So for the past couple months in addition to my usual day-to-day work, I’ve had the privilege of photographing an active Bald Eagle nest. I’m not necessarily a birder or remotely close to knowing much about ornithology but I am captivated by raptors, especially Bald Eagles. This nesting season I was lucky enough to form a relationship with the conservation biologist who oversees the Bald Eagle population locally and gain access to the live camera’d nest broadcast via Ustream. I’ve spent just about every available hour hiking down the trail through the woods to the nest, tiptoe-ing around hiding behind trees, sloshing through mud, being eaten by insects and honing my camera skills to photograph this Eagle family.
The Eagle pair, according to records, have been at the same nest for about 8 years and have fledged 17 chicks during that time. This season’s eggs were laid in mid December and hatched January 11th & 12th. The nest is 1 of 8 located in a marshy, wooded area on about 13,900 acres of lake surrounded by forested state park and about 70 feet up in a Loblolly Pine tree. Obstructed or inaccessible views and the occasional dark, rainy weather creating light issues, and, oh yeah, water without a boat, to photograph them has been and is, to say the least, a challenge. At first, the eaglets were too small to be visible from the ground over the edge of the nest so my focus was on catching the parents travelling to and from the nest with food and standing guard as they raised their young.
Parent in flight
Parent Eagle guarding the nest
A wider view illustrating the size of the nest with a parent never far from home.
I think I was pretty lucky for the most part as the adults aren’t too fond of visitors. I would find a non-intrusive spot to perch and wait. and wait. and wait some more. Most of the time they stood sentry on far off trees at the perimeter of their territory (probably waiting for me to leave) way out of lens range.
Parent landing in a perimeter perching tree
Since January, I’ve watched and clicked the shutter as the parents made nest repairs, chased off intruders, delivered food to the nest, and just hung out doing the things that Eagles do.
Delivering nest material
The parents chased off a juvenile Bald Eagle flying around the nest. Unlikely, but I want to believe this is a fledge from last year coming home to visit.
Just hanging out
By February the two eagle chicks were finally (barely) big enough to be visible over the edge of the nest from the right distance and just the right angle.
My first glimpse of one of the young Eagles watching me.
It wasn’t until the 1st of march I was able to grab a shot of both chicks at the same time in the nest.
My first look at the pair, already getting big!
With unusually early warm weather, spring has arrived quickly. Along with buds on the trees obscuring the view, leaving only one clear spot to shoot from as well as high water, snakes, mosquitoes, ticks and other unwelcome guests on my treks to the nest have made my project increasingly more, um, challenging. I’m pretty determined though, so for the past month my fragrance of choice has been Deep Woods Off along with boots and extra layers of clothes to deter the bugs and snakes from snacking on me (not especially comfortable in 80 degree weather!) The “babies” are all grown up now, practicing their wing flapping and getting ready for their first flight by carefully navigating the height and distance, hopping (sometimes clumsily) to branches above the nest away from their known safety zone.
Practicing makes perfect perching.
Trying out those wings!
I’ve watched interactions that seem as if the parents were giving instructions or just keeping a watchful eye on their young as they venture away from the safe platform of the nest, still too inexperienced to fly.
I want to believe the parent was explaining that someday “all this will be yours grasshopper…”
Looking back at the nest and kids from a nearby tree.
At the start of my most recent visit I was welcomed by pouring rain but I was not to be deterred. The “kids”, also enduring the rain, are almost ready to fly. It cleared up after about two hours and I was treated to more pre flight practice by the young eagles.
Testing the wings.
More wing flapping and testing.
I plan to make a couple more visits to the nest this week with the hope of catching a first, second, or third flight before these young Eagles head off into the wild for good. Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted! For more photos, check out the family album on Facebook.
Purchase calendars, notecards and postcards
Song of the day: Where Eagles Fly ~ Sammy Hagar