It was an exceptionally chilly morning when I decided to head out and find some eagles in Dunkirk, NY. I went up there last year, and there were hundreds of birds on the boardwalk, searching the tiny bits of unfrozen water on Lake Erie for a meal. The gulls were fighting over scraps of fish. It was quite a sight, and I couldn’t wait to return.
On my way up to Dunkirk, I decided to stop at the Jamestown Audubon Center & Sanctuary to warm up the camera on some smaller targets. My first encounter was with a very well-fed cardinal across the pond from me. He posed for a few shots before flying off into the brush. Given his shape, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a slow roll! I decided to trudge around the pond behind the house and see if I could spot some more colorful subjects.
I didn’t see much out by Big Pond, so I picked my way back to the car. As I returned to the parking lot, I noticed some birds along the path by the house and decided to take a few shots. This puffed up junco was nice enough to mug for the camera. I decided it was time to see what awaited me on Lake Erie.
I arrived at the boardwalk and felt a stab of disappointment. There weren’t nearly as many birds as I saw last year, and most of them were simply huddled together on the ice, not moving or doing anything interesting. Additionally, there was a mist coming off Lake Erie that made it almost impossible to see anything. But one thing gave me hope. In the car next to me, a man was peering intently with his binoculars out toward the factory in the distance. Sure enough, a few eagles dotted the landscape near the heat of the smokestacks on the opposite side of the harbor. But they were too far away to get good shots. It was time to move in a little closer.
I did a bit of scouting and found a road that led close to the factory. There is a conservation club that is directly across from the factory, and I trudged toward the water to see if I could spot my subjects. There were a couple of eagles in the sky, and I got some distant shots. But then I looked in the tree above me. And to my surprise, there was a bald eagle! I guess we both thought that was a good spot to survey the scene. The branches around him didn’t make it easy to get a clean shot, but I at least managed to position myself so that I could get an unobstructed view of his head. He soon grew tired of my company and flew off to find another perch.
Bolstered by my success, I decided to walk along the harbor and see what else the chilly day had in store for me. It was around 10 below, so I didn’t stray too far from the car. As I fiddled with the settings on the camera, several birds flew directly overhead. One was an eagle. He did a circle around the city and came toward me. I was ready this time to capture the action. It was truly a remarkable sight.
Half the battle of photography is being in the right place at the right time. And when it’s below 0 outside, it’s easy to talk yourself into staying home with a warm mug of cocoa and leaving nature to the birds. But if you muster up the courage to venture outside, the experience can be truly rewarding.