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.
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.
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.
After a few minutes, he flew off to a larger tree nearby where the other three eagles were perched.
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.
There was a murder of crows circling a wooded spot east of Bragg Creek that caught my attention. I was driving into Calgary and pulled over to see what was going on. At that moment, this Bald eagle flew out of the trees and blasted through the middle of the group. They scattered and the eagle landed on a branch close by.
Whatever had drawn these opportunists in must have been deeper in the woods as I couldn’t see anything from where I was parked. While the eagle looked around I had time to switch lenses in favour of the longest one I have so I was able to get in quite close. The detail in the feathers was nice especially with the strong lighting – the relatively low angle of the sun in winter helped me here.
After a couple of minutes the eagle launched and banked into the forest. The crows had not yet returned so I imagined that he was hoping to finish his meal before being bothered again.
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.
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.
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.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/5oooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 800
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!
Our family went for a drive along the Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane a few days ago in search of raptors of any description. This road is nice drive that is rarely busy and can often yield sightings of owls, hawks or eagles. In a hilly farmland area we noticed a number of ravens circling around a stand of trees in a field a couple of hundred metres off the road. When we pulled over to see what the focus of their attention was two coyotes bolted out from under a large cedar and sprinted across the open into the thicker forest on the far side of the field. Looking back to the spot where they started running we could see a carcass that had been mostly picked clean of what, judging by one of the horns that was sticking up, appeared to be a bison. As it was on farm land it seems likely there were bison being raised here but there were no other farm animals within sight to confirm that theory. With coyotes, ravens, magpies and probably a number of other predators drawn to this unfortunate beast, its herd was likely as far away from this spot as the fences would allow. So, we were watching the ravens which were squawking and pestering the smaller birds picking at the scraps when Bobbi noticed a Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) approaching from down the valley.
We already had the long lenses out so we were able to photograph the bird as it flew overhead towards the other birds. Two ravens also saw the eagle inbound and flew up to harass this new attendee. The three looped around the trees for a minute before the eagle landed in one of the high branches and the black birds returned to ground.
During this chase, the overcast skies took on a more threatening tone and soon a soft snowfall turned into a blizzard. I thought the Golden eagle would wait out the height of the storm from the perch so I kept looking around to see if the coyotes, or anything else, came back.
Out of the sheets of snow a Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped in and took up a spot on a tree near to the Golden. This had turned out to be a great encounter and when a couple more Bald eagles flew in and around over the next half an hour, it continued to get better and better. The snow did finally ease up and there were opportunities for nice flight images.
The lighter skies appeared to spur one of the Bald eagles to say goodbye to a raven it had been sharing a tree with across the field and glide over to the bison skeleton.
This eagle brought a good amount of conviction to its scavenging intent and it chased off all of the passerine that had been crowding on the ground.
When we moved on, this eagle was alone on the ground having successfully landed and taken ownership of what remained.
The Golden eagle had disappeared and two Bald eagles were perched where they could keep an eye on the bones. The collection of black birds were scattered in singles and small groups around the scene though none strayed close to the eagle holding dominion on the ground. The last wildlife we saw as we drove away were the coyotes trotting along the hill towards the farm-house keeping their distance while still keeping an eye on the bison.
My uncle had a picnic on Saturday afternoon in the Crowsnest Pass southwest of Calgary by about 2 1/2 hours. We drove down with the kids enjoying the ride. After playing hard with their cousins for the afternoon, both Kian and Kezia fell asleep before we got started on the drive back home at 6pm. Left with a quiet vehicle and a beautiful summer evening, Bobbi and I had a great drive home. The highlight came in the Turner Valley near Chain Lakes Provincial Park where there was a hawk circling above or perched on a fence post every mile or two. We identified Red-tailed, Rough-legged and Swainson’s hawks before spying this Bald Eagle.
We pulled over and then both spent the next half an hour photographing this bird. It was not intimidated by us and while Bobbi stayed by the van, I slowly walked closer until my 300mm lens was too big – less than 25′ from its perch.
As the sun dropped behind some clouds, the eagle leapt up and spun away down towards the lakes. A fitting end to a wonderful encounter.