(This blog will be backdated, story from December 21st, 2012!)
Well, just a few days ago, I managed to get my first shots of a Bald Eagle in flight. They were taken with my 100-400mm lens, @400mm…and with the birds rather distant, the quality was far from great. I mentioned that I had a rental EF 500mm f/4 L IS II lens coming. I’ve been renting lenses from LensRentals.com, trying them out, to help me figure out which lens I should buy next. My next lens purchase will be a REALLY BIG one, my biggest photography purchase yet, so I want to make sure I get the right thing. Anyway, the 500mm lens finally came, and I had a chance to get out and use it. Not much in the way of variety in the birds that are here right now, and the vast majority of them are far out on the ice in the middle of the lake, or bobbing in the only open, unfrozen water left at Cherry Creek. I spotted some mergansers, some goldeneye, a gazillion gulls of a variety, and…to my surprise…at least 27 Bald Eagles! There were a few more distant blobs with white specs on top that I believe were more…in total, although not confirmed, there might be as many as 32, maybe 33 that I could see in a single glance. That doesn’t account for any that might have been hanging out in the trees by the camp ground (where they seem to spend the night), or flying around other parts of the park. Could there be as many as forty Bald Eagles at Cherry Creek right now?
I’d seen a number of them before, but never so many all at once. From reports by other photographers, bird watchers, and just people who spend time hiking around the lake, it sounds like that many Bald Eagles at Cherry Creek is quite unusual. I’d heard that as many as 25 couples might breed at Barr Lake, which is up to the north and east by maybe 40 minutes. That would be 50 in one place, however that isn’t quite as unusual up there. Perhaps these Baldies are on their way up to their breeding ground? I am quite certain a number of the ones I observed were juvenile…you can tell a juvenile Bald Eagle by the patchiness of their feathers. Very early on, they don’t have much distinction between their head and body…it is all a lighter brown with a patchwork of white everywhere. By their second and third years, the patchiness is fading, the brown feathers on their bodies darken, and their heads and tails are almost purely white feathers, with a few darker patches here and there. At least a third of the ones I observed at Cherry Creek looked to be juveniles of first through third year. I am not really sure when they start breeding, although I imagine not until the end of their third year. So if up to 50 breeding pairs spend their winters at Barr Lake…there could be considerably more than 50 in total in the reservoirs and lakes around Denver. Rather exciting!
Anyway, in all of this, I managed to capture a rather awesome sequence of shots of a Bald Eagle that was originally perched on one of the trees near the camp ground at Cherry Creek. I had just met another bird photographer, PJ Ross, while out on the sand spit on the east south east shore of the lake. I mentioned the Bald Eagles to her, and offered to show her where they hung out. We were lucky to find one there, as during the day most spent their time on the ice. I attached my 1.4x teleconverter to the 500mm lens, and pointed the 700mm beast at this beautiful creature in perfect light. I slowly started creeping up, and heard someone/thing crashing through the brush off to my side. I don’t know who it was, but I figured they would scare the eagle away, so I dropped down and got ready to shoot. The featured photos are the sequence that ensued. I particularly like the second shot, where its wings are up high and all the way back. The third shot is really the money shot, though! I couldn’t have asked for a better chance to exercise this amazing lens!! I’m pretty much hooked now…I don’t think I could use anything shorter than this in the long run. I am pretty sure my heart will be set on the 600mm lens, which could be extended to either 840mm (1.4x TC) or 1200mm (2x TC).