Eagle in golden light, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @240mm, 1/1600 s at f8 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
Eagle Tour Report Part One
Last year's tour series was so unbelievably good I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and a little luck to match the opportunities this year. Looking back now I think that overall the opportunities this year even surpassed last year, it was truly awesome tour series. Trying to share my experiences and images from 23 days of shooting into a few paragraphs is a bit challenging so I will have to split this report into a few parts so I can share as much as possible.
Over the course of the tour series each week had distinct weather patterns and photography opportunities. Some people decided to maximize their opportunities and joined two tours back to back. The first group had lots of rain and some snow the first week. The next tour had lots of variable weather, we had clouds, rain, snow, wind, fog, then sunshine all in the a single day. The last group had mostly sunny days with only a day or 2 with rain or snow. Sunny days sound great and they can be but in Alaska north winds mean clear skies but really challenging photographic opportunities but thankfully the weather changes almost constantly. In terms of weather this year overall we couldn't ask for anything more.
This first image was made at one of my favorite and most reliable spots we visit during my tours. On sunny late afternoons the sunlight hits a wall reflecting on the smooth water below bathing everything in golden light. Thankfully the eagles at this spot called the wall, are as reliable as the lighting. In a split second everything can come together and an eagle will swoop down directly at our boat and strike the water a few feet away and fly right at us in the reflected golden light. The biggest problem in this situation is the sheer number of eagles make it difficult to concentrate on any one type of action. To give you an idea of the distance, this lightly cropped image was made at 240mm on a full frame camera.
Eagles in afternoon light and mountains, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @170mm, 1/800 s at f8 ISO 640, handheld, manual metering. Alaska, Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
On a dropping tide newly uncovered gravelbars are really attractive to the eagles as they like to gather in group. In this image there are 23 eagles, not a large group for this location by the way. Moments like these are why I always recommend having access to a zoom lens on this tour. Sometimes the images in the viewfinder seem almost unreal. Thankfully this time it wasn't just a dream. Juvenile eagles trying to keep dry, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @340mm, 1/2000 s at f8 ISO 800, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
A 21 foot hight tide peak coinciding with the best light of the day means awesome opportunities. For this image we staked out an empty perch on a gravelbar as the tide came up. Then as the tide peaked eagles started looking for a dry place to perch. For a couple of minutes there were great opportunities, like the image above, then a moment after this image there were 8 eagles crowded on the perch. To some this image looks to good to be true but it is 100% real. The juvenile bald eagles above have different plumage variations according to their ages.
This year we had an unusually high number of sub adult and juvenile eagles, some years there are almost no young birds. I really like the younger sub adult's plumage like the ones in the image above although sometimes they have very worn plumage so you have to be careful which birds you target.
Eagles locked and spiraling, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @500mm, 1/2000 s at f8 ISO 400, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
This behavior is always interesting and will never get old since it is not very common and when it does happen its usually off in the distance but sometimes it will happen close enough to shoot. Eagle talon locked spirals usually occur in fights over food. Sometimes the participants will spiral right into water or into a stand of trees. I have never seen any eagles hurt doing the this as the spiraling seems to slow the fall to a safe speed.
Low tide sunset, Kachemak Bay Alaska. Nikon D4 with Sigma 50-500mm APO DG OS HSM @78mm, 1/400 s at f8 ISO 320, handheld, manual metering. Image copyright 2013 Robert OToole Photography
On the way to a shoot I saw these clouds in the distance before any color started to show and immediately I rushed to this area with the low tide mud flats. We pulled off the road just as the colors started to intensify so we had time to experiment with framing. I shot a few panos but I like this single straight image the most. We were lucky to still have some snow and ice from the night before the tide washed it away. interestingly my 50-500, already on my camera when I picked it up, worked really well for this image and the tighter panos. This has to have been one of the best sunrise scenes I have photographed in Alaska.
The second part of this report including 2014 tour info will be posted tomorrow. Let me know if you have any questions or leave a comment below, thanks.
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