Eagle in a Snow Squall

December 7, 2012

Talons dripping from a botched attempt at breakfast, a bald eagle cruises through a snow squall over the Mississippi River. You might say the perturbed look on its face tells the story but bald eagles always look angry. I’ve observed quite a few eagles in the last few weeks, in spite of the casual stride of winter’s approach, including several sightings from a distance at Maramec Springs Park. I bet this winter when it gets around 0 degrees, they’ll be coming in a little closer as I wait streamside for belted kingfishers. My best experiences photographing eagles in flight have come on brutally-cold days. Often I dress in insulated coveralls and pac boots and wait for the action from first light to sunset with a warm break in the cab of my truck once in a while if necessary. Eagles love fishing in bitter cold!

I discovered something interesting about eagles a few years ago. A lone, mature bald eagle landed in a sycamore tree a little out of range from my hide at a lake on Busch Conservation Area. I was photographing otters at the time but I thought, “It sure would be nice to get an eagle as a bonus.” I waited all day for the regal bird to take off and swoop by my lens but it never left its perch. Finally, it started getting dark and it was still on the perch. I thought to myself, “Man, that eagle must be hungry!” Later I read that eagles often go an entire day or more without eating. I reflected on my eagerness to see the eagle catch a fish that day when I really never had a chance.

I hope you like this image of a baldy in flight over the Mississippi. Photographers will notice that I captured the action with a Canon 40D. I used to own two of them and I found them both to be great for birds in flight even though their autofocus systems weren’t as advanced as my 1D4. Sometimes I’m a little sad that I sold both of them but when I handle a friend’s 40D it always seems so tiny to me now. Also, magazine editors require larger files these days and will turn down a dream shot if it isn’t well over 2000 pixels on the long side after cropping for composition. Notice that I captured this bird at only 1/500 second. Typically, it is best to be pushing 1/1000 sec for birds in flight but sometimes the conditions don’t allow that kind of speed and you have to hope for the best. I never liked to push the ISO on my 40D past 400, even for a faster shutter, because buttery smooth images are always more eye-catching than grainy images and I avoid trying to smooth out shots in post-processing.

Although I have hundreds of bald eagle images, I don’t remember sharing this one in Nature Frames so I hope it is a new one for you to enjoy.

Canon 40D; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/500 sec @ f/5.6; ISO 400; Aperture Priority; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley Head; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

Thanks for Looking



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10 comments on “Eagle in a Snow Squall”

  1. Danny, thanks for the Maramec Spring Park shout out, there are plenty of chances to get great photos here at the Park throughout the year. We always have deer and squirrels out most of the time as well the Eagles during the winter season and plenty of song birds all over the park. Good Luck on the Kingfisher pics. Great shot of the Eagle by the way.

  2. That would make a beautiful painting, you must have a good camera, how mainly megapixels?


    Sent from my MUSKIE iPad

  3. I certainly enjoyed it. So many good elements but I keep coming back to the water dripping off its talons.

  4. Rare that I talk about the image rather than its content, which is what is generally of prime importance for me… But for this shot, does the high shutter speed (even though low by your standards)have something to do with the lovely dotting of snow in the image? In general, when I capture birds in the monsoon, I get only the blur of raindrops…little dashes, not dots….perhaps snow falls slower, too, than water droplets? I’d love to see any images you may suggest, which capture rain in this way. ….I loved the majestic symbol of the freedom and independence of your country….it’s a wonderful image šŸ™‚

    • Absolutely right Deepa; it all depends on shutter speed and sometimes the snow looks like streaks in my images as I’m photographing a bird on a perch with a much slower speed. Sometimes when I have enough light I try to get a really fast shutter even for static birds so I can make the snow look more “dotty” as you say. Take care!

  5. Great shot of that Majestic Eagle in flight. It brings back memories of the time,that
    I got within 25ft. of a Eagle perched high in a tree, over the trout stream, at Roaring River State Park, the winter of 2002.
    He didn’t like the idea of me talking to him, and being in his face,for over 10min..He was trying to catch a Trout, and so was I. When he decided to leave my company, he spread his wings, and appeared to be diving into the stream for a nice meal, but pulled up before hitting the water, to gain air speed. It was quite the site to see,a experience. Thank’s for sharing the Beautiful photo.


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