Monday, May 30, 2005

Photographing Bald Eagles

We try to take a good 3 or 4 mile walk several times a week. There's one walk we take along the Larry Scott Memorial Trail, where we are often rewarded with sightings of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). No matter how many times we see these birds, it never becomes a commonplace experience. Eagles are among those animals that remind us of the wildness that still lives on the earth. They are the poet's metaphor for soaring grace, and the unblinking eye of the hunter. Eagles figure in so many native myths and legends, and when you see them you instantly know why. I've tried many times to photograph them, but I don't have a telephoto lens on the Nikon Coolpix 775. It's a great digital camera for close ups, but for zooming in, it leaves a lot to be desired. Several weeks ago, we read a post on Bouphonia, where Philalethes wrote about photographing a bird through the lens of his binoculars (scroll down to his post of April 19th). What a great idea. We always carry our binoculars and camera on our walks, so if any bird photographing opportunity presented itself, we'd be ready. (Click on the following photos to enlarge.)

In Flight

Last Friday, we saw more eagles than we had ever seen at one time. Three circled over the papermill along the waterfront. We often see eagles flying in pairs, but in this case, this apparent trio was actually a single eagle soaring a bit distantly from the pair. I couldn't get a shot through the binoculars, but I think the zoom worked well enough, so that you can see their white tails as they flash against the blue sky. Shortly after this photo was taken, the lone eagle took off.

Zoomed In

There are many trees along this particular stretch of the trail. They stand on a cliff that is about 90 feet high. The eagles have chosen only one tree to roost in, which puts them nearly 125 feet above the trail. There are no obvious nests here, but it is a fine hunting spot above the Port Townsend Bay. We've seen them in this tree on several occasions, and each time I have attempted to photograph them. But even the shots at the camera's fullest zoom, they are barely discernible except for a hint of white head and tail. You may notice a blur flying just above the tree. That's a cliff swallow zipping by.

With binoculars

On this day, I finally had an opportunity to use the camera through the binoculars approach. I turned the zoom function off, leveled the camera's lens against the right-eye piece of the binoculars, checked the small monitor (which was substituting as the viewfinder) and clicked the shutter. I took five or six shots like this. It wasn't easy determining what I was actually seeing through the monitor. The sun was high and reflected off the screen, which meant I could only make out the indistinct colors of the branches as they contrasted with the sky. I counted how many branches down the eagle was from the top, and clicked the shutter again. I turned the zoom on just once. The image looked entirely blurry in the monitor I took a single shot and turned the zoom off. I figured that one was a waste.

Perfect Shot
I finally got the photograph I was looking for. Camera zoom on through the binoculars.

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