The Bald Eagle is an amazing flier, I could watch them for hours in the air. They are a gorgeous bird, their beauty is so distinctive. And they are the laziest forager when not nesting. I had a great time just watching them on the Chilkat River a week past as they hung and waited until another eagle grabbed a “floater” and pulled it a shore. A floater is a spent salmon, one that has spawned and died. When one of these floaters hits just right and beaches itself right on the shore and it hits a eagle in the foot, they might partake in the carcass (yes, eagles at times do grab a floater before it hits the shore). But once one eagle has that piece of food, all hell breaks loose!
While speaking in generalities because nothing in Mother Nature is 100% predictable, Bald Eagles love to steal from another eagle even if a fresh salmon were hitting it on the foot. We’re not talking about some gentle, uh hmmm asking for a tidbit here, oh no. They come in full force baring talons and drawing blood in many instances. Feathers fly! There are times I wish I had a scorecard to know who is who. Are the eagles for example related in any way? You can see here in this exchange the ferocity they go about stealing that scrap. And as you can see, they defend their scrap with the same ferocity. It really is an amazing site and sound as this plays out.
Knowing all of this is very important in getting the shot. Knowing this biology, you can be ready for it as it unfolds. In my case, I was shooting with the D4s / 800mm for two reasons. The D4s because of its fast FPS and high ISO capabilities. Unlike normal, I was shooting at ISO800 to have the faster shutter speed to freeze the action. And the 800mm to eliminate some of the visual distractions while not being tight. Many shoot with 1200mm or more but I don’t want to be that tight on a critter that flies so magnificently as the Bald Eagle. The D4s with its greater range permitted me to shoot as well with + exp comp not only “brightening” the otherwise dark light but opening up the shadows. Lastly, with the dark, overcast light I cranked up the AWB to bring up the warmth in the photo that otherwise would have a very blue cast. Ben Franklin preferred the turkey over the Bald Eagle for our national symbol because he too had seen the Bald Eagle’s character traits. But it’s that biology that when we know it and combine it with our gear and desire to tell the story we can prove Mr Franklin right in our photos.