My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Eagles in action

It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.

One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.

The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.

Adult bald eagle in flight

And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.

Adult bald eagle flying past a perched juvenile

When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.

By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.

Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…

Adult bald eagles

…followed closely by the second one…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.

Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

 

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

 

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.

I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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33 responses

  1. I hope to see the Bald eagles some day. Far from where I stay 🙂

    Like

    February 19, 2019 at 9:51 am

    • Hopefully, one of these days you’ll be able to see all the species of birds that you wish to see.

      Like

      February 19, 2019 at 3:02 pm

  2. Awesome captures of the majestic Eagle, Jerry. You got some great action and behavior shots! I could never tire watching or photographing them.

    Like

    January 7, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    • Thank you Donna! There’s still over a dozen eagles hanging out where I go looking for birds, and so I’ve been watching them a lot, photographing them some of the time, but I’m not tired of it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 8, 2019 at 8:02 am

  3. Amazing birds.
    Last year I watched a live cam showing the life of a bald eagles family. It was very interesting.
    They are by one hand such great predators, but, on the other hand, they can be such tender with their juveniles.

    Like

    January 4, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    • Thank you Cornell! You’re right about the eagles, and they are fun to watch also.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 4, 2019 at 10:45 pm

  4. Excellent photos–thank you for sharing!

    Like

    January 3, 2019 at 1:20 pm

  5. Eagles are still quite rare here and the ones I’ve seen haven’t been doing much except sitting, so these photos were a treat.
    I’m suprised all those geese weren’t scared away by those fighting eagles!
    An odd behavior I’ve noticed is eagles flying down and walking around holes in pond ice left by ice fishermen. I’ve wondered if they’re finding fish innards or something else to eat by doing so.

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    • Thanks Allen! Over the years, I’ve seen larger gatherings of eagles, but only for a single day, so this year has been good for me in that respect. The geese are wary of the eagles, but they seldom take flight or even make much noise as long as the eagles are perched. Gulls on the other hand, take off as soon as a flying eagle gets close. But I do know that eagles will kill a goose, I’ve seen the remains often, but they were probably sick or injured geese.

      It’s hard to say if the eagles are finding food when they land near an ice fisherman’s hole, it could be as you suggested, or small fish the fisherman didn’t want to bother with, or even the bait if any was left, eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat. Mostly though, it could be that they just love being near water, as I seldom see them far from a body of water, and they drink a great deal, and bathe often, though I’ve never been able to catch them at either of those things yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 2, 2019 at 9:34 pm

  6. I will be very happy when you post better shots of eagles than these because they will be very good indeed.

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    • Thanks Tom! The weather forecast says that I may actually have some sunshine this week which would help, but I may not be able to see because I feel like I’m turning into a mole from the lack of sunlight.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 2, 2019 at 9:25 pm

  7. Pingback: Eagles in action — Quiet Solo Pursuits | huggers.ca

  8. Superb photos, some of Eagle behavior I had never seen! A very auspicious beginning, Jerry, for 2019!

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    • Thank you Hien! I’m lucky to live so close to an area with so many eagles that they’re easy to photograph. They’re often squabbling, but seeing the pair courting was a thrill for me because I’ve never seen it before in eagles.

      Like

      January 2, 2019 at 9:23 pm

  9. Enjoyed all those shots of Eagles in action but particularly those two of one with its prey.

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    • Thanks Susan! I questioned posting those two because so many people think that squirrels are cute, but the eagles have to eat to survive, and they keep the squirrel populations in check.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

  10. you are lucky to have so many bald eagles in your area. where i live in SoCal, there are reports of their sighting but i have never seen one in the wild.
    now for some tech questions: are you shooting hand held or using a tripod, monopod? how far away are you from your subjects? are the photos you are showing original or cropped?

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    • Thanks Buddy! I typically shoot handheld, but in the series of the eagles courting, the lens was resting on a pad on the windowsill of my vehicle. Where I typically shoot the eagles, I use my vehicle as a moveable blind, if you step outside, the birds are gone, including ducks, geese, or any other birds there. All the images are cropped other than the first two images of the solo images in flight. I’d estimate that the eagles in the first series were around 300 yards from me, the two juveniles were probably 150 yards from me. Too far away for good images, but they do show the behaviors of the eagles quite well despite that.

      Like

      January 2, 2019 at 12:32 pm

      • thanks. i was just wondering since i will be posting some bird shots myself using my 300mm hand held and 50 yards or more and extreme cropping. i maybe able to get closer, but since im walking and out in the open, no blind is available. i have to remember to use the sport mode on my lens when shooting birds in flight to capture a clearer shot.

        Like

        January 2, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      • That’s why I try to use the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens for birds in flight, no IS to cause blurry images if I don’t have time to fumble with switches on the lens.

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        January 2, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      • oh my nikon has IS but it has separate settings for action. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        January 2, 2019 at 1:26 pm

  11. I enjoyed your series of bald eagles, Jerry! Nice!

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 12:05 pm

  12. How wonderful to start the New Year with a charming love sequence- quite beautiful. I remember as a child having a flick through book where the figures became animated when flicking! After looking and enjoying your photos of the young eagles separately I ‘flicked’ through the photos and had my own animation! Hope the weather improves for you soon to enjoy taking more wonderful photos. Happy New Year!

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 11:05 am

    • Thanks Marianne! You gave me an idea, I can make a slide show in Lightroom that would go through the stills quickly as if they were a slow motion or stop action video, I may have to try that the next time.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 2, 2019 at 12:25 pm

      • Gosh…me giving you an idea! Hope it works!

        Liked by 1 person

        January 3, 2019 at 2:33 pm

      • Yes, I tried a quick one, and it sort of works, I need to perfect it a little though, so thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

        January 3, 2019 at 11:11 pm

  13. What a fascinating series of images, Jerry. I really liked seeing them image by image, instead of in a video format. It really makes the interaction of the birds pretty plain to see.

    Ready for some sunshine? We need to be doing our rain and snow dances.

    Happy New Year.

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 8:57 am

    • Thanks Judy! I would love to be able to shoot both stills and video of the same behaviors at the same time, if the eagles would ever perch closer to me. You’re right though, still images do show the postures of the birds better than a video would.

      I’m definitely ready for some sunshine when I have time off from work, the only sunshine that I’ve seen for the past month was while I was trying to sleep.

      Like

      January 2, 2019 at 9:35 am

  14. Nice sequence of shots. You are fortunate to have so many eagles in your ‘neighborhood’.

    Like

    January 2, 2019 at 7:36 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! There are always plenty of eagles near Muskegon, but this year there are more than ever.

      Like

      January 2, 2019 at 9:31 am