Saturday, February 4, 2012

Camera Critters: Winter Bald Eagle Photography-A Growing Pastime

Bald Eagle: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
When I was a lad, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, eagles sightings were the substance of  tales told by the older folks, most notorious of which was the legend of "Eagle Dave", who was supposedly whisked away by a pair of eagles and raised in their nest. I have forgotten how that one was supposed to have turned out, but suffice it to say that it was a fairy tale designed to keep an adventurous youth from straying too far from the farmstead.

The bald eagle was listed as endangered in 43 states under the Endangered Species Act until 1995, when its, status was upgraded to "threatened". It was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but is fortunately still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

In recent years, eagle photography has become a favorite winter pastime of many nature photographers. Although there are exceptions, eagles are ordinarily quite shy birds, seen only at a distance. Favorite spots to photograph the birds in our area are Conowingo Dam (sometimes they are very close here) and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, I do see eagles at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Pennsylvania, but I only go there for a few mornings in spring and fall during the waterfowl migrations and do not know if eagles are commonly seen there in winter. Most I have seen there are also too far away for exceptional photographs. 
Blackwater Eagle

Some eagles are seen near home each year, but they are very, very, shy and it is difficult to get a camera and tripod deployed. Both of the photos featured today were taken at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, near Cambridge Maryland. Both are at extremely long range and taken with the 500mm F4 and 1.4 extender. The images are heavily cropped, which works reasonably well for internet use, but is lacking in feather detail for printing purposes. The first photo was taken with the Canon 7D, while the second was with the T3i. Some assume that the 7D and T3i utilize the same sensor (they have the same megapixel count), but I have heard from a reliable source that they are not identical sensors and working with these photos served to reinforce this. The 7D seems to have less noise and a more pleasing overall look to the images-- even after color correction in Photoshop. In a strange twist, I find the T3i to have a slightly more pleasing video image--at least under certain circumstances and that is using the same picture style in both cameras.

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Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.