|Winter around the Sriner household often revolves around the annual quest for the Bald Eagle. This year was no different.|
Click on the above and other pictures to see them full sized!
January of this year, brought with it a trip to the operating room for Pat. She had to have major shoulder surgery. The surgery was extensive but she has been recuperating very quickly. During her 6 weeks off work, we practiced retirement. The freedom was great! The end of the practice period and the subsequent drop back into reality SUCKED BIG TIME! Although I am already semi-retired, there was no guilt relaxing while we were both home but once Pat had to start punching a time clock, my responsibility gene started showing its ugly head again. I could not just sit at my computer and work on pictures or study new ways to manipulate them in Photoshop. I started looking at my watch thinking, "I need to do something to justify my time". The trouble is, when your heart just isn't in it, there is a great deal of wondering getting ready to work. It is hard even now to type that nasty four letter word. WORK. I'm not good at goofing off so I certainly won't ever completely retire but the difference is the "have to" and the guilt. I can still hear my step-dad and his always demeaning manner. "Don't just sit there, be productive." haunts me still. Artistic pursuits that require periods of sitting resonate deep inside as non-productivity! I feel guilty reading or studying or tweaking pictures or writing my blogs. Having recognized the problem is making it a little easier to pursue my God given artistic endeavors. But I still look around to see if anyone is watching me goof off at the keyboard. During our practice retirement, I felt much less of this distraction. If Pat is wasting time reading a book, I can waste time on my artistic outlets. June can't come too soon for me!
"So", you ask, "What about the eagles?" OK, I'm getting there. For me, my first eagle sighting many years ago was an awakening of my spirit. I don't understand completely why but I am captivated by their majesty. The desire to capture that spirit in pictures really opened me to photography as a compulsive artistic drive. Once I had a soaring American Icon in my viewfinder, I was hooked. But my tools were far exceeded by my desire to get that perfect image. I wanted images that I could share with others so they too could experience the feeling I got capturing the marvelous raptor in my camera. Each year brought a little better camera or lens. My weapon of choice now is a Canon D7 with a 400mm "L" series lens combination. This is about as far as I can go without another mortgage on the house. At this point I would need to go from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands. With retirement just around the corner, that jump will probably never come. Fortunately, at this time in life, I have come to grips with this drive for the biggest toys because no matter what you get there is something just a little bigger, a little better. I am ready to accept that fact and simply do the best I can do to learn how to use the tools I have.
OK, OK, I'm getting there. Eagles are basically fish eaters. Sure they will, on occasion take a duck on the river or a rabbit in the field but they nest and usually hunt on the rivers. As winter starts to swallow up the open water in the north, the eagles will start migrating south for food. Around here, they are found as they migrate along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. They need open water to feed so as the river freezes, they are drawn further south. Along their journey, they will often stop at the Locks and Dams along the river because the water rushing through the gates or turbines won't freeze. This provides them with the open water to fish. For than reason, they will congregate in large numbers at these locations. It is not unusual to see 25 - 30 in a single tree. Sometime even more when the river is nearly all frozen. But in the event of warmer weather, the river is not frozen over as much and they will spread out along the river due to the lower competition. There are probably as many eagles in totality but they are not bunched up. That has been the case the last couple years.
There is one favorite place along the Mississippi that attracts photographers from all over the country. That sweet spot is Lock and Dam #14 in northern Illinois near the Quad Cities. What makes this spot so special that it draws crowds all winter, is the configuration of the river. There is a small bay where stunned fish can often be seen floating on the surface. The eagles find this a perfect hunting grounds and the near-by observation walk has no visual barriers between it, the water and diving eagles. Every eagle photographer has pictures of an eagle perched in a tree but to catch a shot of the dive and capture of the fish is the true feather in any nature photographer's cap. Many can go for many years without the opportunity to make this capture. L & D #14 seems to give the best opportunity to make the capture. Photographers from across the country will line the walkway with $20,000 camera set-ups.
|This is a small weekday crowd.|
|An adult eagles swoops in for the floating fish|
|one leg catch|
|Hold on tightly and we are off|
One thing I have learned over the may years I have chased the elusive eagles from site to site, is that they are unpredictable. The population can not only change from day to day but hour by hour. But it is worth the try and the wait when you are rewarded with the above shots.
As the days begin to lengthen, most of the eagle pairs know it is time to head back north to get the nest ready for the spring hatch. New eagles will be born in the North Country and when winter spreads the blanket of snow and ice over the region again, the eagles will return to our backyard and I will again be able to spend the winter trying to outguess their location. But next winter, we won't be limited to the all too often cloudy weekends. Next year these same dives will be in sunny locations and the beauty will be multiplied many times as I am able to be seen ever so much more clearly.
Perhaps by next winter, the above juvenile will have graduated to the adult white head and I will see him in all his splendor.
You can see more of my magnificent eagles at: my Smugmug Gallery Click on the preceding link to see more. Watch for my next blog and see where else we have been.