool and breezy last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most birds seemed to be out of sight, seeking shelter to stay warm. I was thrilled therefore when I managed to spot this pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched together on a distant tree.

I suspect that this is an eagle couple and the two eagles appeared to be carrying on a spirited discussion. Although it is hard to be certain of their genders, female eagles tend to be larger than their male counterparts, so I suspect that the eagle on the right is the female one.

Bald Eagles

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There was a lot of bird activity on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge both in the air and on the water. Unfortunately most of the action took place well out of the optimal range of my camera, so I had to be content with capturing long distance photos.

Flocks of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) periodically announced their presence as they passed by. A large flock of crows was equally vocal as it harassed a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched peacefully in a distant tree. Only the shy little Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) were silent as they paddled about, periodically diving in search of food.

I spent several hours walking about, listening and observing, enjoying the fresh air and the beauty of natural surroundings, unconcerned that I was not able to capture amazing photos during this outing. That is the uncertain fate of a nature photographer. To borrow a line from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I returned home from this walk in the wild feeling renewed and refreshed—that was my biggest reward.

Canada Geese

Bald Eagle

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to spot this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The eagle was perched high in a tree, as shown in the final photo and kept looking from side to side, as though it was looking for its mate. I am not sure if the eagle was aware of my presence, but all of the sudden it took off and flew away—I should know by now never to underestimate the acuity of an eagle’s vision.

I managed to capture the first shot below as the eagle was really stretching itself out just prior to takeoff. It is an unusual pose that I really like. A split second later I captured the shot of the eagle in flight. There were several other shots in between the first and second images, but I did not track the eagle accurately enough and the eagle’s wings were cut off in those shots.

It has been a while since I last got good shots of a Bald Eagle, so I was particularly happy when this photo opportunity arose.

Here in the US, today is Veterans Day, a day when we honor all those who have served in our armed forces. Elsewhere in the world, today is commemorated in many different ways, including as Armistice Day, the day when World War I ended. Wherever you happen to live, I hope that you never forget the the brave men and women who have served and are serving on your behalf, safeguarding your freedom—we owe them all a debt of gratitude.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering the trails early last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was fortunate to spot this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched in a tree, almost hidden amongst the leaves. I would like to think that my stealthiness permitted me to get close to the eagle, but suspect instead that the eagle was comfortable in its perch and simply did not view me as a threat.

The eagle moved its head from side to side a bit and glanced down at me occasionally, but stayed in place as I took some shots. The trail took me past the tree in which the eagle was perched and after I had passed underneath the eagle, I glanced over my shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to see the eagle was still there. I love it when I am able to capture my images without disturbing my wildlife subjects, though most of the time they are so skittish that they move away as soon as they detect my presence.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This majestic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was almost hidden in the foliage when I spotted it on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If the eagle’s head had not been so bright white in color, I might not have noticed it at all. At this time of the year, when I often can hear the birds, but cannot see them, it is always a challenge for me to photograph birds.

To mark the change of the seasons, I have switched over to walking around with my Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens affixed to my camera, a recognition that I am as likely to encounter birds as insects. I am still, however, carrying my 180mm macro lens in my backpack, in case I run into the right kind of shooting situation with an insects or other small creatures.

Initially the eagle had its head almost completely buried in the leaves, as you can see in the first photo. I gradually noticed, though, that the eagle was moving its head around a bit and I was able to capture some images that show a bit more of the eagle’s face. I changed my body position slightly as I watched and waited, but tried to minimize my movements for fear of spooking the eagle.

It has been quite a while since I last featured Bald Eagles in a posting, and I am excited at the prospect of seeing them more regularly. If so, you are sure to see the results here, because, as I have said on multiple occasions, any day in which I see a Bald Eagle is a good day and getting good shots is real bonus.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several months since I last checked on the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I made a visit there on Monday to check on the eaglets. The young eagles that I found still hanging around the nest are definitely no longer babies, though most people would not yet recognize them as Bald Eagles—it takes almost five years for them to acquire their distinctive white heads and tails.

I am pretty sure that these two eaglets are now capable of flight, though they remained in place on the branches overlooking the nest the entire time that I observed them. For the first time in quite some time I had my 150-600mm lens on my camera that allowed me to zoom in on each of the eaglets and then zoom back for the final shot to give you an idea of how close they were to the nest.

The bedraggled plumage makes it look like it was really windy, but in fact there was no wind when I captured the images. The eaglets clearly have a lot of work to do on their grooming before they are ready to take their place as one of our national symbols.

I did not see any adult Bald Eagles until much later in the day when I spotted one in another part of the wildlife refuge. Although the eaglets appear to be more or less full grown in terms of size, I question the degree to which they are self-sufficient and suspect that they are still dependent on their parents to provide them with food. As their flying skills improve, the eagles will almost certainly venture out farther and farther and it will become correspondingly more difficult for me to spot them.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As some of you know, I have been monitoring two Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests this spring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This past month I have devoted most of my photography time to dragonflies, so yesterday I grabbed my long lens and headed off to the refuge, hoping to see some baby eagles. One of the nests is huge and has high walls, so it is hard to know what, if anything, is going on inside it.

I waited and waited and finally the head of an eaglet popped up over the edge of the nest. As I reviewed the first photo, I noticed that there is another eaglet on the other side of the tree trunk, just a little lower. (You may need to click on the image to spot the second eaglet.) Both of the baby birds were facing the tree trunk and I soon learned why.

It turns out that one of there was an adult eagle behind the tree trunk. In the second image, it looks like the adult eagle, whose only visible part was its beak, was giving a bite of food to one eaglet while its sibling looked out from the other side of the tree trunk and did not seem very happy about the situation.

In the final shot, you get a better look at the adult eagle and a partial view of one of the eaglets. I now know for sure that there are at least two eaglets in that nest—some years there have been three eaglets. As the eaglets get older, I hope they will be more active and curious and that will allow me to get some better shots of them.

eaglet

eaglet

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Perhaps these Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were singing or maybe they were trying to scare off incoming osprey, but most importantly they were doing it together as a couple on a shared perch when I spotted them on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at a moment when the skies were completely overcast.

Bald Eagles

 

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Both members of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) couple were active on Monday in and around the big nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—neither of them appeared to be sitting continuously in the nest.  Perhaps there are eaglets already, though the nest is so deep I could not see any little heads.

I captured this image as one of the eagles was making its final approach to land on the nest. I really like the position of the wings that help the eagle slow its forward progress and the way that the light coming from the side was illuminating the tail feathers.

I will be continuing to monitor this nest and the other one at the wildlife refuge for signs of baby eagles and hopefully will have the chance to capture some shots of them soon.

bald eagle

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It was early in the morning when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Utterly fascinated, I watched the eagle methodically preening, moving from one area of its body to another, adjusting the feathers and removing some small wispy ones. When you are a national symbol, I guess you have to try to look majestic at all times.

This particular eagle was pretty relaxed and I managed to walk almost underneath the overhanging branch without disturbing it. If you look carefully at the final photo, you can tell that I was shooting almost straight up in order to get the shot. Remarkably the eagle remained in place when I continued on my way down the trail. I would like to be able to claim that I was really stealthy in my movements, but I think it was more likely that the eagle was simply willing to tolerate my presence, of which he was undoubtedly aware.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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For the last six weeks or so, I have been monitoring two Bald Eagle couples (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as they have repaired and renovated two different nests. On Saturday morning I made my way to one of them and was delighted to see an eagle sitting low in the nest. I cannot be completely certain, but I think that the eagle is sitting on one or more eggs. If true, the eaglets should hatch in about 35 days or so.

This relatively small nest was damaged last summer when it looks like one of the supporting branches broke off and half of the nest fell to the ground. I observed some of the reconstructions efforts and documented it in an early February posting called Rebuilding the nest. It looks to me like the nest has grown considerably in size since that time.

This nest is located in a sycamore tree just off one of the major trails at the wildlife refuge. Each year the authorities block off all of the nearby roads to allow the eagles to nest in peace. The final photo shows the tree in which the nest is located and the current barrier across the trail from which I took the first photo. A telephoto lens tends to compress distances, so it is hard to judge exactly how far away the tree is from the barrier—I estimate that it is about a hundred yards (91 meters).

I will continue to keep an eye on this nest and hopefully will manage to get a glimpse of some eaglets in the upcoming months. Last year I believe that there was only a single eaglet (check out my May 2020 posting entitled One little eaglet), although in past years there were often two eaglets (check out this April 2018 posting called Baby bald eagles for a look at two adorable little eaglets).

Bald Eagle nest

Bald Eagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really enjoy posting photos here on my blog because I have the freedom to post multiple images and spend as much time and text as I want talking about them—most other forms of social media have implicit or explicit limits on the content. I post a subset of my blog content on my personal Facebook page and in several Facebook groups.

Many of these Facebook groups are very specialized and are full of experts. I actually prefer to post to groups that are aimed more towards generalists who have a broad interest in nature and wildlife. One of my favorites is called “Nature Lovers of Virginia” and I was thrilled when one of my recent photos of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was selected as the banner photo for the group for the month of March. The enclosed photo shows the banner photo as it looks in Facebook.

I take photos mostly for my own enjoyment, but do love to share them with others. It is a nice plus to get a little recognition from time to time.

banner image

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you remember what it was like to be so totally in love that you wanted to be physically close to the other person every single moment of every single hour? That was the first thought that came to mind when I spotted these two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) close together in a tree last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I tend to think of eagles as being fierce, powerful, and independent, but this image suggests that they also have a tender, vulnerable side as well.

Look into the eyes of the eagle on the right, which I believe is the male. Doesn’t he look like he is totally smitten, wide-eyed and in love? This stage of total infatuation often happens when you are young, though it can strike you at any time in your life. It brings to mind a playground chant of my youth that was designed to embarrass the persons named in the song. Do you remember the song?

Imagine these two eagles were named Chris and Mike. It would go like this:

Chris and Mike
Sitting in a tree
K-I-S-S-I-N-G!
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then comes baby
In a baby carriage!

Can you imagine an eagle with a baby carriage? Let your creative imagination run wild. If I had skills as a cartoonist, it would be fun to make a drawing with this eagle couple pushing a baby carriage. Alas, I have no such skills, but would encourage any of you who possess those skills to take on the challenge.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The early morning sun was still low on the horizon last Tuesday when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The light at this time of the day is so warm, soft, and beautiful that I desperately wanted to get a shot of the eagle.

There was, however, one big problem—the eagle was looking away from me and the view of the back of its head was not very attractive. So I watched and waited and watched some more. Finally, the eagle made a quick glance over its shoulder, smiled, and seemed to ask if I was now satisfied. I was.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I rounded a curve in a trail on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a flash of white at ground level further down the trail. My eyes immediately registered the fact that it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), but my mind seemed to have trouble processing the presence of an eagle in this incongruous location. What was it doing there?

The second and third images suggest that I inadvertently interrupted the eagle as it was consuming its breakfast. I cannot identify the eagle’s prey, but it does not look like a fish to me. If you click on the images you can get a closer look at the remains of the prey and maybe you can tell what it is/was. Perhaps it was one of the many ducks that I could see on the waters of the bay that is visible through the vegetation.

As you can tell from the final photo, the eagle took off as soon as it sensed my presence, taking with it the remains of his meal. I never get tired of visiting this wildlife refuge as often as I can. There is an old adage that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, so some might consider me to be a little crazy. The truth, however, is that each wildlife encounter is a unique combination of environmental factors and subject behavior, so each time there are new possibilities and opportunities to capture views of nature’s endless diversity.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure why the bottom feathers of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were in such disarray when I spotted it this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Clearly something had ruffled its feathers, perhaps some mating activity. Spring is in the air and the eagles should soon be sitting on eggs in their nests.

The pandemic has turned our lives upside down this past year—there is something hopeful and reassuring about observing the inexorable movement in the seasonal cycles of nature. New life will soon be springing up all around us in the Northern Hemisphere with the arrival of spring. I can hardly contain my excitement.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Adult Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are easily identifiable because of their white heads, but it actually takes four years for them to grow “bald.” In earlier stages of development their beaks and eyes are dark and their feathers are mottled. Experienced birders can tell the precise age of a juvenile by bald eagle simply by its coloration.

This juvenile eagle that I was excited to photograph on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge appears to be about two to three years old. The beak has turned yellow excepted for the tip and its eyes, which are dark brown when they are really young, look like they are starting to get almost as light as those of an adult. If you want to learn more about the developmental stages of a bald eagle, check out this interesting article by Avian Report on Juvenile and Immature Bald Eagles.

The young eagle was flying above the water, apparently looking for fish, when I captured these images. I tracked it for quite a while, but never did see it pull a fish out of the water. Still, I was happy with my images and definitely enjoyed my time basking in the warmth of a sunny spring-like day as I watched and waited.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I did not have much time to react yesterday when this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) zoomed past me, flying low over the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I was thrilled to capture this image. I am not really sure where the eagle was headed, but it looked like he was fiercely focused on getting there quickly.

Photographing birds in flight is rarely easy. If you spot the bird when it is far away, you might have time to check your settings, calmly track the bird as it approaches, and shoot off a burst of shots at the decisive moment. That ideal situation almost never happens in my world. More often than not, the bird seems to come out of nowhere and I frantically raise my camera to my eye and try to find the bird in my viewfinder and focus on it, never knowing for sure if the camera settings will be anywhere near appropriate.

Yesterday, I managed to snap off only three shots of the eagle and only one came out in decent focus. I decided to include the second photo to give you an idea of what I was seeing through the viewfinder—it is slightly edited, but uncropped. I end up cropping most of my images, which sometimes gives the impression that I was closer to the subject than I actually was.

As you can see the eagle was quite large in the frame in this case, which meant that my heart was really racing as I scrambled to get the shot before it was too late. For those of you who might be curious, I captured the image with my Canon 50D and Tamron 150-600mm lens at 500mm with settings of f/8, 1/1250 sec and ISO 400.

In some ways I am just using a point and shoot technique when I photograph birds in flight, but it is much more sophisticated than what most people think when they hear the words “point and shoot.” After thousands and thousands of shots, I have built up reflexes and muscle memory that help me to react quickly and instinctively in situations like this. There are no guarantees of success, of course, but I have reached a point in my development as a photographer that I feel like I have a fighting chance of getting a decent shot in some pretty challenging shooting situations.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes my potential subjects are immediately visible and there are no obstructions between the us. In other cases, I have to look more deeply through the trees or vegetation to spot a distant subject.

Spotting the subject, though, is only the start. Oftentimes the bigger challenge is to find a visual tunnel that gives the clearest possible view of the subject. I frequently find myself leaning, kneeling, bending, and standing on my tiptoes as I consider my options.

When circumstances permit, I am able to capture images like this one of a perched Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I saw a couple of weeks ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is not as dynamic as some of my shots of the eagles building their nests, but I really like the mood of this little portrait and I am happy with the way that I was able to capture the ruffled feathers of this majestic bird.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Timing is a critical skill in taking wildlife photographs (and in telling the lame jokes I so enjoy), and I was thrilled to capture this image last Friday as a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was lifting off from its nest high in a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I kept my wits about me and was able to track the eagle and get a few shots as it flew parallel to me  before turning and flying away.

If you remember yesterday’s posting with the singing eagle, you can’t help but notice the contrast in the sky colors. On Monday of last week, we had brilliant blue skies, which have been rare this winter, but when I took these photos a few days later, we had reverted to the gloomy, gray skies that are more typical.

Without the glare, I didn’t have to worry about blowing out the details of the eagle’s bright white head and tail, which was a definitely plus, but my camera and lens combination tends to work best when I have better light. Nonetheless, it is always a joy to successfully capture images of birds in flight, especially bald eagles.

I am particularly happy with the eagle’s wing positions in the final photo, though I dud have to crop it in an unusual way because it was near the bottom of the frame in the original shot—if the eagle had extended the wings, they would surely have been cut off in my shot.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) never seem happy and frequently look fierce or even angry. OK, I know that I am sometimes guilty of anthropomorphism, attributing human traits, emotions, or intentions to my wildlife subjects. How can you tell if an eagle is happy when their massive inflexible beaks make them physically incapable of a smile?

We often consider music to be a signal of happiness and songbirds sound happy. What about eagles—can they sing? I usually think of eagles as “screaming” rather than “singing,” but this image that I captured last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge makes me wonder if eagles can express their joy or their love in their songs.

What do you think? Does this eagle look happy to you?

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was hunkered down in its large nest last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge but still managed to keep an eye on me through a peephole between the branches. (You may need to enlarge the first image to see the eagle, in what has been described by one of my friends as a “Where’s Waldo?” photo.) Earlier I had seen both of the eagles fly into the nest and they promptly disappeared from sight—one left a short time later.

As I watched and waited, I realized that I would have a tough time timing any shots of the eagle leaving the nest. When a bird is perched, I look carefully for indications that the bird is preparing to depart, hoping to be able to capture a decisive moment. The second shot below was the best that I could manage when I reacted to the appearance of a wing tip over the edge of the nest.

I have no way of judging the dimensions of the interior of the nest, but it looks to be really big and really deep, as you can see in the final photo. In the past, it has been hard to spot eaglets in this nest until they are old enough to climb around a little and pop their heads over the edge of the nest. I hope to see some little ones in this nest later this season.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is hard to get a good exposure of the feathers on the head of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). When the lighting is too strong or direct, the bright white head risks being overexposed and the details often disappear. Even under good circumstances, the head often looks like the slicked-down hair of a 1950s greaser. I was thrilled last week when I managed to capture fluffy head feathers in this shot of a pensive eagle in the early morning sunshine at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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