The sun filtered through the skeletal trees lining the road as I drove to work a few mornings ago. The peak of fall foliage had passed. Most of the leaves had fallen to the ground. But a few continued to cling, rattling in the wind.
As I powered up the gravel road, a dark mass high in a tree to my left caught my eye. My first thought was “porcupine,” but upon seeing a flash of white, I knew it was in fact a bald eagle.
Luckily, I had my 100-400 mm camera lens on me, so I screwed it onto my camera body (a simple Canon Rebel T5i) and stepped out of the car, taking special care to close the door quietly. I then walked quietly up the road toward the eagle, which appeared to be watching the railroad tracks below, possibly for rodents to snatch up for breakfast.
I didn’t want to disturb the eagle. After all, it’s against federal law to “molest or disturb” a bald eagle. Violating this act can result in a maximum fine of $5,000.
But even if there weren’t such protection for the bald eagle, I wouldn’t want to disturb it … or any other animal I was photographing, for that matter. The goal is to photograph animals in their natural habitat, acting naturally.
Unfortunately, there were leaves in the way. Bright yellow, round aspen leaves covered half of the eagle’s face, and there was no way getting around it. I couldn’t simply walk to another angle without a chance that I might disturb the bird or mess up the lighting. So I took a photo. And in my opinion, it’s still a beautiful photo, just not ideal. It’s natural. The eagle isn’t looking at me. It’s hunting.
A couple days later, I was driving along the Penobscot River in Bangor when I spotted a brown figure huddled on a rock by the water. I slowed down, but a house blocked my view. But I had the sneaking suspicion that what I had seen was an eagle, so I turned around.
It wasn’t so easy, as I had been traveling on a one-way road. But I managed to back-track, park, cross some train tracks, navigate down a hill (littered with trash, I might add) and approach the water upriver from where I’d spotted the shape — which turned out to be an adult bald eagle with a beautiful white head and tail, dark brown body, and yellow feet, eyes and curved beak.
From afar, I watched it fly from the rocks by the water to the railroad bridge to a tree fairly close to me. Then, upon spotting me I assume, it flew across the river. I felt guilty for possibly scaring the eagle. It wasn’t my intention. But, he didn’t go far. I watched as he perched high in an evergreen tree, and it struck me that I’d never notice the eagle sitting over there if I hadn’t seen it fly to the spot and land.
Again, no “perfect” eagle photo, despite my efforts (and drawing a few questioning looks from traffic). But I had a great time, nonetheless. For some reason, it seems right that such a powerful, stately bird wouldn’t be easy to photograph.
I’ll let you know if I ever get that “perfect” eagle shot.