Waiting on an eagle

It’s been going on almost 3 hours now and the drywall bucket I’ve been using as a chair in my hide is getting, to say the least, really uncomfortable. Wish I’d remember to bring along some type of pillow. I’ve photographed this eagle before, only about 5 miles from home, but in even worse light than today and from way too far away. Effective wildlife or sports photography is all about getting close, “filling the frame” with your subject. So this time I set up my blind the day before and am now closer to the tree I’m hoping he will be landing on, maybe about 40 yards away. Still a little too far away, but any closer and there’s no chance the bird would be comfortable enough to land. I made my way to the blind before sunrise and have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

At last, here he comes ! Even though I’m hidden away in the blind I still remain stock still so as not to spook him. It seems he hasn’t spotted me so I give him a minute or two to get comfortable and then take a couple shots to adjust my settings. So now I’ve got a bird on a branch, which can also be interesting but I’m hoping for something a little more exciting.

My camera and lens are mounted on a Wimberly WH-200 gimbal head attached to a solid Gitzo carbon fiber tripod. This rig allows me to keep the whole thing locked onto the bird and supports the 12 lbs of gear I’m using. Now the real waiting begins. If I hope to capture this bird in flight, I have to keep my finger directly atop the shutter button and I can’t take my eyes off my subject. These large raptors’ giveaway to liftoff is a slight crouch that they use to propel themselves into flight. It all happens in an instant and if your finger is not on the trigger or you look away for even a moment you’re sure to miss it. The problem is, it’s not uncommon for these large birds to sit in the same spot for hours. Drying off their feathers, preening, and scanning the area for a meal. With my finger on the shutter button and straining my eye through the viewfinder, I wait, again, motionless.

A relatively short 45 minutes later I notice that little bit of a crouch.

I jam my finger down on the shutter and fire off a quick sequence of shots as the eagle lifts off and flies away.

It’s all over in a few seconds. The bird is gone. I pack up and head for home, hoping I got what I came for.

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