One of my goals for Alaska was to find and photograph bald eagles. I didn’t think this would be too much of a problem since Alaskan eagles are common. Or, rather, I hoped they were easy to find. In the end, finding them wasn’t difficult, but photographing them, and photographing them well, was a different story entirely.
If I had to characterize the most common place to spot a bald eagle, it would be at the top of a tree. My neck still isn’t quite right because I spent all my time walking while looking up. I tripped over a good number of things along the way, but that didn’t dissuade me. I continued scanning the tops of trees. To be sure, I saw a lot of eagles, too. But just because they were in a faraway treetop didn’t mean it would make a good, or delightful, or even reasonable photograph. I needed a different approach.
Now I started to look at mid-level in the trees, and lo and behold, I found them. There weren’t as many, but the ones that I did see made for better photographs. I was on to something here. I just had to keep searching.
Eventually, outside of Juneau, I found a perfect, secluded location. There was a small stream that fed a pond, which in turn emptied into the ocean. There was a solid treeline for the Alaskan eagles to perch in, and there were plenty of places for me to set up and wait. I did just that. I readily spotted several eagles, and now it was a matter of waiting for the right opportunity.
Here, I learned my second lesson about eagles. Once they are sitting, they are in no hurry at all to move. Once they settled in on a branch, they were likely to stay put for an hour or more. Oh, they would move around a bit, but as to the actual flying part, not so much. But that was OK. It gave me plenty of time to work on the perfect photograph, and eventually, I made Intense Eagle. The lighting was excellent, the sun was ideal, and the pose was flawless. I couldn’t have been happier!
Intense Eagle was not the only eagle photograph I made, of course. While I was out on the sailboat (Humpback Whales details that part of the adventure), I saw quite a few eagles, mostly in trees, and occasionally on the distant shore. But now and then, an exciting opportunity presented itself.
While sailing toward the LeConte Glacier I began to encounter small icebergs floating in the ocean. These icebergs completely enchanted me. Most were little, but there were larger ones as well. But amazingly, as I sailed by one of the medium-sized ones, I spied a bald eagle perched on it! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. What a fabulous perch it was! If offered a commanding view of the nearby ocean, and it even moved, providing an ever-changing viewpoint. I sailed the boat around the iceberg, looking for the perfect angle. The eagle watched me but wasn’t alarmed, which allowed me to make Icy Eagle. Icy Eagle just makes me smile every time I look at it and reminds me that you find eagles almost anywhere.
Not every eagle photograph came about because I waited for hours on end. A few came about by happenstance, as is the case with Eagle Perch. I had been outside of Petersberg for the better part of the day, chasing the Alaskan eagles along a beach. I was positive the beach would work out, but after a day I realized it wasn’t going to. There were several eagles, but they were all high in the trees, away from the beach, and far from me.
Despite my patience, they were onto me and didn’t allow me to make any good photographs. With a sigh, I packed up, started up the car, and headed back into town. As I drove, I wasn’t thinking about much, except perhaps what sounded yummy for dinner. I drove into the outskirts of town, now paying attention to where I was. Next, I motored past a quaint neighborhood. I drove past an eagle hanging out on a post. I then headed into the central part of town and wait a minute! It finally dawned on me what I had just driven past.
I turned around as fast as I could and sped back up the road. And there, sitting on an old post in the water, was a bald eagle watching me. I couldn’t believe it! The eagle was as calm as could be, enjoying the last rays of the day’s sun.
Quietly, and slowly, I exited the car and picked up my camera. I sauntered nonchalantly in the eagle’s general direction, being careful not to let it know I was interested in it. It ignored me. Good! I prepared my camera, and feigning complete and utter disinterest in the eagle raised my camera, composed the photograph, and before the eagle knew what I was doing, made Eagle Post. I don’t think the eagle ever quite realized what I was doing. And in the end, Eagle Post has become one of my favorite eagle photographs as well.
Sometimes, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Being in Alaska is a marvelous start. It was such a joy to bring these Alaskan Eagles to you, just as it was awesome to create Humpback Whales and Fishing Bears for you. I’ll be back in Alaska soon!