Eagles

Bald eagle in a tangle of branches

Whitehorse is home to bald eagles among many other birds – large and otherwise.  We found them on several occasions during our visit there last summer.  This one landed in these twisted branches and I was able to play with her framed by them.


Eagles in the Columbia Valley

At the end of March, I had some time in Radium with my family.  I spent the mornings meandering along the Columbia River as well as some of the valley’s ponds and puddles.  This area of British Columbia seemed a couple of weeks further into spring than my home in Bragg Creek in Alberta.  Green was starting to show on the trees and in the grassland.  And on one lake, ice was still covering most of its surface.

The open water offered fish and the ice had some kind of insect, slug or some such on it.  Ravens and bald eagles were drawn in by both.  Over a couple of days I had some great opportunities to watch both and their occasional interactions.

 

 


A bald eagle in flight with its prey

A few weeks ago, there were several bald eagles hunting for prairie dogs in the fields west of the Springbank Airport.  I’m not sure if these rodents were just coming out of their holes, the eagles were migrating through or something else was behind this congregation.  No matter why, the eagles were making hunting runs on the far side of one field at one point in the afternoon.  One of these saw one eagle fly back towards where I was standing.  That provided a great opportunity for a few in flight shots.

This eagle flew past me and far beyond before landing so I did not take any photographs of the meal.  If you are interested, I have posted here previously of another eagle from the same day that I found eating from a perch in a tree.  I realize that may be unappealing – but some people are interested.  Either way, here are a couple more of this eagle as it passed overhead.

 

 


An eagle in the trees

A couple of weeks ago, a raven’s cawing drew my attention to a small line of trees near the Springbank airport.  The raven’s dark shape was fluttering something and when I got a little closer I could see this bald eagle.  It was lunchtime and the eagle was not interested in sharing.  The raven soon took off and left the eagle to finish the prairie dog just caught in the surrounding fields. The eagle gave a few hard stares to the occasional magpie that came by but for the most part lunch went uninterrupted.

 

 


Eagles flying at the Mount Lorette Ponds

eagles-in-flight-over-the-lorette-ponds-christopher-martin-2971

This year I have photographed a pair of Bald eagles who nested at the Mount Lorette Ponds.  These small lakes in Kananaskis are stocked with Rainbow trout most years so these eagles have obviously found an excellent location to summer.  On this morning in mid-August the day took a little while to warm up which saw both birds perch in the trees nearby.  I waited for a couple of hours for a fish catching run with no luck.

eagles-in-flight-over-the-lorette-ponds-christopher-martin-3082

The luck I did have was watching these two beautiful animals as they surveyed their land below.  One eagle was more active early and flew to different trees a few times before disappearing into the forest above the water.  I hiked around for a bit before returning and finding one over the water again while the other perched on the edge of that forest.

eagles-in-flight-over-the-lorette-ponds-christopher-martin-2973


Eagle fishing in the Banff National Park

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5085

I watched this eagle glide across the Vermilion Lake from its nest on the far side.  Ahead of his arrival on the shore in front of me, waterfowl and a couple of Great blue heron scattered in all directions.  The eagle flew higher and circled a couple of times, staring into the water.  He dove, his claws slicing the water, but finding no joy.  The raptor pulled up into a branch of a dead tree to reconsider its approach.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5077

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5078

Twenty minutes passed before his second flight.  He flew in a wide arc, gaining a little more altitude.  The birds that had been on the water, had not returned so the eagle had a clean line this time.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5086

He dove, again, and this time his talons came off the surface with a fish in their grasp.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5089

The fish was quickly moved from talons to beak and then swallowed mid-flight.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5093

The eagle flew back up to the same tree and settled on a branch near where it had been pestered by the blackbird earlier.  From there, I hoped he would fish again and I waited for more than an hour.  Along the way, he called out a few times which gave some interesting head and beak positions to photograph.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5253

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5420


Buzzing a Bald eagle

Eagle and Blackbird in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5036

This Bald eagle perched along the southern shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park.  A Redwing blackbird did not like this visitor and buzzed the much larger creature.

 

 

 


Bald eagles flying around their dinner perch

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-5968

Watching these two eagles for an hour back in March, I am convinced they are the pair who will occupy the large nest perched in these trees over a pond on a farm on the high prairie east of the Crowsnest Pass.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6157-2

 

Both had no difficulty catching the ground squirrels in the fields surrounding the pond.  When they did, they returned to this branch to eat – possibly for the company.  It was very cool to be a stone’s throw away from the wonderful creatures.  At close range, I was reminded how big these birds are.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6153

Other eagles circled the water as well but none seemed paired up like these two which leads me to believe they “own” the nest.  I’ll get back there soon and see where things stand now!

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6210

There were a lot of fun shots to choose from which I whittled down to these few here.  It was, obviously, a well spent afternoon by my standards.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6203

 


Flying low over the Prairies

Low flying Prairie eagle - © Christopher Martin-4927
The Bald eagles in the Livingstone area have held my attention for more than a full day and I’m looking forward to getting back there soon.  I am wanting to catch one of their attacks on the Richardson ground squirrels that blanket the fields.  The last time I went out, this immature eagle flew in front of me and I thought it might find one.  It didn’t happen then but the opportunity for in-flight photographs was wonderful.

Low flying Prairie eagle - © Christopher Martin-4923


Spread eagle

Livingstone Eagles - © Christopher Martin-5920

With the steady wind that was blowing, this near-mature Bald eagle only had to open its massive wing to take flight.  With the ~2 metre wingspan it easily glided over to a neighbouring tree where a couple other eagles were perched.  It was another great weekend on the high Prairie east of Lundbreck watching eagles.


A Bald eagle’s Prairie flight

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3331

Watching birds in flight is a source of great pleasure for me.  Perhaps it’s the freedom I imagine they enjoy (written just as two ravens glided by my window, acrobatically playing on the air currents outside) or the grace that many of them carry into the sky.  When I have the gift of watching them close to the ground, it gives a different perspective and one that I particularly enjoy photographing.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3315

So when two of the four bald eagles that watched for quite a while on the weekend glided off of their tree perch and landed out on the field nearby, I was excited.  I had hoped they may dive on the prairie dogs as they passed by.  They did not, it seemed that an alert had gone up as the little creatures were nowhere to be seen at that moment, and they alighted in the short grass.  They chirped a little at each other but it seemed like they were just enjoying the sunshine as they stood in their respective spots for close to ten minutes.  The adolescent launched first – I wanted to blur the wings in flight so I dragged my shutter.  I’m still evaluating those results – we’ll see another day if I think they are worth sharing.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3316

When the mature eagle lifted off the Prairie, I kept the shutter speed fast to freeze the motion and panned with the beautiful bird as it powerfully drove past.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3321

When it buzzed a magpie that had also been sitting in the field, that bird flew up and in front of the eagle for a short ways.  The eagle’s eyes were on this diminutive cousin of the raven and the crow but it was undeterred as it flew back towards its small convocation.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3329

As it gained a little altitude, I liked the way the elements in the background looked in soft focus.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3339

At one moment during this short flight it did look down at the field at one point – again raising my hopes of a dive – but nothing like that came of it.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3345

Both eagles rejoined the other two that had remained in the tree.  They all remained there for an hour before hunting over the fields individually later.

Bald eagle prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-3581


Eagle ways

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2910

At one point when I was watching the group of Bald eagles I found east of the Crowsnest Pass last weekend, one of the adults landed in a tree close to where I was set up.  Looking closely, I saw that he had a Prairie dog in one of its claws.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2842

He finished the meal quickly and then set about cleaning its beak and talons.  He used the stubs on the branch to rub against and as leverage during the cleaning.  I was fascinated with the fastidiousness with which he carried out this work.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2967

When that was done, he provided a few great poses for portrait shots while scanning the fields for more creatures and the skies for his fellow eagles.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2990

After a few minutes, he flew off to a larger tree nearby where the other three eagles were perched.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-3060


A Bald eagle’s branch dance

Bald eagle's branch dance - © Christopher Martin-2949
I found an aerie of four Bald eagles east of the Crowsnest Pass this weekend.  They perched in still dormant trees that divide up several farm fields.  From these perches, they can hunt for the ground squirrels that scurry between their holes among the short grass.  This eagle had just finished his meal and I caught him adjusting his position on the branch.  It looked a bit like a line dancing sidestep to me.


New Year’s Eve Eagles

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8610

A pair of Bald eagles were drawn to Redwood Meadows today.  My daughter and I spotted them flying overhead when we were on our way to grab an ice cream cone in Bragg Creek.  We stopped going there and again on the way back.  They were drawn by a deer that had died near the golf course.  Ravens were on the ground while the eagles bided their time above in the nearby trees.

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8528

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8554

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8609

 

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8568

A New Year's Eve Eagle - © Christopher Martin-8578


A gallery of Bald eagles

Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia

I have been wanting to upload more portfolios of wild animals as the two I have had up for a while (Grizzlies and Great blue herons) seem lonely.  Towards that goal, I have uploaded a Bald eagle gallery this afternoon.  These are images from trips to the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Brackendale during the winter salmon migration and closer to home on the prairies.  These images are from the last couple of years.  If you are interested in having a look, please click on the eagle picture above or this link. I hope you enjoy.


Eagles in the Elk Valley


Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0150

We were in Fernie a couple of weeks ago and on the drive home found a few Bald eagles who were flying around a carcass that had been pulled a few hundred meters off the highway.  They scattered when we first stopped but came circling back around the trees and back to the easy meal.  A nice break during the lean winter months.

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0157

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0161

 


Eagle along the Cowboy Trail

On to the perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/5oooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1600

A Bald Eagle spent a couple of mornings in and around a field east of Bragg Creek where the prairie starts.

2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/5oooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1600

He landed in the grass in one general spot a few times on the two days that I stopped to watch so I suspect there was a carcass that was an easy meal.

Scouring the field - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/25ooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 800

The only distraction came from a pair of ravens that pestered the eagle in the air and on the field.  They proved to not be a significant deterrent as the eagle muscled them out away.

Bird jousting - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/5oooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 800


An eagle’s easy snack

Eagle on the move in Cow Bay - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 99mm: 1/100oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 400

We had a great afternoon in Prince Rupert today.  The marina in Cow Bay was busy with boats of many different stripes coming and going throughout the day.  Seals popped up amongst the boats looking for scraps from the fishermen – a quick snack between meals.  While several Bald Eagles flew by overhead looking for a similar handout.  One group cleaned and divided up several large Halibut on one of the tables on the dock.  This drew in the seals and one eagle.  The seals made out quite well and at the end, a chunk of fish was left beside the table for the eagle.

Those are my scraps! 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 105mm: 1/250oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1000

It swooped down from its piling, grabbed the fish and then flew off to eat.  I was watching from across the marina on a wharf.  When the eagle left the dock, it flew towards the wharf and flew right under me as it headed away.  A good start to the weekend.

Over - under - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 70mm: 1/40oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1000


Eagle Skirmishes

Eagle Skirmish - 2013 © Christopher Martin

An eagle enjoying a feast is not often left alone for too long in Brackendale.  Finished spawning, the salmon drift downriver listlessly and eventually die naturally or with the assistance of the scavengers along the rivers.  The effort is in pulling the fish out of the water.  When that is done, competition often arrives to stake a claim.  Skirmishes, jousting and all out fights can breakout before one eagle is chased off.

Lox for breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinThis eagle was unchallenged as we floated past but it kept its head on a swivel wary of potential thieves.

Guarding breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinIn another spot, there were a lot of fish along the rocks and a lot of eagles vying for them.

Salmon wars - offense and defense _2013 © Christopher Martin

Eagle ballet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Occasionally, as in the photograph below, an equilibrium of sorts will be found where a few eagles will take turns on a fish with little aggression.

Salmon Potluck - 2013 © Christopher MartinHowever, one eagle soon came screaming in and upset the delicate balance.

The disruptor arrives - 2013 © Christopher MartinThere are many gulls that wait for opportunities to grab bits out of the water.  When eagles aren’t around, they have similar battles over prime spots.

Seagull skirmishes - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Bald Eagles in Brackendale

Immature in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

I was in Brackendale, just north of Squamish, for a couple of days in December.  Every year thousands of Bald Eagles congregate in this area along the banks of the Squamish River.  There are three separate salmon spawning runs that overlap between November and February that result in dead and dying salmon littering the rocky shoreline.  The easy dining is a draw for eagles, seagulls as well as the occasional otter and seal (which in turn are quite the draw for photographers as it turns out!)  I was there for the Bald Eagles and was not disappointed in any way.  The first day was spent along the berm, that serves as a main viewing point, a bit further upriver in an eddy where a particularly cool eagle was hanging out.

Walking this way - 2013 © Christopher Martin-33612Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

I will do a separate post from the second day when the snow fell and I was out on a birdwatching float down the river.  For now, these images are from the first day where the overcast skies allowed for open shadows and allowed the texture and detail in the eagle plumage to be seen.   It was pretty dark at times as you can tell by the ISO settings I was using but it was a great day filled with eagles coming and going.

River Flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin-31222Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 4000

There are so many fish that serious fights appear to be rare but eagles are opportunistic so there are still skirmishes where one will try to chase off another who has already gone through the effort of retrieving a salmon out of the water.

Eagle Battle - 2013 © Christopher Martin-31552

Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 4000

Others preferred a little more distance from their brethren.  This eagle hung out on a perch in the middle of a pond-like eddy off the river. At one point it called out but it didn’t fly over to the scattered groups of eagles in the trees across the water nor did any of them come over to visit.

Eagle eye - 2013 © Christopher Martin-34812Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/800 of a second at f/4.5 on ISO 1600

2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2000

It splashed around in the shallow water for a while, stopping to snack for a minute, but seemed to return to this stick as its preferred resting spot.

Fish hunting - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Brackendale Buffet - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1000

Direct stare - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/2000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

Eagle Portrait - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/2000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I never tired of watching these eagles flying.  I think they are one of the most beautiful birds to watch in flight.  It was a great day on BC’s west coast.

Low Altitude - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

Flying downriver - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 3200


Merry Christmas!

Winter flight - 2013 © Christopher MartinWinter Flight – A Bald eagle flies under falling snow in Brackendale, B.C. on December 20th, 2013

December has been a busy end to a busy year.  It is nice to have a few days over Christmas to spend time at home with my family.   I hope you are able to do the things that make for a great holiday for you and yours.  Merry Christmas!


Beak to talon

Beak to talon - 2013 © Christopher Martin

There was one additional encounter with a Bald eagle in the Khutzeymateen that I really enjoyed.  The rain cleared on the evening of the second day and the weather was beautiful on the morning of the third day.  We were crossing the inlet heading towards the side where the sun had just reached down the mountains to the shoreline.  An eagle was lit beautifully as it perched on a rock exposed during low tide.

River guardian - 2013 © Christopher Martin

At first I thought it was watching the seagulls at the mouth of the creek it was perched beside.  We watched it for a while as it surveyed its dominion.  It seemed in no rush to join the fray as the gulls jostled for scraps of fish that floated downstream from a bear working on the salmon up in the creek hidden in the forest.

Rocky perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When it took flight clutching the tail end of a salmon in its beak that it had pulled out of a little nook, I realized it had been pausing between feasts.  Watching it pass right in front of our boat, I had a few good images.  When it started to climb off the water, it passed the fish from to its talons, presumably allowing for more comfortable flight.

Sushi to go - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Under the radar - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A raptor in profile - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I loved the light and the sense of place in the flight images.  When the eagle passed the fish back, it was the defining moment of the encounter for me.


Eagles in the Khutzeymateen

Vertical aspirations - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Grizzly bears are the kings of the Khutzeymateen’s wildlife.  In the air, the eagles hold a similar position among the birds along the ten mile inlet.  Most were Bald eagles but a few Golden eagles were also in residence to enjoy the salmon runs that were in full swing.

A golden perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Constant adversaries on the prairies, eagles and ravens, were occasionally found chasing one or the other around the towering pines.

Catch me if you can - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Often adolescents were dining on the fish in the creeks alongside the seagulls.  That may have been much less trouble than jousting with their elders for the prime fishing locations at the mouth of the estuary.

An avian beachgoer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Beach picking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the heavy rain would roll down the valley, most of the eagles would weather it in the open on a raised perch of one type or another.  They probably don’t care too much about it but on the first two days where there were few breaks in the downpour, I thought there must be at least a few that hunted around for shelter.  I didn’t find them but the exposed raptors provided a good subject when the bears were not to be found.

Waiting out the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the rain did stop, the wings were unfolded to air dry and the daily activities resumed.

Drying out after the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Aerial curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Photographing the eagles throughout the trip into the Khutzeymateen was one of the collective highlights.  I’m fortunate to see them occasionally on the prairies but it was a real pleasure to be able to watch them along the coastline and up in the tops of the rainforest.

Eagles in the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


An eagle’s easy meal

Fast food carryout - © Christopher Martin

I was out on the ocean with my friend Jeff yesterday.  We are heading into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary this morning for four days on a boat where we will be looking for the wild bears that own this remote inlet on British Columbia’s Pacific coast.  That’s today but yesterday we were out whale watching leaving from Prince Rupert and cruising the coastline in search of humpbacks.  On the return, there were a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) attracted by fishing scraps thrown overboard in the channel.

Target practice - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I saw it as a rare easy meal for these beautiful creatures.  Seemed like good target practice as well.  They circled around a couple of times for the chunks of fish, chasing off a large raft of gulls that seemed to materialize out of thin air.

Waterbound - 2013 © Christopher Martin

More to come in a few days when I get back.