Bald Eagles In Flight

When I was growing up, the only bald eagles I ever saw were in magazines like National Geographic.  I found it ironic that the National Symbol was a bird I had never seen.

Once a common sight in the lower 48 states, by the 1950s, due to illegal hunting, use of DDT, and loss of habitat, there were only about 400 nesting pairs left. In 1967 it was declared an endangered species.

But with stronger regulations and the ban of DDT, they began to make a comeback, and in 2007 they were removed from the endangered list. Today, in the early winter months, they can be seen hunting fish near large bodies of water. Last weekend, we saw more eagles than we ever have before just below the dam at Tuttle Creek Lake near Manhattan, KS.

They sit in the large trees along the creek in the early morning hours,

Juvenile Bald Eagle - by Harland Schuster

and occasionally swoop down over the creek to snatch fish for breakfast.

Young Bald Eagles maintain their juvenile brown plumage until they reach about 3 years old when they trade it in for the adult black plumage and white head.
A Juvenile Bald Eagle just after catching a fish
Juvenile Bald Eagle

With a wingspan of 5 to 7 feet, they are an imposing sight. 

Adult Bald Eagle

It was a thrilling experience for us to be able to witness this magnificent bird. We hope that it’s numbers continue to rebound and it eventually becomes again a common sight.

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Seagulls, on their fall migration from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico,  also take a break here to hunt smaller fish .

Seagulls hunt by hovering over the water looking for prey. 

When they see a likely catch, they dive down into the cold water to snatch it with their beaks.

Their chilly wet effort is not always rewarded however.

But persistance ultimately pays off.

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Taking pictures in the cold winter months, requires a heavy restrictive wardrobe:

Harland

Me

 My camera is a Canon 50D, and the lens I used here is a Canon 100-400mm. It’s a heavy lens and makes my arms tired so I take breaks when I can.  We stopped shooting when our fingers and toes hurt from the cold.

Birds in flight is one of the most difficult subjects I’ve ever done. To keep them in the frame and in focus when they are flying past is maddeningly hard. I took over 650 pictures, and felt lucky when I got the entire bird in the frame, but even then most of them were out of focus. Of the 650 I took only those above made the cut.  I really wanted to get images of eagles in the act of catching fish, but was disappointed here getting only blurry shots or butt shots. At one point, I was switching out a full card for an empty one with my cold stiff fingers, when 2 eagles swooped down right in front of me, one of them caught a fish and the other tried to grab it from him, with me wailing and gnashing my teeth as I struggled with the card. I finally got it in the camera, but by then the show was over. This kind of thing seems to happen often to me, kind of a “murphy’s law” of picture taking.

But despite my disappointment, I love it when we take pictures of wildlife. It was a great experience just to witness the bald eagles and seagulls effortlessly flying over our heads.  

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21 comments to Bald Eagles In Flight

  • Evelyn

    So sorry you had to take so many to get the ones you posted; however, they are awesome! I have only seen Eagles in magazines; it is a treat to see your pictures of them. Thank you so very much for braving the cold and multiple layers of clothing!

  • Elaine Snively

    Great Pictures! These are Ring-billed Gulls. There are many kinds of Gulls besides RBGU, but none of them are Seagulls.

  • Nancy

    Suzanne, be proud! The pictures you posted are amazing!! Thanks for sharing them with us and for braving the cold.

  • Beautiful shots! What a sight it must have been!

  • Mary Ann Owens

    Thank you for the wonderful pictures! I am a bird lover and lately have been focasing on Eagles. Last year we even went to see the Decorah Eagles in Iowa. I was frustrated there that I didn’t have a good closeup lens like you have. Keep up the good work! Mary Ann

  • These keepers are excellent! We have an eagle in our neighborhood this winter but I never seem to have my camera along when he’s in sight.

  • Sandra Hay

    These photos are breathtaking. What an experience you had. I loved your pink hat. Taking photos is a mystery to me. I admire anyone who has mastered it. My grandkids take better photos than I do but I am working on it. I didn’t realize how big the “real” cameras are. I have never seen a bald eagle. We have a lot of hawks out here and they fly by my big window off and on all day hunting and they are so pretty.

  • Nancy

    Lovely photos! I admire the determination & discomfort it required for you to get these wonderful shots.

  • Thanks for sharing the eagles and migration of the seagulls photos. Birds are hard to capture. Sometimes the motion ones that are a bit blurry are good. Try capturing the Thunderbirds (airplanes)! HA! I did that a few years ago at an air show. I finally figured out how to capture them in flight and actually got some good ones. Have a good week!

  • Lisa

    Thank you sooo much for sharing. It was nice to hear how hard you worked for those AMAZING shots, and to know that Murphy’s Law afflicts more than just myself.

  • Louise S

    The pictures were awesome, Suzanne and Harland. Looks like it was a really cold Kansas day, so thank you for sticking with it and getting some good shots to share with us. I got hooked on watching the Decorah eagles nest on live cam last year, and it was a fascinating experience to be a part of.

  • Vivian

    Really great pictures, especially the first one. I like the long lines of the eagle’s wings and the angle that he’s coming in. I first saw an eagle (in person) around 1990 and was by myself. When I recognized what I was looking at, I was yelping “an eagle! look! wow!” -I’m sure I looked ridiculous, hopping around by myself in a field, but I was that enthusiastic.

  • Laura

    Thanks for the pictures and the description of the camera/lens you were using. It’s also nice to know that others don’t always get the “perfect” shot everytime also. Keep up the great work!

  • Doe of Mi.

    I to am happy we haven’t lost the eagles. Your photos are awesome, good job girl. I like the one thats looking to see if he has a good hold on his fish. You did a really great job with the seagulls, beautiful shots. Thanks for these.

  • Laura

    Great pictures – thank you so much for sharing them with us. I do not have the gift of photography at all…I am much too impatient.

  • Some friends of mine from Marion went on a guided eagle watch at Tuttle last weekend! Looks like the weather will cooperate with me this weekend to be able to go to Milton Lake for a guided eagle watch there!! Yay!! I haven’t ever seen one in person either. .I’m hoping to snap some photos too, but they’ll be far from the quality of yours! It will be fun to observe such a magnificant creature!

  • Tina

    You poor thing, you look frozen but are styling the pink hat. What you need are those little hot packs you put in your gloves. I loved all the pics of birds. My fav is the one looking back at his feet with the fish in it almost like he can’t believe he caught one! Take care and stay warm.

  • Very nice shots, Suzanne! What magnificent creatures these eagles are.

  • Thank you for going out there and braving the cold so that we can see these majestic birds!

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